Atlanta's new soccer team could be symbol for unity

Original Story on WABE By MARIA SAPORTA
Soccer fans still have to wait about a year and a half before they will be able to go to a match to see Atlanta’s pro team at the new downtown stadium. But when owner Professional soccer is heading to Atlanta, and fans are ready.  Arthur Blank officially unveiled the team’s new name – Atlanta United FC – and its new logo at a rowdy event Tuesday, and the crowd of 4,000 fans could not have been more excited!

When it comes to sports in Georgia, frenzy is usually associated with college football or NASCAR … maybe the Falcons, the Hawks or the Braves.

But soccer?

Well all that is beginning to change.

Soccer is already the most popular game in the world, and now it is solidly taking hold in Atlanta. We just have a team name and a logo, yet we don’t even have any players.

But the thousands of Atlanta fans who recently showed up at SOHO Lounge in west Midtown to see Blank and Don Garber — commissioner of Major League Soccer — were cheering so loudly, you would have thought we had just won a championship.

Garber was so pumped! He talked about how the new America is discovering soccer, adding, “This new America is right here in Atlanta.”

Some may think the name, Atlanta United, is boring. But Blank said that focus group after focus group suggested the theme of Atlanta was all about unity and coming together.

He looked around at the generational, ethnic and racial diversity of the people who gathered for the announcement and said, “This is Atlanta.”

He knew that was why the new stadium for the Atlanta Falcons and the Atlanta United belonged in the heart of the city.

“Urban downtown stadiums are so exciting because they are attracting the people who are here tonight,” Blank said.

When the Georgia Dome hosted the soccer match between Mexico and Nigeria in March 2014, we witnessed the multicultural energy of that new America, of that new Atlanta.

Centennial Olympic Park and all of downtown had been transformed into our own United Nations. Yes, this is the future.

As one leader told me at the time … the Atlanta Braves are going to realize that their decision to move to Cobb County was so last century.

Thank you, Arthur Blank, for bringing professional soccer to the heart of the city and for uniting Atlanta in the 21st century.

Fate of Atlanta Hawks still unclear with new team ownership

Original Story on WABE By MARIA SAPORTA
Atlanta Hawks' Dennis Schroder, of Germany, practices on the court before the start of an NBA basketball game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Sunday, Jan. 25, 2015, in Atlanta.

It would be ideal if the lead owner of the Hawks called Atlanta home. An owner who has deep roots in a community is less likely to move the team somewhere else. Tony Ressler, the new principal owner of the Hawks, is a Los Angeles businessman. Credit David Goldman / Associated Press

The new principal owner of the Atlanta Hawks, Tony Ressler, closed the deal on the city’s professional basketball team on June 24. At his first press conference, 24 hours later, the Los Angeles businessman said the team would now speak with one voice … a marked contrast to the past owners, the Atlanta Spirit Group.

Atlanta has welcomed Ressler with open arms. He enters the scene as the new lead owner of the Hawks, without baggage and with great hopes.

Maybe now we can get an NBA championship. Maybe now we can have a unified ownership group. Maybe now we can have a leadership group with no trace of tension or racism. With former NBA player Grant Hill by Ressler’s side, the leadership duo reflects the diversity in Atlanta — and the entire country.

So far, so good.

But there are a couple of yellow flags.

Ideally, the lead owner of the Hawks would call Atlanta home. An owner who has deep roots in our community is less likely to move the team to another city.

Living in Los Angeles and going to basketball games in Atlanta is less than ideal for Ressler and his family, although they have bought a residence in Buckhead.

When asked if he would commit to keeping the team in Atlanta forever, Ressler wiggled his way out of a straight answer. Maybe it’s just a negotiating ploy.

But Ressler is on record saying that Philips Arena will either need to be remodeled or replaced, that doing nothing is not an option. Will he commit to keeping the Hawks downtown? Ressler said he is not ruling out anything.

This is beginning to sound like an expensive proposition for Atlanta.

