By Maria Saporta and Doug Sams
Published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on November 14, 2014
With hundreds of millions of infrastructure dollars possibly at stake, Atlanta economic development boosters want to make sure city and state political leaders don’t overlook a more than 8-mile stretch of Peachtree — from the heart of downtown to Buckhead.
The leaders of three community improvement districts along Peachtree have teamed up to fund a study that underscores the corridor’s role as a magnet for investment and development.
The study produced some eye- popping numbers about the corridor: $5.5 billion of new construction is in the pipeline and 80 projects are planned or in development. Roughly 58 percent of all the jobs in the city are housed on Peachtree, where 241,300 people work in the office buildings that line the corridor, according to Bleakly Advisory Group, the consultant that conducted the economic and fiscal impact study.
“We wanted to create a scorecard that helped us understand where we were as a corridor and its importance to the city, the region and the state,” said Central Atlanta Progress President A.J. Robinson.
That’s a potentially timely argument.
The city of Atlanta has been laying the groundwork for a $250 million infrastructure bond that Mayor Kasim Reed wants to take to voters next year.
Atlanta faces an infrastructure backlog of more than $900 million, including $881 million for deteriorating roads, bridges and sidewalks. Much like department heads during federal budget hearings, leaders of the city’s different business districts are making their case.
In October, Buckhead Community Improvement District director Jim Durrett sent a letter to Atlanta Chief Operating Officer Michael Geisler and Commissioner Richard Mendoza saying “transportation infrastructure, rather than public facilities, should receive the greatest emphasis at this time.”
Durrett argued for the need to improve the city’s bridges — “vital elements in a well-connected transportation system.”
And while he vouched for Buckhead as “clearly an economic engine for the city,” he also suggested the city should consider partnering with all three improvement districts along the Peachtree corridor to make sure the projects were carried out. In an interview with Atlanta Business Chronicle, Durrett said Peachtree is evolving from a thoroughfare focused solely on moving cars to a boulevard that needs different transportation improvements and infrastructure, allowing people to drive, walk, bike and take transit, seamlessly connecting Buckhead, Midtown and downtown.
His counterparts agree.
“It is not healthy to devolve into a Buckhead versus Midtown versus downtown mentality,” said Kevin Green, president and CEO of the Midtown Alliance.
Green said even he was surprised by some of the findings, including the number of jobs centered on Peachtree, and that 7 percent of all state tax revenues come from the corridor.
“Once you have this common set of facts that are vetted, it gives you all sorts of talking points,” he said.
David Allman, chairman of developer Regent Partners and the Buckhead CID said, “It’s a good reminder of how important these submarkets are and what an important role these CIDs play.”
City boosters want that message to resonate with state leaders, especially those who spent the summer studying transportation infrastructure funding.
Those meetings follow the overwhelming defeat of the 2012 transportation improvement referendum, or TSPLOST, which would have allocated more than $7 billion for projects including the expansion of transit.
Now state leaders are trying to determine which regional job centers will receive the bulk of those improvement dollars. Those issues may come up in next year’s legislative session.
“Transportation funding still remains one of the region’s greatest challenges,” Atlanta Regional Commission Executive Director Doug Hooker said Nov. 7 in speech during ARC’s state of the region breakfast. “The Georgia General Assembly is doing a study on transportation funding and we hope their recommendations will establish a bold and comprehensive (answer) for all transportation issues.”
One simmering issue underlying where the the funding goes — what’s the true center of Atlanta? Some argue it remains Peachtree and the urban core, where the region’s longest standing companies such as the Southern Co. and most influential lenders, such as SunTrust Banks Inc., remain headquartered.
But, newer cities such as Dunwoody and Sandy Springs argue they are now the center of the metro region.
In Dunwoody, a new campus for State Farm Insurance Co. will employ 8,000. The project, developed around the Dunwoody MARTA station, is one of the largest ever planned along the Perimeter.
A series of projects, from Atlanta Braves’ new ballpark in Cobb County to the redevelopment of the General Motors plant in Doraville, add to the debate.
In his state of the region speech before the ARC, Mayor Reed suggested metro Atlanta leaders have to work together on transportation and other infrastructure needs to remain the economic center of the South.
“In the future, density won’t just mean [development] in the city of Atlanta, although for now it frequently does.”
Reed referred to big mixed-use projects such as Avalon in Alpharetta; Buckhead Atlanta at Peachtree and Paces Ferry roads; and sustainable housing community Serenbe south of the city in the Chattahoochee Hills country.
All have started to add new housing, stores and restaurants.
“Density can be Avalon in Alpharetta,” Reed said. “Density can be Buckhead. Density can Serenbe in south Fulton. Density can be the new stadium in Cobb. Density is where people want to move to be close to one another and that’s what Millennials are looking for — and it’s going to change the way we live.”
The Peachtree Corridor study, however, showed that growth is continuing in the heart of the city. Eighty new projects are planned or in development. That would bring 4.8 million square feet of new office, 1,600 new hotel rooms and 14,600 new apartments and condos.
“We are entering a new era with a real different kind of growth on the ridge,” CAP’s Robinson said. “We wanted to do this to not only call attention to what we already have but to shine a light on what is about to happen and how we need to support it. We want people to understand in a very specific way that this is the cultural and economic center of the Southeast.”