By Maria Saporta
The City of Atlanta has agreed to allocate $60 million to Atlanta BeltLine Inc. for the acquisition of real estate along the 22-mile corridor.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed made the announcement at the ribbon-cutting of the one-mile extension of the Eastside Trail that connects the Reynoldstown and Cabbagetown communities.
“Everywhere the Atlanta BeltLine goes, the city comes alive and our neighbors come alive,” Reed told the people gathered along the trail newest endpoint – at Kirkwood Ave. SE. “We are going to connect 45 neighborhoods in the City of Atlanta.”
Then Reed said that an agreement had been reached between the city and BeltLine – naming Chairman John Somerhalder and the recently-named Brian McGowan, president and CEO of ABI.
As recently as two or three weeks ago, the BeltLine had thought the city would be providing about $40 million in funds to complete the effort to acquire the right-of-way. Several people were thrilled when they heard the mayor announce the $60 million allocation.
Currently, the Atlanta BeltLine owns about half of the 22-mile corridor, and it has been identifying land and negotiating with property owners to acquire the remainder of the corridor.
The city is able to make this allocation thanks to the sales tax increase that voters approved last November for transportation and infrastructure improvements.
When asked when ABI would receive the money and when it could complete the acquisition, McGowan said: “We are working through all of those details now. We are looking to get the money up front – as much as possible, because land costs keep going up.”
McGowan said the city’s funding also should cover lighting along the trail.
Rob Brawner, executive director of the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership – which raises private support for the project, said it is in the middle of a silent campaign to complement the city’s efforts.
The partnership hopes to raise $5.75 million to be able to construct an interim trail (cleared but not paved) along the 22-mile corridor. Brawner said that 100 percent of his board already has contributed to the effort, and it has raised slightly more than $1 million.
“Donors are really excited about getting the rest of the BeltLine built,” said Somerhalder, who previously chaired the Partnership board before going to chair ABI’s board. “A lot of donors will step up.”
Brawner, however, said a much more ambitious campaign will need to be launched in order to finish paving the entire trail.
The city also has plans to put transit along parts of the BeltLine, which will be another major effort.
At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, the partners of the Atlanta BeltLine were also invited to speak – Lee Morris, a Fulton County Commissioner, and Cynthia Briscoe Brown, who serves on the Atlanta Board of Education.
“It’s exciting to see the investment we are making in Atlanta’s future,” Brown said.
Catherine Woodling, who was representing the Reynoldstown Civic Improvement League, said her community was delighted to finally have the trail open from Kirkwood Avenue to Cabbagetown.
“Reynoldstown is the only neighborhood where the BeltLine bisected the community,” she said, adding that the opening of the trail is reuniting the community.
Brawner said the Partnership raised $2 million for the one-mile extension, and he thanked the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation, the Kendeda Fund and the Waterfall Foundation for contributing to the effort.
For McGowan, who has been on the job for less than two months, said he already had been able to participate in two ribbon-cuttings. A large section of the Westside Trail opened last month.
“It’s like being born on third base,” said McGowan, who thank the ABI staff for all the work it has done to open the latest sections of the BeltLine.
“This is a small mile but one big step in connecting two historically separated railroad line,” McGowan said. “This was not the easiest segment to complete.”
McGowan also said that after the tragedy along the pedestrian/bicycle trail in New York City, where a terrorist in a rented truck drove on the trail and mowed down cyclists and people, the Atlanta BeltLine is assessing all the access points to the corridor to help prevent such an event in Atlanta.