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Column: Trust for Public Land reaches fundraising goal for Westside park

By Maria Saporta
As published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on Dec. 22, 2017

Trust for Public Land has reached its $12.7 million goal to build out the Rodney Cook Sr. Park in Vine City, with the hope that it will be open in time for the Super Bowl in February 2019.

George Dusenbury, state director of the Trust for Public Land, said the grand vision for the park appealed to both the community and the philanthropic community.

Cook Park

A rendering of the Rodney Cook Jr. Park with a view of new Mercedes-Benz Stadium and part of downtown (Special: Trust for Public Land)

“A big driver behind the park was the big flood in 2002,” Dusenbury said. “About 160 families used to live there. By repurposing the land, solving the flooding issue and providing an amenity to the community really resonated with people.”

Dusenbury said it also helped that it was part of a cohesive and comprehensive approach in the revitalization of the Westside.

“This park has been tangible evidence that the revitalization was happening,” Dusenbury said. “The project had floundered for five years, and we got involved in 2015, and now we are breaking ground two years later.”

Construction on the park began earlier in December – starting out with soil remediation that will take about three months. The City of Atlanta Department of Watershed will then build out the $20 million lake that will serve as a basin to capture storm water, a project that will minimize flooding in the area.

TPL will then develop the park and its amenities, including a splash-pad, a playground, a great lawn with a natural amphitheater and performance plaza, a picnic pavilion, a boardwalk, an overlook, terraced pools and courts for various sports.

“Because this project had been around for five years, it took a while for us to get the message out that we had taken over the project and were responsible for its development,” Dusenbury said. “The fact that we were able to raise $12.7 million is a testament to Atlanta’s philanthropic community.”

The biggest donors to the park included a $5 million grant from the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation, a $2.5 million grant from the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, a $1 million grant from the James M. Cox Foundation, an anonymous $1 million gift, $500,00 from the Coca-Cola Foundation as well as $150,000 grant from the Chick-fil-A Foundation.

TPL’s Georgia Advisory Board also raised $540,000 towards the project with 100 percent participation.

State of MARTA

The coming year will be pivotal for MARTA. Not only will it welcome a new CEO (a national search is underway to replace former CEO Keith Parker), it is playing an ever-increasing role in the state’s economic development profile.

For example, MARTA is considered to be a key selling point in the state’s pitch for Amazon’s second headquarters. That’s why the Council for Quality Growth partnered with the transit agency to hold the 2018 State of MARTA breakfast on Jan. 5 at the W Hotel in Midtown.

The keynote speaker will be Phil Washington, CEO of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Other speakers that morning will be Robbie Ashe, chair of MARTA’s board; Liz O’Neill, MARTA’s interim general manager and CEO; and Hala Moddelmog, president and CEO of the Metro Atlanta Chamber.

Communities in Schools of Georgia

Jomal Vailes, formerly with the Center for Working Families, has joined Communities In Schools of Georgia as its new chief philanthropy officer.

Communities in Schools of Georgia, a nonprofit that seeks to prevent young people from dropping out of school.

“We are delighted to have Jomal join CISGA and bring his considerable expertise in fundraising strategy to support our next phase of growth and impact,” said Carol Lewis, president and CEO of the nonprofit. “Jomal joins our organization at an incredibly exciting time as we look to the future.”

In his new position, Vailes will be responsible for leading the agency’s fund development strategies and expanding the agency’s visibility so it can get increased support from individuals, foundations, corporations and government.

“I am excited to join such a dynamic organization on the frontlines of education and equity for our children,” Vailes said. “I look forward to broadening the support base to ensure Georgia’s students have everything they need to soar, regardless of zip code.”

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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