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Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s legacy could top $4.7 billion in public assets, infrastructure

Mercedes Benz Stadium, June 2016

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed led the effort to have Atlanta provide $200 million to help fund construction of the Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Credit: mercedesbenzstadium.com

By David Pendered

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s legacy in restructuring public assets could well turn on whether voters back his plan for Atlanta to finance MARTA’s expansion inside the city limits.

Mercedes Benz Stadium, June 2016

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed led the effort to have Atlanta provide $200 million to help fund construction of the Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Credit: mercedesbenzstadium.com

If voters support the proposed hike in the MARTA sales tax rate and a new sales tax for transportation , Reed will be on track to preside over more than $4.7 billion in pubic infrastructure transactions.

If voters reject rate hikes, Reed’s legacy would be north of $2 billion.

Both numbers are significant. Especially for a mayor whose first year in office began at the tail end of a recession so severe that Atlanta City Hall was closed a day a week, and employees furloughed, to cut costs.

These numbers represent a back-of-the-envelope calculation. Nonetheless, they do provide a glimpse into future comparisons of Reed’s tenure to that of his predecessor, Shirley Franklin. Franklin was dubbed the “infrastructure mayor” because the $4 billion upgrade of Atlanta’s water and sewer infrastructure begun under her watch.

Reed himself sets a high value on investment in public facilities as a way to maintain Atlanta’s edge over rivals. Just 18 months into his first term, Reed told the DeKalb County Chamber of Commerce in 2011 that Atlanta’s regional rivals could forget about catching Atlanta if the 2012 regional transportation tax were approved. The mayor wasn’t talking about just mobility improvements. It was the total impact of some $14.5 billion investments in transportation and other public assets:

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has kept the city's focus on developing the Atlanta BeltLine. Reed was among the first to ride along the East Side Trail when it was dedicated. File/Credit: beltline.org

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has kept the city’s focus on developing the Atlanta BeltLine. Reed was among the first to ride along the East Side Trail when it was dedicated. File/Credit: beltline.org

  • “If you concentrate that kind of spending in an honest, ethical and appropriate type of manner … you’re talking about a region that is on its way back. We’ll have more infrastructure [investments] than any other city, other than New York. Charlotte, Orlando, and any other city can forget about it if we’re spending that kind of money.”

Reed now backs an additional 1 percent sales tax for transportation. The tax would bring the sales tax rate in the city to 9 percent – the highest in the state.

Half the additional tax, 0.5 percent, would pay to expand transit in Atlanta by raising a projected $2.5 billion. The tax would last until 2057, or longer if voters in the meantime extend the existing 1 percent sales tax for MARTA.

The remaining 0.5 percent sales tax increase would pay for non-transit transportation improvements, such as roads, sidewalks, bicycle lanes and the like. This tax would last 5 years and raise up to a projected $300 million.

Bobby Jones Golf Course

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed led the effort to swap the Bobby Jones Golf Course to the state for a parking deck the city needed to close the sale of Underground Atlanta. File/Credit: Halston Pitman

Atlanta likely would ask the federal government to provide additional money to expand transit in Atlanta. But it’s not guaranteed, certainly not in an era when Congress has two House Resolutions that would defund mass transit – HR 1551 and HR 1461.

Here are the infrastructure projects that went into the back-of-the-envelop calculation:

  • Transit sales tax: $2.5 billion;
  • Transportation sales tax: $300 million;
  • Renew Atlanta infrastructure bond: $250 million;
  • Atlanta Streetcar: $100 million;
  • Potentially sell the Atlanta Civic Center: $30 million;
  • Sell Underground Atlanta: $25.75 million;
  • Sell City Hall East for retrofit into Ponce City Market: $27 million;
  • Two renewals of the municipal option sales tax to pay for water and sewer upgrades: Estimated at $1.5 billion over eight years;
  • Designate hotel/motel taxes to help fund construction of the Mercedes-Benz Stadium: $200 million;
  • Sell portion of Fort McPherson to filmmaker Tyler Perry: $30 million.