Perhaps Ressler is not aware that Philips Arena is one of the most successful entertainment venues in the country. It has consistently ranked in the top five arenas in the nation, only surpassed by Madison Square Garden over the years.

What a shame it would be if it gets caught up in the frenzy of discarding our relatively new facilities for even newer and more expensive venues for pro sports.

Let us hope Ressler comes to fully appreciate our downtown and our arena … that he doesn’t get us into a bidding war with a western city like Las Vegas, or that he doesn’t uproot the Hawks from the heart of Atlanta, next to MARTA, for the suburbs.

The symbol for Atlanta is the phoenix rising from the ashes, an apt metaphor for the Atlanta Hawks. Last season started in a firestorm and ended with the team having its best record ever.

A new owner gives us hope the magic will continue.

Please Tony Ressler – don’t let Atlanta down.

Atlanta vying for more federal funds to extend Streetcar line

The city of Atlanta is vying for a federal grant to help it extend its streetcar route to the BeltLine.  Credit Alison Guillory / WABE

The city of Atlanta is vying for a federal grant to help it extend its streetcar route to the BeltLine.
Credit Alison Guillory / WABE

The city of Atlanta is applying for a $29.3 million federal TIGER 7 grant to extend the Atlanta Streetcar to the BeltLine. Although Atlanta will be facing tough competition for those federal dollars, city leaders believe they have a good case.

The city has been pretty successful in getting funding from the Obama administration. It received $47 million for the first phase of the Atlanta Streetcar, which started operating Dec. 31.

Now the city hopes it will succeed again.

Mayor Kasim Reed has been focused on extending the streetcar line from its current last stop at Ebenezer Baptist Church in the King Historic District to the Eastside Trail of the Atlanta BeltLine near the Krog Street Market.

The 1.8 mile-streetcar-loop would connect the popular tourist destination of Centennial Olympic Park with the transformative BeltLine, a redevelopment corridor that is gaining national notoriety. The extended line will cost a total of $65.4 million and will include two new streetcars, three new station stops and a new power substation.

It also would continue Atlanta’s investment in its streetcar network, which today is limited at best.

Michael Geisler, the city’s chief operating officer, said the vision is to have a 50-mile streetcar system connecting the key areas of Atlanta. But such a vision will have to be built mile by mile.

Critics will argue that investing in the streetcar does little to solve Atlanta’s transportation challenges and that it costs too much for too few riders.

But streetcars could be viewed as only one part of the city’s transportation ecosystem. They can play a key role in providing residents, workers and tourists options to travel in the city — be it on foot, on a bicycle, on a bus or a MARTA train. Streetcars contribute to a walkable city, where one can easily hop on or off, and experience the town in a most personal way.

Streetcars are not just about transportation. They are about a way of life. That’s why there has been an investment of nearly $850 million in development along the streetcar corridor since the route was announced in 2010. And that investment shows no signs of slowing.

The federal government will announce the winner of the TIGER 7 grants in October. If Atlanta were to be a winner again, the more we would be able to show how a streetcar system can transform a city. It’s already happening. We just need more.

Georgia hoping General Electric will call state its home

General Electric sign on GE Administration Building is seen at night in Schenectady, New York.

Several Georgia leaders are hoping the state will win in GE’s potential search for a new headquarters location. Credit Chuck Miller / Miller

General Electric Co. has set up a committee to explore moving its corporate headquarters out of Connecticut, following the legislature’s decision to increase taxes on the state’s major businesses.  Georgia leaders quickly expressed interesting in having GE relocate to the Peach State – to join the growing number Fortune 500 companies calling Georgia their home each year.

When Jeff Immelt, the CEO of General Electric, said in early July the company may move its headquarters to another state, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal was the first among many governors to tell GE executives: “Y’all come on down.”

Business leaders and economic development officials know this could just be a ploy by GE to get Connecticut to reverse its anti-business tax policy.

But just in case, they don’t want to miss a shot at winning the headquarters of the country’s eighth largest Fortune 500 company.

