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Clyde Higgs is the new CEO of Atlanta BeltLine Inc.

Clyde Higgs and Brian McGowan (Photo by Maria Saporta)

By Maria Saporta

The board of Atlanta BeltLine Inc. has selected Clyde Higgs, the interim executive, to serve in the permanent CEO role.

The board met in executive session Wednesday morning when members selected the future CEO of the complicated, multi-faceted project. But the board did not identify the new CEO at the time.

John Somerhalder, chair of the Atlanta BeltLine Inc. board, said the organization went through a robust process to select the new CEO, and it considered really good candidates from both intown and out of town.

Brian McGowan Clyde Higgs

Brian McGowan with Clyde Higgs, who was named the Atlanta BeltLine Inc.’s interim CEO at its board meeting on Aug. 8 (Photo by Maria Saporta)

But board members finally decided Higgs was their top choice.

“Clyde has done a remarkably good job in the interim role,” Somerhalder said. “He’s really good at collaborating with others. And he’s always been good at implementing things. He rose to the top because of his performance as interim CEO and as COO.”

An official announcement from the city is expected shortly.

Somerhalder was contacted Wednesday after the board meeting, but he was unable to discuss the result.

“We are finalizing things with the Mayor’s office,” he said. “The board and the search committee has finalized our process.”

The Atlanta BeltLine is a project that follows a 22-mile corridor of railroad lines that encircle the central city. The project includes multi-use trails, parks, property acquisition, economic development, affordable housing and other community-building efforts, such as public art and regular events, like the BeltLine Lantern parade. Eventually, transit is planned to be part of the BeltLine project.

Atlanta BeltLine Inc. (ABI) has been without a permanent CEO since last August when Brian McGowan accepted a job in Seattle to run a new economic development agency. Clyde Higgs, previously the chief operating officer, was named as the interim CEO of the entity. Somerhalder confirmed that Higgs was a finalist for the position. ABI is a stand-alone city agency.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who serves on the board, did not attend Wednesday’s meeting.

“The Mayor absolutely played an appropriate role in guiding and advising us.” Somerhalder said. “We made sure we kept her informed.”

ABI conducted a national search for a new CEO working with search firm of Brightwell Talent Solutions and partner Mark Weinstein.

John Somerhalder

John Somerhalder sits with outgoing Atlanta BeltLine CEO, Brian McGowan, in August, 2018 (Photo by Maria Saporta)

“They did a nice job on the search,” said Somerhalder, who said the board considered “well-qualified  search candidates from both inside and outside Atlanta,” and that the search was narrowed to a handful of finalists.

Somerhalder said the entire ABI board served as the search committee, and everyone understood the importance of finding the right person for the job.

“The single most important thing was to make sure that we correctly addressed equity, affordability, diversity and inclusion in everything we do,” he said. “You have got to have someone who has the ability to collaborate with all the groups. And you really need someone who can implement and get things done – someone who understands how to move the project forward.”

ABI works with the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership, which helps raise private money to support various aspects of the project – primarily property acquisition and trail development. ABI has acquired more than half  of the land along the circular corridor.

“The individual has to be able to work with fundraising,” Somerhalder said. “We need implementation in all those areas. That’s an absolute necessity.”

Still, Somerhalder said there now is more identified funding for the BeltLine when city voters approved wo new sales taxes – a half penny for “More MARTA” and .4 percent for local transportation projects.

Also, after a slow start, the BeltLine Tax Allocation District, is finally beginning to generate substantial revenue.

“The TAD increment is performing better than we expected,” Somerhalder said. “We are now more than $7 million ahead of what had been estimated.”

Somerhalder expects that the organization will hire someone to be COO in the near future. “We’ve already started to have discussions,” he said.

Atlanta BeltLine

Atlanta BeltLine map (Special: Atlanta BeltLine Inc.)

Maria Saporta

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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