Atlanta Beltline project begins to take shape with new executives, projects

By Maria Saporta
Friday, December 11, 2009

The Atlanta Beltline is beginning to take shape, both the visionary 22-mile redevelopment ring around the central city and the organization shepherding the project.

Brian Leary, who became president of Atlanta BeltLine Inc. in October, recently provided an update to top CEOs and funders.

Leary is bringing on Lisa Gordon, who has been deputy chief operating officer for the city of Atlanta and former city manager for East Point, to serve as Atlanta BeltLine’s chief operating officer. The organization also has selected Patrise Perkins-Hooker as its general counsel.

And the organization has a new board chair: Beth Chandler, vice president and general counsel for Fortune 500 company Asbury Automotive Group Inc., who was Atlanta’s city attorney until last May. She succeeds United Parcel Service Inc. executive Cal Darden.

At the same time as these organizational changes are taking place, tangible projects are under way at several points along the 22-mile corridor.

Leary mentioned several different projects that under construction or in final stages of design:

Rails are being removed to create a hiking trail in northeast Atlanta.
Kudzu and trash are being cleared on a southwest portion of the ring for another biking-hiking trail near West End.
Construction on the first phase of the new Historic Fourth Ward Park is under way and scheduled to open in late summer, and the next phase of the 17-acre park should open by 2011.
In the southeast segment, D.H. Staton Park will break ground next spring and be completed in the fall.
A PATH Foundation project in Buckhead known as the Atlanta Memorial Trail along Tanyard Creek is under way.
A groundbreaking on Dec. 12 on a 1.4 mile-extension of PATH’s West End Trail in the southwest quadrant to open in the spring.
All these projects should make it easier to step up the private fundraising campaign for the Beltline, said Phil Kent, CEO of Turner Broadcasting System Inc., who is co-chairing the $60 million campaign.

So far, the BeltLine Partnership’s fundraising cabinet has raised “just over $30 million,” Kent said. “The Beltline is not only just a vision and a nice map. There’s something to see. I’m very pleased with the progress, and it is having a tangible effect on the city’s quality of life.”

It was Kent’s idea to have “Breakfast along the Beltline” as a way to show board members and potential donors how the 25-year endeavor is coming along. The meeting also was an opportunity to thank outgoing Mayor Shirley Franklin for championing the Beltline and galvanizing the various parties behind the project.

“We are very, very grateful, no only for the Beltline, but for an incredible eight years of leadership,” Kent told Franklin, calling her the “patron saint” and “mother of the Beltline.”

Franklin said it was “exciting to come this close to the Beltline and see what’s going on,” and she then gave credit to former Atlanta City Council President Cathy Woolard for pushing her to adopt the initiative.

“I’m really convinced we are laying the foundation for Atlanta’s economic success,” Franklin said. “The Beltline falls into the category of something mayors do that 50 years from now will make a difference. It’s been most rewarding. Undaunted by the changes in the economy, we continue to ask for money.” Then Franklin urged the BeltLine leaders to not compromise the grand vision of the project.

“Do not do anything that’s expedient in the moment rather than pushing forward to making something that’s spectacular,” she said.

John Somerhalder, chairman of the BeltLine Partnership and CEO of AGL Resources Inc., agreed by saying: “Let’s not do anything that’s not spectacular.”

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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