By Maggie Lee
For the time being, Atlanta’s development agency has stopped taking applications for grants to subsidize and spur investment in the heart of the city.
“Due to the volume of current and pipeline projects and funding availability, as of Friday, July 7, 2017 we will no longer be accepting Eastside TAD applications until further notice,” reads a notice on Invest Atlanta’s website.
Projects as small as façade upgrades and as large as the Underground redevelopment have gotten grants from the Eastide Tax Allocation District. The assistance is bankrolled by the subsequent rise in property values and tax take in the district. So the city does get more property taxes, but can’t immediately spend the cash on general city works and operations.
Mayor Kasim Reed has said that the fund has worked and it’s time to close it.
“In consideration of the legislation before Atlanta City Council proposing to close the Eastside TAD, Invest Atlanta is currently not accepting new applications for Eastside TAD funding,” said Invest Atlanta spokesman Matt Fogt via email.
“We have taken this step to ensure that we are in a position to comply with all requirements regulating tax allocation districts. As the city’s redevelopment agency, we will continue to take direction from the city on the future of the TAD,” he wrote, not elaborating on how the decision was made.
Communications staff with the mayor’s office acknowledged a request for comment but did not respond further by a Tuesday afternoon deadline.
As late as September 2016, Invest Atlanta was calling for more Eastside TAD applications.
But several city council members have already said they want to continue the Eastside TAD.
That includes Atlanta City Councilwoman Natalyn Archibong, who sits on the IA Board of Directors.
“In talking with a number of Eastside TAD stakeholders, it is clear that there remains a real need for Eastside TAD funding for various projects on the east side,” she said via email.
Archibong said the benefit to closing the TAD — approximately $3 million per year for the city’s general fund — needs to be viewed within the context of the longer-term tax benefits the city will realize as additional TAD-funded projects create even higher tax revenue.
She also said she’s particularly sensitive to the expressed need to provide Eastside TAD funding for various projects in Sweet Auburn.
“Finally, it is important to note that the closure of the Eastside TAD will not free up our tax digest for the purpose of allowing the creation of a new TAD within the city,” she wrote.
Under state law, TADs can contain no more than 10 percent of a city’s property value when they’re created. A review published in 2016 found that due to growth, 18 percent of Atlanta’s property value was in TADs.
Last month, the agency’s board approved spending some $27 million on Eastside TAD projects. That’s more than it spent over the entire calendar years of 2014, 2015, 2016 and first six months of 2017 — combined.
The Eastside TAD was created in 2003 to attract investment to its neighborhoods and to ameliorate poverty there and in surrounding neighborhoods.
The Eastside Tax Allocation District has spent $83.9 million on aid to developments in a very broadly drawn “Eastside” that includes the area around Emory’s Midtown hospital, Old Fourth Ward, Capitol Gateway, the state Capitol area and Sweet Auburn. Eastside TAD funding has created 2,044 housing units, 781 of which are affordable units, according to Invest Atlanta.
Reed said he’s looking out for his successor, but some of the frontrunners among his potential successors are not on board.
Atlanta City Councilman Kwanza Hall, a mayoral candidate, has filed legislation to keep the TAD open. He’s concerned that some key proposed projects haven’t benefitted yet, like a plan to redevelop the former Wheat Street Gardens. His legislation has been co-signed by Keisha Lance Bottoms, a fellow candidate. In a hearing, city Councilwoman and mayoral hopeful Mary Norwood expressed support for it.
Mayoral candidate Cathy Woolard would rather keep it open. She said it can create housing options for folks who are homeless; for low-income families; for artists; seniors and workers like police, firefighters and hospital staff.
“Plus it could help fund the Memorial Corridor Park and help with historic preservation along Auburn Avenue,” said the former president of city council in a written statement.
One of her successors as council president, Ceasar Mitchell, said there should be a finite lifespan for TADs, but now is not the time to end Eastside.
The areas it covers, the heart and soul of Atlanta, still need strong economic revitalization, opportunity and partnership, he said in a written statement.
“As such, I strongly support the continuation of the Eastside TAD so that we can fully achieve our goal to bring economic opportunity, affordable housing and job growth to the city’s epicenter,” Mitchell wrote.
State Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) said that he thinks it’s probably a good idea to keep the Eastside TAD open for the Wheat Street Gardens project and other ones.
But he’s got some questions about TADs overall.
“I believe the new mayor is going to need to do a reassessment or revaluation of the tax allocation district process, and make a reevaluation as part of a reassessment of Invest Atlanta’s general mission and how we do redevelopment in the city,” Fort said.
Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves said in there is more work to be done in the Eastside TAD, especially those projects proposed by churches and the Butler Street YMCA. He said those could result in more affordable housing Downtown.
“It’s one thing to give companies and developers a tax break, but we cannot forget about the need for more developments that embrace our storied history in this city like our churches and other institutions along Auburn Avenue that still stand to benefit from the Eastside TAD,” he wrote.
Peter Aman, the city’s former COO, said that the projects that the TAD will help fund will have a tremendous impact on the city and Downtown.
“Tax allocation districts have a shelf life and once we have determined the goals of the TAD have been met, they should be closed. As mayor, we will look at all of the city’s TADs and determine if they are meeting the objectives that have been set and where we still need to see improvements. We will do this in a transparent manner and make sure the community is involved in the decision-making process,” Aman said in a written statement.