Atlanta BeltLine’s Brian McGowan taking new job in SeattleBrian McGowan addressing people attending the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the BeLtLine's one-mile extension of the Eastside Trail in 2017 (Photo by Maria Saporta)
By Maria Saporta
It’s official. Brian McGowan, president and CEO of the Atlanta BeltLine Inc., will become CEO of the Greater Seattle Partners, a new regional economic development organization in Seattle, Washington.
“I really struggled with this decision,” McGowan said in a telephone interview shortly after formally accepting the position. “I do love Atlanta. I’m always going to try to stay connected to Atlanta.”
That said, McGowan said the Seattle opportunity was just too attractive to pass up.
“There’s something really special happening in Seattle,” McGowan said. “ It’s a booming economy. The economy is very dynamic. It’s very diversified. It’s an innovation economy. And it’s very progressive. It’s such a great, unique opportunity.”
McGowan said he will begin his new post in mid- to late-August and that he plans to continue working at the BeltLine for a least one more month.
Greater Seattle Partnership is a public-private economic development entity that “is backed by all the big companies” like Boeing, Microsoft and Amazon, McGowan said. It’s funding model is that two-thirds of its budget comes from the private sector with one-third coming from the public sector.
Looking at his tenure at the BeltLine, which lasted less than one year, McGowan said he feels “very good that I was able to move it in a good direction.” He hopes the next CEO will be able to continue the momentum.
But before he leaves, McGowan said he hopes to be able to complete several items.
“There will be another real estate transaction we are trying to complete,” McGowan said.
Atlanta BeltLine Inc. also plans to release the results of a citywide survey of Atlantans on several issues related to the 22-mile corridor that encircles the central part of the city.
The survey asked Atlantans about their thoughts about transit and trails on the BeltLine. McGowan said the survey has been completed, and they are now working on the putting together the data and making a public report.
“All the data is going to be public,” McGowan said.
The other issue is that of affordable housing. That has been one of the areas where the BeltLine has fallen short of its goals. There has been community concern that the multi-use trail that could eventually include transit would spur development that would be out of the reach for many of Atlanta’s residents.
“The other thing I want to get done before I go is the reset on housing,” McGowan said, adding that a group has been meeting to come up with a strategic plan to ensure affordability along the BeltLine and that a final report should be released before he leaves.
“We want to chart a new course for achieving the 5,600-unit goal by 2030,” McGowan said. “People need to remind themselves that the BeltLine is not a housing agency.”
Instead the BeltLine has to work with Invest Atlanta, the Atlanta Housing Authority and the city’s Department of Planning and its housing division in order to meet its goals.
“We need better coordination between all the housing agencies,” McGowan said. “The BeltLine alone can’t build the BeltLine. The BeltLine is a quarterback on the field. We need somebody to throw the ball to.”
McGowan has been in Atlanta for eight years, and he has had four different jobs during that time – first as president and CEO of Invest Atlanta, then as chief operating officer of the Metro Atlanta Chamber. Then he joined Dentons, the world’s largest law firm, to head its global economic development practice. Last August, former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed convinced him to rejoin the city administration as the head of the BeltLine.
When asked about his short tenure at all the jobs he’s had in Atlanta, McGowan acknowledged that he more of a change agent rather than someone who stays in a position for a long time.
“A lot of the jobs I’ve had, I’m creating something new or I’m fixing something that’s broken,” McGowan said. “When the job is done, I move on.”
The Seattle job was attractive because he’ll be starting with a blank slate.
“The draw to the job was being able to create a new organization in a really dynamic and global city,” said McGowan, who also has three older sons who live on the West Coast.
McGowan said that his wife, Danielle, and his children living in Atlanta were supportive of the move.
McGowan did tell Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms a week-and-a-half ago about the possibility that he would be moving to Seattle to take on a new job.
“I was loving my job at the BeltLine, and I have had a great relationship with the new mayor,” McGowan said. “I think her vision and priorities are what Atlanta needs right now.”
Later, McGowan added in a text: “I wanted to stay in Atlanta but there wasn’t a job available that allowed me to play a larger role in growing an inclusive economy like this new role in Seattle will.”
When asked he had any parting thoughts of what needs to happen in Atlanta, McGowan said the city is on the right track, and it needs to continue on that path.
“Atlanta is an amazing place with an amazing culture,” McGowan said. “It should stop trying to be like other places and spend more of its time and energy embracing what it is.”