Even if Atlanta and Georgia aren’t successful with GE, they win in two other ways.

The state gets to update the company’s executives about about Georgia, it’s airport and its business friendly environment. And it never hurts our top leaders to perfect their teamwork and message points when selling the state to the outside world.

That team already is in place trying to attract GE’s headquarters, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed recently said.

And GE is not the only prospect.

The mayor said he visited with a group of business leaders from Connecticut on June 11. There are 17 Fortune 500 companies based in Connecticut, and none of them are happy with the state’s tax policies. The mayor said they have been very aggressive in reaching out to Atlanta.

Georgia’s presence as a Fortune 500 state continues to grow. In 2014, there were 17 Fortune 500 companies based in the state; the year before – 16.

This year, there are 20 with the addition of  PulteGroup at No. 453; AGL Resources at No. 465; and ARRIS at No.  492 to the list.

Next year, it is almost a certainty that Veritiv will be added to the list when it has been a public company for a full year. Had it been included in this year’s list, Veritiv would have been No. 311 on the Fortune 500 list.

All but two of the state’s Fortune 500 companies are based in metro Atlanta.

If Georgia is serious about wanting to go after Fortune 500 headquarters, it needs to make sure it is offering them what they want.

It is undeniable that headquarters today want to be near MARTA so they can attract millennials who want an urban, walkable lifestyle.  They also love being able to take MARTA directly to the airport.

The state also would be smart to be sure Delta Air Lines – our economic magnet – is a happy corporate citizen. And that also means welcoming people of all nationalities to our state.

Georgia – especially Atlanta – is well positioned to become home to even more Fortune 500 companies, including GE. But we need to increase our investment in our city’s quality of life.

Atlanta's new planning commissioner should be allowed to plan

Tim Keane

Tim Keane

Original story on WABE

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Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed announced May 28 that he has selected Tim Keane of Charleston, South Carolina, as his new commissioner of planning and community development. The city has been without a permanent commissioner since last September, when James Shelby abruptly resigned. Atlanta has an opportunity with the selection of Keane, who still must be approved by the City Council.

Few American cities are as endearing as Charleston, South Carolina.

Its historic downtown. Its bustling sidewalks. Its active street life. All welcome residents and visitors alike to explore Charleston’s treasures.

Cities like Charleston don’t happen by accident. For nearly 40 years, Mayor Joe Riley has been improving Charleston’s quality of life with planning and community involvement.

A key member of Riley’s cabinet has been Tim Keane, Charleston’s director of planning, preservation and sustainability ─ a planner who has worked for the city off and on since 1999.

Now Keane is coming to Atlanta to serve as the city’s commissioner of planning and community development.

We would be well-served to let Keane do his job.

One of Atlanta’s major shortcomings in recent years has been its lack of visionary planning ─ especially given the major projects underway ─ the Civic Center, Turner Field, Underground Atlanta, Fort McPherson, Westside Atlanta and Sweet Auburn.

The biggest exception is the planning of the Atlanta BeltLine ─ an agency that is independent from the city’s planning department.

Because the mayor’s office is making most of the city’s development decisions, the planning department has become one of the least effective in the city.

The Atlanta Urban Design Commission, which oversees historic preservation and city design issues, is understaffed and underappreciated.

The neighborhood planning process, once a national model under the late Mayor Maynard Jackson, often falls short of true community engagement.

Most planning happens after the fact ─ after a developer has presented his or her plans to the city and after the mayor has decided what he would like to see happen.

Mayor Kasim Reed has often said he would like Atlanta to become a beautiful city ─ like Paris, like Chicago, like Washington, D.C. And yes, let me add, like Charleston.

But those cities didn’t become beautiful by accident. They were carefully planned as livable, walkable, enjoyable places to visit, work, play and live.

Congratulations mayor on hiring Tim Keane ─ a true planning expert ─ to join your team. So now let’s make sure we let him do his job.


