Column: Blank, Cathy explore collaboration on Westside revitalization

By Maria Saporta
Published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on April 3, 2015

Two of Atlanta’s wealthiest business leaders and most generous philanthropists are focusing their efforts to help revitalize the Westside communities near the new Atlanta Falcons stadium west of Northside Drive.

Those two executives are Arthur Blank, owner of the Atlanta Falcons and co-founder of The Home Depot Inc.; and Dan Cathy, the CEO of Chick-fil-A.

On March 12, Blank and Cathy — joined by the staffs of their respective foundations — got together for a meeting at Westside Works to learn more about their priorities and whether there could be a closer working relationship.

Blank has been on record for saying that building a world-class stadium is important, but helping turn around the Westside neighborhoods is just as significant.

Cathy recently sounded an alarm about how those neighborhoods remind him of Baghdad, and that the whole Atlanta community should be galvanized around making sure there is not such a disparity of wealth and opportunity on either side of Northside Drive — which he called the “great divide” in Georgia.

Asked about the meeting, both Blank and Cathy said it was a good first step. But it was only a beginning.

Both billionaires have their individual priorities in the area, and there was a general agreement that it would make sense for the two camps to work more closely together.

“It went really well,” Cathy said of the meeting with Blank.

After John Imlay’s service on April 1, Blank said the challenge is that the work that needs to happen in the Westside neighborhoods will take decades.

“Collaboration is going to be critical, and partnerships are going to be critical,” Blank said. “We have asked Dan to join others in their commitments and their effort. I think we will get much more done by working together.”

Blank said the initial meeting between the two foundations was “positive,” and he looked forward to future collaboration.

“Dan has a huge heart,” Blank said. “I did challenge him and said if you want to put a stake in the ground, put in a Chick-fil-A in the area — maybe next to the Walmart on Martin Luther King.”

Given that both men have strong feelings about the area and given that both men have differing styles, it will be fascinating to watch how a collaboration could evolve.

“At the end of the day, the stadium should be an opportunity to accelerate change,” Blank said. “It’s at a tipping point.”

Chick-fil-A Foundation

A couple of weeks after the meeting between Blank and Cathy, the Chick-fil-A Foundation held an advisory board meeting at the City of Refuge, where it invited members of the Blank Foundation and other community partners to talk about the opportunities to transform the Westside communities.

“It was fantastic,” Cathy said of the March 24 meeting. Among the partners he invited were representatives from Friendship Baptist Church, the Atlanta Committee for Progress and other community stakeholders.

Cathy said they were given presentations summarizing the 10 different studies that have been conducted about the area.

“My sense is that there is a real desire for people to come together,” Cathy said. “We can proceed with an overall plan if we can work together.”

Cathy said the staffs of the two foundations will explore ways that they can work together.

Zoo Atlanta reptile house

There was a time when Raymond King, president and CEO of Zoo Atlanta, would stay far away from the zoo’s old reptile house.

“I grew up scared to death of snakes,” King admitted. “Before I took this job, I would literally sit on a bench outside of the reptile house while my daughter went inside.”

King told that story as he was showing off the new “Scaly Slimy Spectacular: the Amphibian & Reptile Experience” at Zoo Atlanta, even pointing out some of his favorite snakes. The new reptile house opened to the public April 2.

The $18 million project — which had already been envisioned before King joined the zoo in 2010 — features a 45-foot-high glass dome and a 30-foot indoor waterfall housing the Cuban crocodile habitat. It has 100 animals in the complex representing more than 70 species in 67 different exhibits.

The leading donors for the new attraction were the Joseph B. Whitehead Foundation ($5 million); the Mabel Dorn Reeder Foundation ($1.2 million); and three $1 million gifts from Georgia Power/Southern Co.; United Parcel Service Inc. and an anonymous donor.

As soon as that fundraising campaign ended, Zoo Atlanta received another opportunity to retrofit the Cyclorama building into a major event facility with vistas overlooking a savannah and an expanded zoo.

The Robert W. Woodruff Foundation has agreed to donate up to $20 million in matching funds for the $38 million project. Already Delta Air Lines Inc. has provided a lead $1 million grant. The Zoo’s board also has $1 million toward that matching campaign, and King said they have already received a total of $500,000 in gifts from various individuals.

Only $15.6 million to go to reach the minimum campaign goal or up to $17.5 million to get the total Woodruff match. King said the Zoo has until mid-2016 to raise the money because that’s when the Cyclorama painting is supposed to be moved to a new home at the Atlanta History Center.

“The best case scenario is that we will open (the retrofitted Cyclorama building) in 2018,” King said.

Meanwhile, Zoo Atlanta marked its 126th anniversary on March 28. In 1889, Atlanta businessman George Valentine Gress purchased the animal collection from a bankrupt traveling circus and donated the “menagerie” to the city of Atlanta for its first and only zoo, according to an advisory from Zoo Atlanta.

Today, Zoo Atlanta is one of the top 10 oldest zoos still in continuous operation in the United States.

Georgia Council for Economic Education

Leslie Marlow, director of the Berry College Center for Economic Education, has received the prestigious Leavey Award for Excellence in Private Enterprise Education for her work on “Using Biographies of Great Americans to Teach Economics.”

She worked with Ron Van Sickle, the retired director of The University of Georgia Center for Economic Education, on the project, along with the staff of the Georgia Council for Economic Education.

David Martin, executive director of the Georgia Council, said that according to his records, this is the fifth Leavey Award to be given to a Georgian since 1983.

Martin also has announced that the council also has made five new board appointments:

  • Matt Jones, chief academic officer, Georgia Department of Education;
  • Nathan Lewis, president and CEO of Security Capital Brokerage Inc.;
  • Cindy Morley, chief officer of Governmental affairs, Georgia Department of Education;
  • Reggie Walker, managing partner, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLC; and
  • Richard Woods, state school superintendent, Georgia Department of Education.

They will serve for three-year terms.

Marie Gooding, first vice president and chief operating officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, chairs the board, and Loren Starr, senior managing director and CFO, Invesco, serves as the vice chair and chair-elect.

Georgia Council for Economic Education – part two

The Council will hold its annual meeting on May 8 at the Federal Reserve.

The keynote speaker will be Shan Cooper, vice president and general manager at Lockheed.

The William J. VanLandingham Commitment to Education Award will be presented to Pat Willis, executive director of Voices for Georgia’s Children.

At this meeting, the Council will welcome its new leadership. In addition to Loren Starr following Marie Gooding as chair, Kirby Thompson, senior vice president for community and government affairs at SunTrust, will become vice chair.

The Council also is celebrating the 35th anniversary of the Stock Market Game in Georgia. The 2014-2015 Stock Market Game Awards luncheon will be on May 5 at the Georgia Freight Depot.

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.

1 reply
  1. Horacio Romero says:

    Maria, you should create a site that highlights the amount the neighborhoods around the new stadium have received in investment from Mr. Blank and the amount Mr. Blank says he has invested in these communities. After the Westside TAD moneys were re-routed into the stadium neighborhood development fund, I have not seen a single project that benefits Castleberry Hill. I am unsure that the any money will be invested in the neighborhoods, yet CH has borne the brunt of the inconvenience of the construction. Every trip in and out of CH is impacted by construction to the tune of at least 5-15 minutes each way.Report

    Reply

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