Atlanta’s Gulch redevelopment advances with city funding, court ruling
By David Pendered
Atlanta is moving forward with its commitments to redevelop the Gulch in Downtown Atlanta into a mini city, with approval Tuesday of a $14 million payment to retool a building into space for city government workers.
In addition, the Georgia Court of Appeals issued a ruling March 29 that rejects arguments in two lawsuits intended to overturn major public funding for the entire redevelopment. These two cases – affiliated with the “Redlight the Gulch” movement – had been filed in the Georgia Supreme Court, where justices determined their court was the wrong venue and transferred the cases to the Court of Appeals, according to a footnote in the appellate court’s ruling.
Taken together, these measures advance Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ signature redevelopment project in her first and, possibly, only term in office. Bottoms leveraged enormous political capital to promote a concept to replace blight. The Gulch has hindered the central business district for over 100 years, according to an Atlanta urban renewal program cited in court rulings:
- “The ravine created in Atlanta by the railroads has long been a nuisance to the citizens of Atlanta as it has visually, socially, and physically divided the area since the early 1900’s. To overcome these conditions[,] the infusion of capital and the assistance of government is needed to redevelop this 150 acre area….”
The Atlanta City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to pay $14 million to the developer to upgrade the building at 185 Spring St. The city intends to use the building and its environs for office space, and parking space.
The legislation also authorizes a land swap between the city and the CIM Group, the master developer for a project named Centennial Yards.
These transactions are part of the complex negotiations that enabled the CIM Group to proceed with the redevelopment of an under-developed piece of Atlanta’s central business district. The long-term plan is to construct a live-work-play community above portions of the city’s historic railroad core.
A simple description of this portion of the redevelopment project is contained in an update CIM presented Aug. 26, 2020 to the council’s Finance/Executive Committee. The section titled “City of Atlanta Asset Swaps” states:
- “The City Asset Swap projects include the construction of the Nelson Street Bridge, renovation of 160 Trinity Avenue, renovation of 185 Spring Street, demolition of 175 Spring Street, construction of the Claire Drive Warehouse, and MEP/FP systems split at 2 City Plaza (72 Marietta and AJC Production Facility). Renovation efforts at 160 Trinity and 185 Spring Street, as well as construction of the Claire Drive Warehouse and 72 Marietta systems split have been in close working coordination with the City of Atlanta.”
The Court of Appeals’ ruling, on March 29, continues the position taken by other courts – the public policies of urban renewal that underwrite the Gulch redevelopment are legal, and their implementation is not a matter for judicial intervention.
The case was brought by Julian Bene, Tim Franzen, Vincent Fort and James Martin. They initially filed their appeal of a Fulton County Superior Court ruling with the Georgia Supreme Court. That court transferred the case after determining there was no constitutional question to resolve, according to footnote No. 6 in the appellate court’s ruling.
Court of Appeals Judge Brian Rickman concluded his ruling with language that also appeared in a ruling by the Supreme Court. Rickman’s ruling was affirmed by Judge Anne Elizabeth Barnes and Judge Christopher McFadden. The closing states:
- “[t]he record supports the trial court’s decision to defer to the City’s view that redevelopment of The Gulch serves a beneficial public purpose.
- “While not all Atlantans, including the Intervenors in this case, share the City’s vision for The Gulch, that does not mean that the project is illegal. As the trial court pointed out, the job of the courts is not to question the advisability or estimate the popularity of the City’s decisions regarding the development of The Gulch.
- “With regard to the validation of the Bonds, the job of this Court is simply to determine whether there was any evidence supporting the trial court’s determination that the issuance of the Bonds was sound, feasible, and reasonable. In this case, there was.”