Mayor Kasim Reed: City is not moving too fast in selling its real estate

By Maria Saporta

For those who feel he is moving too fast or recklessly in selling the city’s real estate assets, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said Tuesday that they should set their minds at ease.

“I’m very confident we have the expertise – my team has the expertise of doing this,” Reed said, listing a number of projects that the city has worked on – Buckhead Atlanta, Ponce City Market and EUE/Screen Gems Studios at Lakewood. “We did all of these things with the help of the private sector and the Atlanta Committee for Progress,”

Later Reed said he wanted “to address any uneasiness” that people may have about the speed of some of the proposed sale of the city’s real estate — Underground Atlanta, the Civic Center, Turner Field and possibly Fort McPherson, which is a unique case because it is still owned by the federal government.

Reed said the city is not moving faster than what it is capable of doing.

“A lot of this stuff should have been done a long time ago,” Reed said. “This stuff should have been done. We’re going to keep doing it and do it quickly. We’re going to do it quickly and do it right.”

At Tuesday’s briefing, the mayor was responding to recommendations that had been presented to him by the Commission on Waste & Efficiency, which included members of City Council, city employees as well as business and civic leaders.

Reed’s goal has been to find ways for the city to save money and generate new revenue so it can support annual payments on a $250 million bond referendum for infrastructure improvements without raising taxes. Reed said those payments would be about $16.5 million a year, and he is looking for savings or revenue totaling about $21 million so he would have a cushion.

The purpose of the those infrastructure bonds has been to improve the city’s quality of life by investing in projects that are above the street (as opposed to sewers that are underground). The mayor said the city is seeking input from communities throughout the city on how those infrastructure bonds should be invested.

The mayor, however, was asked whether there was any way the city could leverage the public assets it was selling to stipulate for quality of life features in the proposed developments, such as wider sidewalks, green space, street-level retail, plazas with attractive public art, bicycle amenities, welcoming urban design?

Or was the city going to just be selling its property to entity willing to give it the most money?

Although the mayor didn’t answer that question directly, he did say that he would listen to ideas from the community and is open to ideas that would create a higher quality of life in the city.

As an example, he mentioned that when former City Council President Cathy Woolard was concerned about the lack of design standards for developments springing up around the BeltLine, Reed listened. Now design standards will become part of the BeltLine process.

The mayor also stepped back from earlier comments he had made in the briefing when he had said the city would explore opportunities of putting up billboards in public spaces as a way to generate income, saying that Chicago had been able to generate about $12 million a year from selling billboard advertising

“The Council is not going to let us do anything around billboards – that’s crazy,” the mayor said, implying that he had meant a much smaller scale advertising program. “We have got to figure out how to pay for this.”

Delta Air Lines CEO Richard Anderson endorsed both the mayor’s policy of selling off real estate assets and the city’s tempo of getting those deals done as soon as possible.

“I think the evidence is over-whelming that the mayor has done a tremendous job of transforming city property,” Anderson said, highlighting the Ponce City Market, which had been a mostly vacant building with broken windows and is now becoming one of the most popular spots in Atlanta.

The same can also be true of Underground and the Civic Center, Anderson said. The city can take property that is underperforming, they can be revitalized and put back on the city’s tax rolls. Those are all positive for the city.

After the Tuesday briefing, Anderson was asked if he felt the city was following a structured process in how it was disposing of its real estate – one that had enough public oversight.

Anderson said that he was comfortable with the process because he said the Atlanta City Council would be providing oversight throughout the process.

Mayor Reed actually mentioned what might be the most important lever throughout this whole phase of the city selling off its assets.

“One thing I’ve learned about politics is that the system only takes so much before it begins to regurgitate,” said Reed, who did not give any indication of when that moment might come.

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.

4 replies
  1. WMorg says:

    The Mayor is making very smart decisions here.  Turning properties into guaranteed future income is the best route to take, provided the income generated by taxes outweigh the other.  What use is there maintaining properties that are a drain on financial resources?  Do we keep them because they are sentimental? No!!  Talks about green spaces and so forth are necessary, but should take a back seat until the City is financially sound.  BTW, this big push in bike lanes does not make sense at this point.  We HAVE to change the culture about mass transit first and then, once mass transit has taken a firm hold, make the push from a walk-ability standpoint.  Then, and only then, do bike lanes benefit the City.  Contrary to what some may wrongly assert, the suburbs will continue to provide the majority of employees to city businesses for a long time to come. Mass transit is more important to them and the rest of the city dwellers, aside from a small segment of planners and hipsters who believe bikes MUST be the main form of transit.Report

  2. Guest says:

    These actions are not only indicative a sound fiscal plan but also suggest a strategic focus on the growth and development of the City of Atlanta as well. The public/private/ community partnership strategy has been a hallmark of Atlanta’s economic development over the last 30 years and has been  recognized recently in national publication’s laudatory stories on projects like the Beltline. The projects cited in the article are being rolled out in the Mayor’s second term , after careful study and review  by the public and private sectors along with substantial input from various civic and community organizations. With the prospect of several major events such as the 2019 Super Bowl as well as future World Cup events looming, with the attendant national and international scrutiny, perhaps a better question to raise concerning the current plans would be: what took you so long?Report

  3. atlman says:

    The people who dislike the plans are either:
    A) Atlanta political establishment folks who dislike economic growth (because it will mean gentrification and therefore a reduction in their voter base). These people would rather those properties remain vacant and become blighted with vandals, graffiti, criminals etc. than be used to draw new businesses and professionals.
    B) Conservatives/Republicans/white flighters/suburbanites who dislike anything and everything the city leadership does regardless of what it is and who it is. Those folks would denounce Turner Field, Fort McPherson, the Civic Center, Underground Atlanta etc. remaining vacant, money-losing drains and eyesores as evidence that Atlanta is becoming the new Detroit if the city did not sell to mollify group A), but claim that the properties are being unloaded by crooks bent on increasing their power and lining their pockets if they do sell. 
    And neither group has “a better idea” for those properties. Kyle Wingfield of the AJC criticized it, but to this point all he has done (in what was supposed to be “a series of articles of alternative ideas) was to use the Civic Center to house charter schools, something that have meant spending tens of millions of city money to renovate it for that purpose; money that the city would have never gotten back. Instead of offloading the property, the city would have had to play landlord to a bunch of nonprofits would have ultimately retained responsibility for the expense of property taxes and maintenance on the facility. Even if the charter schools did pay rent, that would have come from the public education funds (property tax revenue). So the city would pay taxpayer money in order to convert a facility that would be used by groups who rely on city tax revenue for their financial support. Not exactly fiscal conservatism (or sound finances of any kind) there. And Wingfield has yet to come up with any ideas for Fort McPherson, Turner Field or Underground Atlanta. Why? Because there are none. And let us not forget that this same Wingfield was perfectly fine to allow the Falcons to follow the Braves to Cobb County in return for a VERY TINY payoff to Atlanta property owners funded by the hotel/motel tax.
    As for the hopes that Shirley Franklin and area leaders had for Fort McPherson, to turn it into a biosciences job center … pipe dreams. If that area can’t even attract low paying services and warehouse jobs, how are they going to attract high paying technologically skilled jobs? They can’t even compete with downtown for those jobs, let alone north Atlanta and the northern suburbs. A GOOD idea would have been to try to convince area universities and colleges to build campuses down there, but that is about it. 
    Bottom line: the critics have no better ideas. So even if you dislike Reed’s approach (or Reed himself) the reality is that he is making tough decisions that no one else wants to.Report


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