By Guest Columnist JAMES OXENDINE, CEO of the Oxendine Group, a public policy consulting firm specializing in economic and transit-oriented development.
Noted author, Malcolm Gladwell, has characterized the potentially massive implications of small scale events known as tipping points: “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point at which the momentum for change becomes unstoppable.”
After 13 years of sitting around unused, the $87 million in federal funds that U.S. Rep. David Scott (D-Atlanta) secured for the commuter rail line to Lovejoy have emerged as not only a linchpin for Atlanta and Georgia’s future federal transportation funding, but as a potential catalyst for a critical economic development project that could jump start the development of a robust urban district downtown.
The Obama administration has stated in no uncertain terms that there will be no additional transportation funding for Georgia until these funds are spent. Georgia is facing a May, 2010 deadline for the use of the funds, so the question now before the policy makers is how best to spend these funds and where they will create the biggest economic impact.
I therefore endorse and support the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) plan to create a strategic, public-private partnership to develop a multimodal transit station in the downtown area known as the gulch. It not only provides a solid solution for a comprehensive transit program, but it also can create jobs by creating the premier transit oriented development (TOD) in the nation.
The strategy: create a public-private partnership between a private developer(s) and the city of Atlanta to plan and build a mixed-use complex in the gulch anchored by the long proposed multimodal station by using a little more than 50 percent of the $87 Million as seed money.
The development, which would include an office tower housing GDOT and MARTA staff as well as a residential tower, would be built on top of the station and be connected to the MARTA Five Points Station and adjacent areas through the construction of a comprehensive network of pedestrian-friendly amenities and green space.
Imagine being able to arrive from the airport or from a high-speed or commuter rail train and then being able to walk to a new Georgia Dome for a Super Bowl or World Cup match or attend a convention at either AmericasMart or the Georgia World Conference Center via a series of grid patterned streets populated with stores, restaurants and businesses. Or imagine being able to walk a few blocks to catch a streetcar to the historic Sweet Auburn District. It could be similar to the neighborhood surrounding Washington, D.C.’s Union Station.
The development would incorporate various modes of land-based passenger transportation on two blocks, with the main station and office complex being located beside Norfolk Southern’s major north-south rail line.
The station and office complex would not only create the ground transportation equivalent of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport with the ability to handle commuter rail, high speed rail as well as local and long distance bus service, but it would allow for enhanced pedestrian connections between several current and proposed attractions in the adjacent communities.
The project would use the skills and experience of Georgia’s world class professional talent to create a development that will utilize the most advanced technology for security, operations and sustainability while employing world-class architecture to establish the epicenter of transit for the entire South.
A development that would create jobs, business opportunities and tax revenues for Atlanta’s citizens, businesses as well as the state and local governments on an ongoing and continuous basis.
The key element for the project’s success is collaboration. Therefore, the first step in executing the partnership would be to create a shared vision among the key stake holders in the area such as Turner Broadcasting System and CNN, Cox Enterprises and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Georgia World Congress Center and the various City of Atlanta, Fulton County, state of Georgia and federal government agencies located in the area.
The vision sharing process must focus on what benefit is in the plan for all stakeholders with a primary outcome being the creation and retention of the jobs that this project would create and retain, including but not limited to construction jobs, professional services as well as the hospitality industry.
This collaborative planning process should also encourage and stimulate the investment of additional private funds that would build the infrastructure to accommodate the additional hotels, restaurants and businesses that would be attracted to an urban district unlike any other in the South.
In short, these long neglected funds can leverage both the financial and intellectual capital necessary to jump start Atlanta’s economy.
So not only is the timely expenditure of these funds critical in terms of the city and state receiving additional federal transportation funding, GDOT’s wise and innovative use of these funds in a collaborative approach would create a tipping point for Atlanta’s future economic development.