David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.


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  1. BPJ June 20, 2016 9:13 pm

    Thanks for the link to the US House resolutions defunding transit (one of them introduced by S. Carolina Rep. Mark “went hiking with his mistress in Argentina” Sanford); the good news is they both were referred to committee in spring of 2015 and do not appear to have popped up since. Easy to understand why John Boehner got out of there, and why Ryan didn’t want to be speaker.Report

  2. Atlanta101 June 21, 2016 10:17 am

    I think this article has not been carefully proofread for typos.Report

  3. William Perry June 21, 2016 10:36 am

    At least part of either number that’s his “legacy” includes over $400 million and the payback of bonds for the falcon Stadium, which 64% of it Landens didn’t support. I think his legacy will be more about losing the thrashers, the Braves, The failures of the street car, and forcing taxpayers to lose over $1 billion for public funding of the Falcons’ billion-dollar stadium.Report

  4. scfranklin June 21, 2016 12:55 pm

    Lots to be proud of. History is written and told by the folks who write and speak about it. So here is a quick accounting of the projects started in one administration and continued in another prior to 2010 to complete the picture…. Thank goodness for democracy. We have smooth and usually seamless transitions of political power, authority and hence lots of projects and initiatives build on the genius and hard work of those who proceed you as an elected official .
    A quick review of the 16 years before 2010 include the following incredible public investments and City Hall initiated, planned and executed investments. They include:
    1.Redevelopment of most Atlanta Housing Authority property leveraging hundreds of millions of private dollars into half dozen neighborhoods in desperate need of investment.Just look at Villages of Carver, Villages of East Lake and the former Clark Howell/Techwood Homes and Perry Homes neighborhoods to see the difference public private partnerships make in our city. TToal public investment in the hundreds of millions of dollars
    2. To build Atlantic Station the city authorized up to $600 million in bonds funds. THe developer built a new fire station, invested $2 million in workforce development and hired 50% of the new entry level employees from the pool of Atlanta residents. The project met or exceeded the minority and female business enterprise goals in their design and construction and the affordable housing goals.
    3. The city matched private donors for a total of
    $50 million for the Homeless Opportunity Fund,
    contributed slightly over $ 100 million in public funding for the Parks Opportunity Fund,
    $35 millions not public funding for the Affordable Housing Opportunity Fund
    and $14 million in public funding for Atlanta Convention and Visitors marketing campaign.
    4. HJAIA airport raised and spent $1 billion for new 5th runway,
    $1 billion for interior upgrades,
    $1 billion for car rental facility and related roads and bridges
    and $750 million for redevelopment of the Maynard Jackson International Terminal (the balance , approximately an equal amount, was left in the account to complete the project in 2010 or 2011.
    Each of these projects achieved record levels of minority and female business enterprise participation.
    5. In order to launch the development of Ponce City Market on the old Sears Building site the city built a new Police and Fire Headquarters ( the first in decades), a 911 Call Center, a new park with the city’s first skate board park and a magnificent but useful storm water detention facility as park of the new park. These were funded with city funds and involved complicated negotiations with community residents, developers, land owners. These cost tends of millions of dollars and were accomplished with record levels of community input and minority and female business enterprise.
    6. My personal favorite is the overhaul, planning and funding for massive, expensive waste water, storm water and drinking water facilities from two large capacity underground tunnels to relining hundreds of miles of underground pipes and the $25 million in right away along the city’s and certain Dekalb County creeks. Last time I talked with Rob Hunter he reminded me of all the planning and community outreach and public education that this $3 billion plus work took to accomplish again with record levels of minority and female enterprise participation.
    7. And then there is the Beltline that many loved to hate 10 or so years ago. The purchase of Vulcan Quarry and the four miles of abandoned rail starting at Piedmont Park and gaining the right away South of the Eastsaide Trail, along and near Abernathy Road and the related creek…
    8. Along the way before 2010 there were infrastructure bonds including the one Mayor Campbell led for $150 million, the acquisition of the Morehouse College Martin Luther King Papers Collection and the building the of the Center of Civl and Human Rights.
    Cities were founded to fight fires, manage ports, provide clean water…. Infrastructure is what city leaders build and Atlanta has had more than its share of local leaders who advocated and achieved public recognition for the public investment in infrastructure. Heck, I won major national leadership awards for the Atlanta’s Clean Water Initiative because it was considered an impossible feat to fund and execute.
    The truth is Atlanta mayors have charted a bold course for the city for over 100 years. Check out the history of Piedmont Park in the 1890’s or the development of Lake Lanier, Marta or the complex highway system. Every mayor starting with Hartsfield has made huge commitments to building the airport, a few championed sports facilities, a few have committed to water and sewer facilities and even fewer have committed to investments in public parks.
    Congrats to Mayor Reed for joining the ranks of Atlanta mayors who gladly invest in infrastructure.
    INfrastructure matters and so does history.Report

