By Maria Saporta
The City of Atlanta and top business leaders are working on a concerted effort to steer the redevelopment of the westside of city.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed disclosed Friday morning that a new nonprofit entity will be established – similar to the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership – to help raise foundation and corporate dollars for the rebirth of the Vine City, English Avenue, Atlanta University Campus, Ashview Heights and part of Castleberry Hill.
The mayor announced that news in a briefing with two journalists following a quarterly meeting of the Atlanta Committee for Progress, the group of top-level business leaders who serve as a kitchen cabinet of advisors for Reed and the city.
The new entity likely will be called the Westside Future Fund, but the mayor said a 501-c-3 organization has not yet been established, adding that we were the first to hear the news.
“The Atlanta Committee for Progress is going to launch a significant westside effort alongside Friendship Baptist Church,” Reed said about the recent ruling by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court to green light the sale of 37 acres of Morris Brown property to the City of Atlanta and Friendship.
The mayor added that Friendship and ACP with a new entity similar to the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership will help bring together “all the players who have cared about the westside for a long time.” He described it as a way to galvanize support around the whole area west of the new Atlanta Falcons stadium, which is under construction at the corner of Northside Drive and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.
“We are open to ideas,” Reed said. “The sense is that the westside is more than 1,000 acres that surrounds the Atlanta University Campus, and I think that the most inspirational remarks we heard today were from the president of Morehouse College.”
Morehouse College President John Wilson spoke about the plight of young black males and the protracted and long-standing problems that have existed in the surrounding communities.
ACP members talked about how certain communities have been able to be more successful (East Lake) than others (Summerhill-Turner Field or Vine City/English Avenue-Georgia Dome).
“What we know is that if we win the Choice Neighborhood grant of $30 million, that leverages $200 million; we have $15 million from the (Arthur M.) Blank Family Foundation; $15 million from the city (Westside TAD dollars) plus a total of $55 million in the Westside TAD,” Reed said. “What if you had an entity working together?”
Reed said the new entity would be “open, fair, transparent and reasonable,” so that it would be able to gain credibility in the impacted communities.
But he added: “We are not going back to the last $100 million where projects were not finished or not verifiable. That approach didn’t work.”
Again he pointed to East Lake as a model that has taken about 20 years to bring about lasting change in the community and among its residents.
Reed said that the leaders who have been working on this new Westside Future Fund include Doug Hertz, president and COO of United Distributors who is a major civic leader currently serving as chair of the Woodruff Arts Center board; Dan Halpern, president and CEO of Jackmont Hospitality who chairs the Atlanta Housing Authority board; Penny McPhee, president of the Blank Foundation; and Peter Aman, a partner with Bain & Co. and former COO for the City of Atlanta.
The mayor also acknowledged that the City of Atlanta had thought it had reached an agreement with Clark-Atlanta University’s President Carlton Brown to settle its interests in 17 acres of the Morris Brown property.
The city had offered a land swap and a significant amount of cash to Clark-Atlanta so it could own the property free-and-clear of any reversionary rights. Apparently that proposal was turned down by Clark-Atlanta’s board of trustees.
“The president and I worked on an arrangement that did not happen,” Reed said. “The deal that I offered was not small.”
Asked about the city’s current state of negotiations with Clark-Atlanta, the mayor said in an unhappy tone: “We are nowhere.”
The closing on the sale of the property is now set for July 15, and the mayor expressed confidence that Clark-Atlanta’s interests in the Morris Brown property ultimately would not hold up in court.
“I don’t think that Clark-Atlanta is going to win,” he said. “Non of the advice is going to prevail.”
Meanwhile, the mayor said several terrific developments are underway.
Friendship Baptist Church will be staying in the community and building a new church and working alongside the city on a significant westside effort.
The Morris Brown property will soon be owned by an entity that will make sure it is developed in a way that will lift the community.
Morris Brown College will be given a chance to get back on its feet and see academic accreditation.
The Georgia World Congress Center Authority is considering building an 800 to 1,000 room hotel just north of the new Falcons stadium.
And the new Westside Future Fund will help galvanize private philanthropic support – which in turn will help attract private investment in the area.