Atlanta BeltLine outlines its future 17 years — plans to own entire 22-mile corridor within the next five years

By Maria Saporta

As a guide to see where it’s been and where it’s going, the board of the Atlanta BeltLine Inc. Wednesday unanimously adopted a new Strategic Implementation Plan that will guide the ambitious development through 2030.

“For the first time, there’s a plan to complete all the elements of the plan by 2030,” said Paul Morris, CEO of Atlanta BeltLine Inc. “What excites me is that the public’s awareness of the BeltLine is moving to a position of inevitability. That’s a real turning point in any great project.”

The Atlanta BeltLine, a 22-mile rail corridor that encircles downtown Atlanta, is being developed on multiple levels. Multipurpose trails for pedestrians and cyclists are being built. New and expanded parks are being developed along the ring — a feature that has been called an “Emerald Necklace.”

Investment on the corridor is spurring the redevelopment of the areas that border the BeltLine into new residences, including affordable housing, retail and office space. The long-term vision of the BeltLine also includes a network of transit that will both encircle and crisscross the city.

The Atlanta BeltLine project — a 25-year endeavor supported by a Tax Allocation District along the corridor — is now in its eighth year.

So far, Morris said that $350 million of public and private dollars have been invested in the project — and that has stimulated $1 billion in development within the BeltLine’s TAD district of 6,000 acres. It does not include all the investment that’s occurred within a half-mile of the BeltLine — an area that incorporates 15,000 acres.

The new strategic plan provides a specific game plan for the next five years — 2014 through 2018. It is less specific for the next five year period — 2019 through 2023; and it is even more conceptual for the last seven year period of the project 2024 through 2030.

But the plan does provide an implementation plan for the remaining 17 years of the project as well as a dashboard of how the first seven years have gone.

Going forward, Morris told Atlanta BeltLine Inc. board members Wednesday morning that the organization will be much more focused on three areas:

  1. to develop the BeltLine in a more equitable basis geographically so that all parts of the corridor benefit from the project;
  2. to advance every aspect of the project — trails, transit, parks, brown-field redevelopment, new development, including retail, housing and office projects; and
  3. to have a more pro-active focus on economic development and affordable housing.

“At the end of the day, what has been really exciting to us is to have a strategic direction, to know where we are headed,” said Morris, who became CEO of Atlanta BeltLine Inc. in July. “We have greater clarity of how we will get through the next five years, and we have the ability to adjust to opportunistic things that come up.”

John Somerhalder, board chair of the organization, which is an arm of the city and Invest Atlanta, said he was pleased with all the work that has gone into the plan.

The board passed the plan unanimously.

Looking forward, Morris said that Atlanta BeltLine Inc. is exploring opportunities to acquire a couple of major sections of the corridor.

“In the next three years we have the possibility of having 80 percent of the 22 mile corridor,” Morris said.

The section that continues to be challenging is the quadrant from the northwest to the north where there continues to be an active rail line on the corridor. Atlanta BeltLine Inc. is exploring various options of how to complete the circle in light of the active freight line that serves that area. The goal is to own right-of-way in the entire 22-mile corridor within the next five years.

Meanwhile, Morris said the BeltLine will be working to expand or create several parks — Boulevard Crossing, Enota Park, Murphy Crossing as well as the first phase of the Westside Reservoir Park, that includes the Bellwood Quarry.

To date, the Atlanta BeltLine has developed seven miles of new trails, 200 acres of new and renewed parks and green spaces and more than 70 acres of remediated brown-fields.

The City of Atlanta recently received an $18 million TIGER V grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation for the development of a 2.5 mile portion of the Westside Trail in southwest Atlanta.

The strategic plan estimates that it will cost $926 million to complete all the projects outlined during the next five years. In all, the entire project is estimated to cost $4.39 billion.

To view a copy of the Strategic Implementation plan, go to: BeltLine.org.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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