National ULI forum on transit aimed at helping metro Atlanta pass regional penny sales tax

By Maria Saporta

Transit is in the spotlight as metro Atlanta marches toward the July 31, 2012 referendum on a one-cent regional transportation sales tax.

The Urban Land Institute is bring a national forum to Atlanta Dec. 6 to Dec. 7 — to be held at the Renaissance Atlanta Waverly Hotel in Cobb County — a place that has been debating the merit of transit investment over roads.

The timing and location for the forum — Retooling Places and Leveraging Transit: Overcoming Funding and Coordination Challenges to Build a Better Region — could not be better.

The forum will spotlight how U.S. metro areas are approaching development around transit in the new economy. The forum will explore how regions can position themselves for more compact growth in the future; study how transit can help promote new development; focus on what funding and financing tools are available in this era of cutbacks; and hear from developers who are rethinking the evolution of transit-oriented developments in urban and suburban areas.’

“This transit program is a high-level conversation with people from all over the country,” said Jeff DuFresne, executive director of ULI’s Atlanta District Council. “The big elephant in the room is our own Transportation Investment Act. My goal is to create more awareness here.”

DuFresne said that ULI is holding similar forums in several cities in order to create a better understanding of the ways transit can contribute to more sustainable patterns of urban development.

The forum’s kick-of dinner Tuesday evening will include a welcome from Maureen McAvey, ULI’s executive vice president overseeing the national transit initiative.

Then John Robert Smith, president and CEO of Reconnecting America and former mayor of Meridian, Miss., will be the dinner’s keynote speaker.

Most of the forum will take place all day Wednesday.

Tad Leithead, chair of the Atlanta Regional Commission, will talk about the “the Next Great Step Forward for Atlanta.

That will be followed by a panel discussion on current-day perspectives on funding transit-oriented development. The panelists will include: Heather Alhadeff, senior transportation planner of Perkins + Will; Scott Condra, senior vice president of Jacoby Development, Inc.; Jim Durrett, executive director of the Buckhead CID and chair of MARTA; and Dave Stockert, president & CEO of Post Properties who has been helping raise money for the sales tax campaign.

The panel will be moderated by Dan Reuter, land use division chief for the Atlanta Regional Commission.

Other parts of the forum will include a debate about the transit ballot; a look at two emerging projects — one being Montgomery County in Maryland and the other After lunch, there will be a panel discussion about the Dallas Area Rapid Transit and its unique approach to planning transit expansions.

There also will be a presentation on the Atlanta BeltLine by Brian Leary, its president and CEO.

The last panel of the day will focus on transit-funding referendums and what works. The panel will include Jason Jordan, director of Center for Transportation Excellence; Kathleen Osher, executive director of Transit Alliance in Denver; and Jim Stokes, interim executive director of metro Atlanta’s Livable Communities Coalition.

The interactive Transit Forum is being presented as partnership between the national ULI and the Rockefeller Foundation. It is yet one more attempt to help the Atlanta region sell the penny sales tax, which is expected to raise $7.2 billion over the next decade. About half of those dollars is slated to go towards transit projects in the 10-county Atlanta region.

To visit the forum’s website and to register, go to www.uli.org/transitatlanta.

www.uli.org/transitatlanta.

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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