Former Mayor Ivan Allen Jr. not romanticized in new film

By Maria Saporta

Original story on WABE

Former Atlanta Mayor Mayor Ivan Allen Jr. poses under a sign designating Ivan Allen Jr. Boulevard. Credit Associated Press

Former Atlanta Mayor Mayor Ivan Allen Jr. poses under a sign designating Ivan Allen Jr. Boulevard.
Credit Associated Press

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A new documentary takes a look at the life of a former Atlanta mayor. Fifty years ago, he gained national standing as a man of courage.

Ivan Allen Jr. was the only elected leader from the South to testify in Congress for the integration of all places of business.

It was one of Mayor Allen’s moments of truth. His dedication to doing the right thing changed Atlanta’s trajectory from a sleepy Southern town to the bustling economic center of the Southeast.

Mayor Allen’s story is being told in a new, one-hour documentary called “Ivan Allen Jr. – A Different Road.” It’s produced by father-son team: David and John Duke.

The documentary’s most valuable attribute is that it shows a multi-dimensional portrait of Mayor Allen ─ his qualities and his missteps.

The documentary gains credibility by not romanticizing the past.

It must be a fluke in history that, at this moment in time, three documentaries are being made about three defining Atlanta mayors ─ Mayor Allen, Mayor Andrew Young and Mayor Maynard Jackson.

Although each mayor had his flaws, they each played a significant role in Atlanta’s evolution.

The Allen documentary was recently screened at the Atlanta History Center, and it showed how he evolved from a Buckhead social setting into the center of race relations in the South. Fortunately for Atlanta, most of his instincts were good.

But he made mistakes. He put up a barricade separating black and white communities. And he tore down blocks of slums and moved the poor to public housing projects ─ areas that soon turned into slums.

As Mayor Allen once told me after he had left office, “We thought we were doing the right thing.”

In looking back over the life of Mayor Allen, three thoughts come to mind ─ he cared deeply for Atlanta, he tried to do the right thing and he had a warm heart.

Not bad traits for a leader to have.


Fortune 500 has no female CEO from Georgia – yet

By Maria Saporta

Original Story on WABE 

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Veritiv’s Mary Laschinger would be the first female CEO of a Fortune 500 company in Georgia.

Veritiv’s Mary Laschinger would be the first female CEO of a Fortune 500 company in Georgia.

Few people have even heard of the company Veritiv. But by next year, it will become one of Atlanta’s best-known companies. That’s because it will have the first woman CEO of a Fortune 500 company based in Georgia.

When the company eventually is included on the Fortune 500 list in 2016, it likely will be ranked near No. 300 – thanks to its sales of about $9.3 billion a year.

Veritiv formed last July through a merger of Unisource and a division of International Paper – xpedx.  The company held its first annual meeting this Wednesday.

And its CEO is Mary Laschinger, formerly a key executive at International Paper and the CEO of xpedx.

Up until now, women have not fared that well at the top of the corporate ladder in Georgia.

Women were passed over in two recent high-profile opportunities.

At Home Depot, three internal candidates were being considered to succeed Frank Blake as the CEO. Carol Tomé, who had served as the company’s chief financial officer dating back to the founders, had as good a shot as any. But the top job ended up going to her colleague, Craig Menear.

 Mary Laschinger  standing next to John McCarty, a shareholder at Veritiv’s annual meeting

Mary Laschinger standing next to John McCarty, a shareholder at Veritiv’s annual meeting

The other lost opportunity was Newell Rubbermaid. Again, three internal candidates were being considered – including Penny McIntyre, who was running half of the business. The job ended up going to a director – Michael Polk.

Sadly, few women are being groomed to be the next CEO of Georgia’s major companies. OnBoard, an association that tracks the percentage of women on Georgia’s corporate boards as well as those sitting in the executive suites,  sees much room for improvement.

Only 10 percent of the top officers in Georgia’s public companies are women, and only 11 percent of all the directors on Georgia’s corporate boards are women.

