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Column: Atlanta BeltLine opens first leg, begins search for next CEO

By Maria Saporta
Published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on October 12, 2012

Atlanta BeltLine will dedicate its first major leg — the Eastside Trail — on Oct. 15, a 2.25 mile pedestrian and bicycle path connecting Piedmont Park with Inman Park.

It also will give the public an opportunity to experience the ambitious project, which eventually will be a 22-mile ring around the central city with trails, parks, transit with new residential, office and retail developments.

“Now is a good time to lead this effort because we can continue the momentum,” said Lisa Gordon, who has been acting chief executive of the organization since August when Brian Leary stepped down amid controversy. “The good news is that I’ve been with the team for almost three years as COO.”

Before joining Atlanta BeltLine in January 2010, Gordon was a deputy COO under Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin. Gordon also served as the first African-American female city manager of East Point from 2004 to 2007.

In her first one-on-one interview in her new role, Gordon said the official opening of the Eastside Trail will give the public a new perspective of how the Beltline can transform Atlanta.

“One of my favorite things is that what used to be a back door for people is now a front door,” said Gordon, who added that the Ponce City Market development and the Historic Fourth Ward Park will provide new destinations along the corridor.

Running Atlanta BeltLine Inc. is a multi-faceted job because it includes developing more trails, planning for transit, acquiring more land along the corridor and working with a host of partners.

Gordon said the defeat of the regional transportation sales tax in July was only a temporary setback.

Gordon said Atlanta BeltLine will continue to seek federal grants for the project and that the city is open to public-private partnerships to build the transit piece.

During Franklin’s administration, the Beltline project had been viewed as a 25-year endeavor. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has said he would like to see it built out in 10 years.

“I think the mayor’s target of 10 years provides momentum for us to see what can be done in a shorter time frame,” she said. “It makes us think creatively about how we can implement it sooner.”

When asked about her predecessor, Gordon said: “Brian made great contributions to the project and our team that are allowing us to continue to move the project forward.”

At the Atlanta BeltLine board meeting on Oct. 10, Chairman John Somerhalder, who is also CEO of AGL Resources Inc., said the organization had received a quality proposal from Korn/Ferry International to help in the search for a new president and CEO at no cost.

In the interview, Gordon said she would be interested in the permanent position.

“Being president and CEO of the Atlanta BeltLine is a dream job; of course I’m interested,” she said. “We have a great project, and we have a great team. But of course a lot of other people also are interested in the job.”

After the board meting, Reed said he was pleased with how the Beltline was progressing. “I’m more excited than ever,” Reed said. “I hope that today everyone understands how seriously this board has responded to the challenges that we went through in July and that we are taking very necessary steps to maintain the public confidence and move this vital public initiative forward.”

Massell receives Four Pillar Award

Upon receiving the Council for Quality Growth’s Four Pillar award on Oct. 4, former Atlanta Mayor Sam Massell was almost speechless.

“That was awesome. You guys are beautiful,” said Massell, who also is the founding president of the Buckhead Coalition. “You have massaged my ego beyond repair.”

The four tribute speakers were former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes, former U.S. Sen. David Gambrell, Attorney General Sam Olens, and Jenny Pruitt, CEO of Atlanta Fine Homes Sotheby’s International Realty. The co-chairs of the event were Juanita Baranco, co-owner of Baranco Automotive; Georgia State University President Mark Becker and The Home Depot Inc. co-founder Bernie Marcus.

Kiwanis gets new president

The Kiwanis Club of Atlanta has a new president, John O’Kane, a senior consultant with Coxe Curry & Associates.

In a letter to members, O’Kane said some people may view Georgia’s oldest Kiwanis Club, now 95 years old, as old-fashioned and outdated.

But O’Kane said the organization is more relevant today than ever before.

“There is a youth movement happening in Atlanta Kiwanis as a new generation of bright and energetic young professionals seek to carry on the traditions of the generations of distinguished Atlantans who built this club,” O’Kane 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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