Mayor Kasim Reed and the business community working on financial plan to fix Atlanta’s infrastructure
By Maria Saporta
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed unveiled a preliminary plan of how to start paying for the city’s infrastructure backlog,
He met Monday morning with members of the Atlanta Committee for Progress — a blue ribbon business panel that helps advise the mayor on key issues facing the city.
The plan likely includes the city putting together a bond package for about $250 million to start paying for a $900 million to $1 billion infrastructure backlog — in the fixing of roads, bridges, sidewalks, parks, bike paths, traffic signals and other quality of life amenities.
“We had a conversation on what the path is going to be going forward,” Reed said in an interview with a couple of reporters after the meeting. “We believe the effort to build a new stadium is going to be successful. We’re looking at a $250 million in bonds for infrastructure. And we have $53 million in the Westside TAD (tax allocation district).”
The mayor repeatedly said that the new stadium was a $1.2 billion project. Up until now, cost projections for the new stadium have been in the $900 million to $1 billion range. Asked, if the $1.2 billion included improvements to the surrounding communities, the mayor was vague in his answer.
The point, however, that the mayor was trying to make is that the City of Atlanta will continue to focus on its infrastructure improvements despite the loss of the regional transportation sales tax referendum.
“Our vision is that while we have a major infrastructure project like the stadium, if you cooperate and coordinate, you can make your dollars go further,” Reed said. “The conversation we had today was making sure we could get that right.”
Duriya Farooqui, the city’s chief operating officer, said that many cities are trying to be strategic with their infrastructure investments by focusing their efforts in key communities. The new stadium provides such an opportunity.
Richard Anderson, CEO of Delta Air Lines, has been heading the Atlanta Committee for Progress’ efforts on helping the city develop a sustainable fiscal model that can start addressing the city’s infrastructure needs.
“They’ve done an incredible job in fixing the city’s fiscal model,” Anderson said as he was leaving the meeting. “The vast majority of the citizens believe the city is headed in the right direction. And I think the mayor has a good path for infrastructure improvements.”
Reed said Atlantans have not seen a $250 million investment in “above-the-ground” infrastructure improvements ”in my lifetime.” Under the administration of former Mayor Shirley Franklin, the city invested billions of dollars to improve the its aging water and sewer infrastructure system, work that Reed called “extraordinary.”
The last time the city passed a $150 million in quality of life bonds was during the administration of former Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell.
“What didn’t happen with that $150 million was that it was not done in concert with a series of efforts that were underway,” Reed said. With the bond program that he envisions, Reed said: “The look and feel of the city is going to be significantly changed.”
Currently Reed said that he expects the city to go to market with its bond package in the first six months of 2013. The $250 million is the capacity of bonds that the city can fund.
Although the infrastructure package would target certain communities, Reed said the whole city will benefit.
“We are going to spend dollars across the city’s platform,” Reed said. “We have a number of roads and bridges that are unsafe in the City of Atlanta. We have sidewalk and streetscape improvements needed in our major commercial corridors and there’s the maintenance of green space and public spaces.”
Jim Hannan, CEO of Georgia Pacific who is chairing the board of the Atlanta Committee for Progress, said the business community is pleased with how Reed has been developing a sustainable fiscal model that will address infrastructure spending.
“The working relationship (between the business community and the mayor) has been excellent,” Hannan said. “You see the engagement on lots of issues…. There’s a shared vision on how you make the city work long-term.”