So when Veritiv picked Atlanta as its headquarters – over Cincinnati, Charlotte and Dallas – Atlanta not only got a new Fortune 500 company. The greatest gift was having Mary Laschinger appear on the scene.

Laschinger is already serving on the board of the Metro Atlanta Chamber. She’s looking forward to putting down her roots in Atlanta and making sure Veritiv becomes engaged in the community.

Given the scarcity of top women executives in Georgia’s business community, Laschinger will have ample opportunities to be a role model and set an example for other companies around the state.

So welcome to Mary Laschinger. You are giving women in Georgia a reason to celebrate.


Atlanta leaders travel to Canada for ideas exchange

toronto streetcar

Streetcars line up behind each other on a downtown Toronto street (Photos by Maria Saporta)

More than 100 Atlanta leaders are in Toronto, Canada this week.

It’s part of the annual LINK exchange – when municipal heads travel to other cities to meet the people who run them.

Maria Saporta of the Saporta Report is in Toronto with the delegation. She told Amy Kiley what Atlanta leaders are learning up North.

Original Story by Maria Saporta on WABE

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Atlanta's clock ticking to make peace for Nobel Peace Summit

Original Story by Maria Saporta on WABE

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Atlanta has until May 9 to make peace for a peace summit set to take place this November.

The international body that selects cities to host the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates met in Rome over the weekend and issued a statement. All the parties in Atlanta must come together within one week, or the summit will be awarded to another city.

Atlanta was selected to host the 2015 World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates ─ a prestigious gathering of all the individuals and organizations who have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

It was supposed to be a kumbaya moment for Atlanta ─ an opportunity for us to reinforce our standing as a center for civil and human rights.

We had so much going for us. Former President Jimmy Carter, who had won the Peace Prize in 2002. Atlanta is the home of Martin Luther King Jr., who had won the prize in 1964. And Muhammad Yunus, the Bangladesh micro-lender who won in 2006, had adopted Atlanta as his second home.

So we had every reason to celebrate when we were awarded the event in 2013.

Planning groups were formed. Host committees were set. Announcements were made. Galas were held.

But then problems began brewing underneath the surface. Community leaders expressed concern that the governance of the Atlanta summit was being controlled by a nonprofit ─ Yunus Creative Lab ─ under the management of Mohammad Bhuiyan and his wife.

Attempts to have shared governance or planning of the event were rebuffed, and community leaders became increasingly concerned about how successful Atlanta would be in putting on such a global event under the existing management.

Mayor Kasim Reed has withdrawn the city of Atlanta’s involvement in organizing the Nobel Peace Prize Summit. Credit Patrick Semansky / Associated Press

Mayor Kasim Reed has withdrawn the city of Atlanta’s involvement in organizing the Nobel Peace Prize Summit.
Credit Patrick Semansky / Associated Press

Finally in March Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed announced that the city was withdrawing its support of the summit because it could not work with the organizers. Reed said that the only way the city would get re-engaged in the summit would be if Bhuiyan were no longer in charge.

The situation has continued to deteriorate, and even Nobel winner Yunus resigned as chairman from his own nonprofit ─ Yunus Creative Lab ─ saying he could not work with the management.

But Bhuiyan has had a hard time facing reality. Despite losing the support of the mayor, numerous civic and business leaders as well as his own chairman, Bhuiyan has been unwilling to step aside.

Now the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates has issued the ultimate challenge.

Come up with a solution to host the summit that includes the city of Atlanta, or it will move the summit to another city.

What a shame it would be if we were to lose this unique opportunity to showcase Atlanta and to reinforce our commitment to a peaceful world.

But first we need to make peace at home.


NCR's virtual shareholders meeting has real-world implications

Original Story by Maria Saporta on WABE

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When NCR ─ a Fortune 500 company based in Gwinnett County ─ held its annual meeting last Wednesday, the only way one could participate was online.

