By Maria Saporta
Although the site for a new Atlanta Falcons stadium is up in the air, community and city leaders are continuing their efforts to draft a community benefits plan.
The 16-member group held its second meeting Wednesday evening at the offices of Invest Atlanta, but it spent a significant portion of the meeting (just as during the first meeting) trying to figure out whether they were working on a Community Benefits Plan or Agreement or Arrangement or something in between.
“I think that’s an important issue to address and an issue that has the potential of tripping us up out of the gate,” said Ceasar Mitchell, president of the Atlanta City Council. “And we don’t want that to happen. We are going to get that issue resolved.”
The meeting started out with members of the public being given two minutes to make comments. But members of the community were not happy with the way they were being engaged in the process.
“The structure does not allow us to be empowered,” said Able Mable Thomas, a state representative who has grown up and represents English Avenue. “People in the community still don’t know what’s going on…. This looks like a top heavy process.”
Rev. Howard Beckham, chairman of the English Avenue Vine City Ministerial Alliance, questioned the composition of the committee. “We thought we would have a seat at the table,” said Beckham, who added that the churches were speaking with one voice. “The churches will be impacted more than any other group because the games will be played on Sundays.”
After several community leaders expressed their discontent with the process, the committee began to discuss its scope of work. Among the issues that were covered included environmental mitigation, safety and code enforcement, transportation and infrastructure improvements, zoning, historic preservation, green space, job creation and training, urban agriculture, land banking, home ownership and residential rehab as well as health and wellness.
As members of the committee — along with input from community members in the audience — kept adding ideas to the list, several of the City Council leaders wanted to make sure to manage expectations.
The City of Atlanta has decided to allocate $15 million in westside Tax Allocation District funds to Vine City, English Avenue and parts of Castleberry Hill. The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation has pledge to invest another $15 million towards the social and human needs in the community.
Councilmember Michael Julian Bond said that although $30 million represents significant funding, it was important to manage the community’s expectations on what could be accomplished with those dollars.
“What’s happened in this community for a long time was unrealistic expectations, and that has led to disappointments,” Bond said. “We have to look at a way to define what is fundable.”
State Rep. Thomas offered another point of view. She said it was important to think big because she believes the $30 million could be leveraged to attract other funding — perhaps as much as a total of $60 million — from companies and foundations.
“Let’s use the power of this process to leverage it,” she said. “Everybody is calling our name. This is not the time to limit our possibilities.”
The Community Benefits Plan/Agreement group is scheduled to meet again on Wednesday, Aug. 7 at 5:30 p.m.