Column: Central Atlanta Progress seeks federal funds for Auburn Avenue

By Maria Saporta
Friday, July 31, 2009

Central Atlanta Progress is working with city officials to secure $3.1 million to help revitalize the Auburn Avenue corridor.

Those funds are part of $42 million of unspent Atlanta Empowerment funds allocated to the city about 15 years ago to help distressed communities.

Those funds, now under the supervision of the Atlanta Renewal Community Coordinating Responsible Authority (ACoRA), are supposed to expire by the end of the year if they are not spent.

The program is extremely complicated. For example, a community must first spend the money and then ask to be reimbursed with federal dollars. It is difficult for many nonprofits to invest money on the front end.

About a month ago, Atlanta City Councilman Kwanza Hall approached CAP, a downtown business organization, to see if it would be willing to become the fiscal agent for the Auburn Avenue funds.

“We are looking at trying to help get some of this money into the community,” said A.J. Robinson, CAP’s president. “We have a very short period of time, and if we can help, we are going to help. There are a lot of moving pieces.”

Hall said the community has reached a consensus on how it would spend $3.1 million — focusing on projects it knew it could get done.

It includes $750,000 to rehabilitate façades; $500,000 to stabilize historic buildings along Auburn Avenue; $1 million in streetscape improvements, including lighting, planters and signage; $250,000 for a Main Street program; $400,000 for a new mini-precinct and other public safety improvements; and other corridor enhancements.

“We’ve got a national treasure here,” Hall said of Auburn Avenue and the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic District.

The challenge will be to get all the necessary approvals and work through the remaining red tape of the program before the dollars expire by the end of the year.

The $3.1 million is just a fraction of the $42 million that could go away. Hall said he is working on a couple of other ideas to secure those dollars, including the establishment of a revolving loan fund that could help these communities “in perpetuity.”

Despite all the obstacles for the entire program, Hall is optimistic that, at the very least, the $3.1 million will be able to be invested along Auburn Avenue, largely because of the support of CAP behind the project.

Countless efforts to revitalize the historic Auburn Avenue corridor have been proposed for several decades with limited success. The street, also called “Sweet Auburn,” was the mecca for African-American businesses when the Atlanta economy was largely segregated.

Millions for mental health

Sklyland Trail, a nonprofit that helps adults with mental illness, is celebrating the completion of its $11.5 million capital campaign.

The two-phased campaign, which began in 2005, expanded the organization’s main campus on North Druid Hills Road and its residential campus on Clairmont Road in Decatur. It also helped Skyland increase its offerings of programs and services for adults in teaching them practical skills to lead productive lives.

“The need for mental health services just continues to grow, especially in this economy,” said Beth Finnerty, who has been president of Skyland Trail for its entire 20 years. “I’ve seen our community talk more openly about mental health and be more willing to come forth and receive treatment.”

The campaign permitted Skyland to have its on-site primary care clinic be available full time, something that Finnerty believes does not exist at any other mental health facility in the Southeast.

It also was able to expand its vocational programs and help train its clients to return to school and work after treatment.

Since 2005, Finnerty said, Skyland has been able to go from serving 249 clients and families annually to 450 clients and families today.

Newt and Andy together

Political rivals or friends?

It was hard to tell the difference when the Rotary Club of Atlanta had both former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, a longtime Democrat; and former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a longtime Republican, in the spotlight July 27.

Young was being honored with Rotary’s second Legends Award, which was recently established to recognize important community leaders. And Gingrich was the luncheon speaker.

Upon accepting the award, Young said he wouldn’t talk for long because “I want to hear what Newt Gingrich has to say.”

He then said how the two had worked together in the past. “We always find something we can agree on,” Young said, generating a few snickers from the crowd. “Everybody is always surprised about that.”

(Young was introduced by Aaron’s Inc. founder Charlie Loudermilk — the leading white business leader who supported his candidacy for mayor. Young told Rotarians: “I don’t have a closer friend than Charlie Loudermilk.”)

Back to Gingrich, Young said that when he was working to end apartheid in South Africa, he had trouble getting support from his fellow Democrats.

“We could not have gotten South Africa moving in the right direction until I got New Gingrich and Jack Kemp to sign on first. It made it safe for the Democrats,” Young said. “We have learned how to work together in this city. Hopefully we are in a position to share that vision with the rest of the world.”

After Gingrich made his speech about his ideas for health-care reform, Young said, “I agree with a lot of what he said.”

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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