The NCR Corp. headquarters building, in Dayton, Ohio is shown Tuesday, June 2, 2009. NCR is expected to announce that it will move the headquarters operations to Duluth, Georgia.  (AP Photo/Dayton Daily News, Ron Alvey)

The NCR Corp. headquarters building, in Dayton, Ohio is shown Tuesday, June 2, 2009. NCR is expected to announce that it will move the headquarters operations to Duluth, Georgia. (AP Photo/Dayton Daily News, Ron Alvey)

It’s the first time in Georgia’s history a major public company held a virtual annual meeting.

So NCR shareholders were unable to interact with the executives and directors running their company. The meeting was only available online in audio ─ not even video ─ and not one shareholder asked a question.

Not surprising. An online-only meeting is an unfriendly forum for shareholders.

It leaves the impression that a company has something to hide. Or that a CEO does not want to meet shareholders face-to-face.

It’s not a good idea folks.

Nationally, more companies are choosing to go virtual with their annual meetings. Last year, 53 companies went to online-only annual meetings compared to 21 in 2011. Companies say they are cheaper to hold and more shareholders can participate.

But there has been a backlash.

Angry shareholders forced Intel to abandon its online-only annual meeting format in 2009 so it went back to a “hybrid” meeting.

People can show up in person or can participate online in a hybrid meeting. More than 500 U.S. companies are holding hybrid annual meetings, including several in Atlanta like Coca-Cola.

I am one of those strange people who enjoys going to annual meetings because they tell me so much about a company.

It is an opportunity for me to see the diversity on a company’s corporate board and its top management. They let me see how executives interact with shareholders, employees and the public. In short, they tell me a great deal about a company’s culture.

And that cannot be captured virtually.

Annual meetings also keep executives on their toes. Remember when Home Depot CEO Robert Nardelli held an annual meeting in 2006 with no directors present. He was gone from Home Depot a few months later.

NCR is moving its corporate headquarters from Gwinnett County to Midtown. It is considering options to sell part or all of the company.

At next year’s annual meeting, NCR should welcome its shareholders both online and in person.

It’s the smart thing to do.

Delta Air Lines gets no love from 2015 Georgia Legislature

Original Story by Maria Saporta on WABE

Delta Air Lines CEO Richard Anderson has been the most vocal business leader in Georgia according to journalist Maria Saporta. Credit Katsumi Kasahara, file / Associated Press

Delta Air Lines CEO Richard Anderson has been the most vocal business leader in Georgia.
Credit Katsumi Kasahara, file / Associated Press

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Delta Air Lines employs 33,000 people in Georgia ─ more than any other company in the state. But that didn’t stop state lawmakers from punishing Delta’s outspoken CEO.

The legislature voted to reinstate a jet fuel tax on Delta.

Why? To teach CEO Richard Anderson a lesson. They want him to keep his mouth shut.

Anderson has been the most vocal business leader in Georgia ─ speaking out against a restrictive immigration policy, speaking out against the “religious freedom” bill that could discriminate against gays and lesbians, and speaking out for transportation investment even if it means new taxes.

So legislators said: Let’s tax Delta.

Even after being told the jet tax could only be spent on airports ─ that the state would not get any of the Delta dollars, legislators didn’t back down.

Georgia is supposed to the friendliest state for business in the country. Yet it punishes its largest employer because its CEO spoke out for policies that he believed would keep Georgia globally competitive.

Delta is the magnet for almost every other company that moves or expands in Georgia. Smart leaders would be bending over backwards to listen to Anderson ─ making sure he’s a happy camper. He’s not.

In 2007, Atlantans made buttons with the slogan: “Keep Delta My Delta.”

The fear was that as the airline emerged from bankruptcy, it would move its headquarters to another city. But Anderson and Delta’s board decided to keep the headquarters in Atlanta.

After such a mean-spirited session, it’s time to show Delta some love.

Let’s reprint “Keep Delta My Delta” buttons; so our state officials can make Delta feel welcome in Georgia once more.