  5. scfranklin June 21, 2016 1:09 pm

    Oops. I exceeded my editing period. YOu will get the point even if the post needs editing. Sorry I missed the mark for the edits.Report

  6. Thomas Hayes June 21, 2016 2:32 pm

    It remains ponderously ignominious that Reed congratulates himself for
    giving away Atlanta Memorial Park which includes Bobby Jones Golf Course
    and the Bitsy Grant Tennis Center. Quoting the self vaunted chief of
    Atlanta affairs, Reed said that Atlanta could buy the parking lots if
    need  be. So then, why didn’t he? What an instant turnaround for the
    millions more to be garnered from the sale of Underground. What kind of
    real estate genius is driving the streetcar of Atlanta’s fortunes? Buy
    parking lots, include parking lots in sale of Underground, collect
    income from sale of Underground, invest some of the sale price in the
    improvement of the park that was saved from gifting to the State of
    Georgia. Too simple? With that as the reasoning standard, let’s have
    Reed turn over the profit cow of Atlanta’s Domestic and International
    Airports to the State of Georgia because the state can do it better. Any
    suggestions as what to swap for the airport complex? Anyone? Ferris Buehler?Report

  7. mikeleeph June 24, 2016 8:54 am

    2 sports teams have left the city on Kasim Reed’s watch.  The Atlanta Thrashers, which he disgracfully didn’t even make an effort to keep and the Atlanta Braves.  I put the blame 100% on Kasim Reed for the Braves leaving town.  The Braves have been urging Reed to do something about cleaning up the area around Turner Field and linking it to the rest of downtown and he couldn’t give a damn.  He’ s a petty bully, much like Trump and has personal agendas against tons of people.  The downtown area is as bad as it has ever been, with tons of vacant, abandoned storefronts, homeless, trash and it gets worse every day.Report

  8. Burroughston Broch June 24, 2016 7:40 pm

    Regarding your 1., this was the cause for moving thousands of public housing tenants into Section 8 housing outside the City. Tell us how well this worked for Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb and Fulton Counties.
    Regarding your 6., the problem was allowed to grow and fester by your predecessors until the City was dragged kicking and screaming into court and forced to take action. Then you and your successors have done all in their power to slow down the solution. Exactly when will this miracle be complete?
    Those who write history often write it to please themselves and de-emphasize the parts that don’t reflect kindly on them.Report

  9. InfraredGuy June 30, 2016 11:17 am

    Well, the Streetcar investment has been such a roaring success, the City should ask the Feds for another 100 million, it would give John ” I walked with Dr. King ” Lewis another photo op and buy time to get the homeless back on board so the ridership numbers go up.Report

  10. Burroughston Broch June 30, 2016 5:44 pm

    Cat got your fingers? (crickets chirping in background)Report

  11. scfranklin June 30, 2016 9:24 pm

    Burroughston Broch
    Nope. Have been working and haven’t had time to keep up. Will revisit the discussion after the upcoming holiday.Report


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