Georgia's electric vehicle market hits legislative potholes

Original Story by Maria Saporta on WABE

Maria Saporta is not happy about Georgia's recent changes to its electric vehicles tax credit. Credit Dan Raby / WABE

Maria Saporta is not happy about Georgia’s recent changes to its electric vehicles tax credit.
Credit Dan Raby / WABE

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Georgia rarely ranks as one of the top states in the country for something positive.

But with electric vehicles, Georgia has been leading the way.

Mayor Kasim Reed boasted that last year we were first in America in the sale of the plug-in Nissan Leaf.

Electric cars were catching on in Georgia largely because the state has had a $5,000 tax credit for electric vehicles.

But in its “wisdom” – and that is in quotation marks – the 2015 Georgia General Assembly did away with the tax credit.

And to make matters worse, it also added a $200 annual registration fee on all alternative-fuel vehicles – that includes plug-in electrics, natural gas and propane powered vehicles.

So in the blink of one session, Georgia has gone from having one of the best programs for electric vehicles in the country to the absolute worse.

Only five states charge an annual registration fee for electric vehicles, and the most they charge is $100. Georgia will charge twice that much.

Congratulations Georgia. You have done it again.

As Don Francis, a leading advocate for electric vehicles in Georgia said after the session: “We were one of the best states, and now we’re the worse. We can’t stand being number 2. We want to be 49.”

Georgia originally passed the electric vehicle tax credit to encourage the adoption of the transportation mode in the state and to offset the higher costs of the technology of battery-powered vehicles.

The benefits are seen as multifold. Electric vehicles are cleaner for the environment because they do not emit carbon dioxide into the air. And they do not rely on gas that is imported from out of the state.

Because Georgia has become such a magnet for electric vehicles, a whole new industry has been developing in the state – new dealerships, suppliers, recharging stations and manufacturers.

So thank you state legislators. We actually were proud of Georgia for leading the way  in adopting electric vehicles.

And now, we can kiss our leading edge good-bye.

Free ATL Streetcar rides make economic sense

Original Story by Maria Saporta on WABE

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The Atlanta Streetcar. People instantly have an opinion ─ regardless of the facts.

Some call it a boondoggle. Others say it doesn’t go where they want to go.

Inevitably the conversation will go to the $92 million cost to build the 2.7-mile loop that connects Centennial Olympic Park with the King Center through the heart of downtown Atlanta.

When Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said the streetcar fare would be free through 2015, more grumbling followed. Won’t that even be more of a burden on taxpayers?

Journalist Maria Saporta wants to see the Atlanta Streetcar system expanded and sees the transit system as an asset to Atlanta.  Credit Mary Claire Kelly / WABE

Journalist Maria Saporta wants to see the Atlanta Streetcar system expanded and sees the transit system as an asset to Atlanta.
Credit Mary Claire Kelly / WABE

Hold on, folks. The Atlanta Streetcar is one of the best amenities to come to Atlanta in years. We finally are adopting a mode of transportation that increasingly is becoming the future for cities. Nearly every up-and-coming city in the country has a streetcar or is planning to build a streetcar.

Why? Because it makes economic sense.

Since the Atlanta Streetcar route was announced in 2010, there has been $840 million in new investments. And that translates into more property taxes and sales taxes being generated for the city.

The Atlanta Streetcar estimated that the $1 fare would bring in about $250,000 a year ─ and that didn’t include the cost of adding a fare collection system.

And for people who tell you no one is riding the streetcar, since it opened in December 2014, the Atlanta Streetcar has had more than 180,000 riders.

On a recent Saturday, the streetcar was so packed, it was standing-room only. Many of them were out-of-town visitors experiencing Atlanta with smiles on their faces.

The mayor said the reason the fares are remaining free is so the city can be strategic in deciding what technology to use for fare collection. That makes sense.

But keeping it free also makes sense ─ at least until the day when we have expanded our streetcar system to serve more of the city.

Let us increase the frequency of the streetcar to five minutes rather than the current 12 to 15 minutes between cars.

Yes. Let’s extend the streetcar a quarter-mile to the Atlanta BeltLine. Yes. Let’s expand the existing streetcar to the west along Martin Luther King Jr. Drive to connect the King Center with the Atlanta University Center. Yes. Let’s build the original vision of a Peachtree Streetcar to connect downtown, Midtown and Buckhead.

As we look to expand the Atlanta Streetcar, remember ─ it is not just for transportation. It’s a magnet for economic development.

And the cost to build, operate and expand the system is a bargain when one considers the economic benefits of riding streetcars into the future.


Commentary: Free Atlanta Streetcar rides make economic sense

Original Story on WABE by Maria Saporta



The Atlanta Streetcar. People instantly have an opinion ─ regardless of the facts.

Some call it a boondoggle. Others say it doesn’t go where they want to go.

Inevitably the conversation will go to the $92 million cost to build the 2.7-mile loop that connects Centennial Olympic Park with the King Center through the heart of downtown Atlanta. Read more

City Of Atlanta pulls support for Nobel Peace Prize Summit

Original Story on WABE

Mayor Kasim Reed has withdrawn the city of Atlanta’s involvement in organizing the Nobel Peace Prize Summit. Credit Patrick Semansky / Associated Press

Mayor Kasim Reed has withdrawn the city of Atlanta’s involvement in organizing the Nobel Peace Prize Summit.
Credit Patrick Semansky / Associated Press

Maria Saporta speaks with WABE’s Amy Kiley about the city’s pullout from summit preparations.

More than 20 Nobel Peace Prize laureates are scheduled to meet in Atlanta this November, but it looks like city leaders won’t be in the welcome party.

Mayor Kasim Reed has withdrawn the city of Atlanta’s involvement in organizing the summit. To find out why and what it means for the city’s reputation, Amy Kiley spoke with commentator Maria Saporta.

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Update: Maria published the below story 4/1/15

Mayor Kasim Reed Willing To Support 2015 Nobel Peace Summit in Atlanta if Mohammad Bhuiyan Is Not In Charge

CARE CEO Helene Gayle is leaving Atlanta but leaving an impact

By Maria Saporta Original Story on WABE

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We are losing one of our leading advocates for making Atlanta a center for global health and development: Helene Gayle.

CARE CEO Helen Gayle speaks to Atlanta Press Club members in 2013. Credit Denis O'Hayer / WABE

CARE CEO Helen Gayle speaks to Atlanta Press Club members in 2013.
Credit Denis O’Hayer / WABE

Gayle has been the CEO of CARE for the past nine years. She announced in October 2014 she was leaving the international relief and poverty fighting organization this June.

As much as she loves CARE, Gayle thought it would be good for the nonprofit to have new leadership. Plus she wanted one more challenge to cap her illustrious career.

That new challenge? To become the inaugural CEO of the McKinsey Social Initiative.

It is the new nonprofit arm of the giant consulting firm. It’s goal? To develop innovative solutions to tackle the world’s toughest issues.

Gayle will be moving to Washington, D.C., to lead the McKinsey Social Initiative.

Although she had been intrigued by offers to stay in Atlanta, her priority was to work on global social change. She saw the McKinsey “start-up” as her best opportunity.

Gayle has been impacting global social change for decades. She worked for the CDC in the early days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. She then joined the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation before joining CARE in 2006.

At CARE, Gayle would talk about the potential power of Atlanta institutions to improve the lives of people around the world. Our nonprofits, universities and corporations could work more closely together to help reduce extreme poverty, empower women, provide clean water and distribute vaccines to fight the most devastating diseases on earth.

Gayle brought together partners from the CDC, the Carter Center, the Task Force for Global Health, the Coca-Cola Company, UPS, Delta Air Lines and others to work on these common goals.

The vision is that Atlanta can build on its foundation as a center for civil and human rights by focusing on the health and well-being of people around the world.

Fortunately Gayle will continue to have a relationship with Atlanta as a board member of the Coca-Cola Company.

But with Gayle no longer living in Atlanta full-time, our challenge will be to continue her great work in helping make Atlanta a nexus for global health and development.

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