Proposal to have Atlanta Streetcar planning done by BeltLine hits snag over who’s to pay for the research

By David Pendered

Atlanta’s effort to bring more of the planning for the expansion of the Atlanta Streetcar under the wing of the Atlanta BeltLine has hit a snag at Atlanta City Hall.

The Atlanta Streetcar project provides this illustration of the route, logo and vehicle.

The Atlanta Streetcar project provides this illustration of the route, logo and vehicle.

This particular situation is not expected to be significant. But it is the latest in a series that has led to the delay of at least a year in the planned opening of the Atlanta streetcar’s current route.

The current snag involves the source of up to $6 million to pay for planners and planning consultants to work on the streetcar expansion project. The city council’s Finance Committee raised a question that may delay legislation that had been slated for adoption by the council on Monday: What sources of taxpayer dollars will the Atlanta BeltLine use to pay for this long-range planning.

The issue arose around legislation that Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration had expected to be a routine service agreement involving the city, the BeltLine, and Invest Atlanta – the city’s development arm that oversees the BeltLine. These sorts of agreements require the council’s approval.

The paper intends to authorize the BeltLine to conduct all planning and design of the Atlanta Streetcar Expansion Strategy. The paper provides no answer to the funding question raised by the Finance Committee.

Peter Andrews, a city attorney, told the committee that the answers are included in attachments to the legislation, which were inadvertently omitted from the legislative package.

Tom Weyandt, the mayor’s senior advisor on transportation, told the committee that he had to refer details of the funding questions to city CFO Jim Beard. Beard said he could not answer the questions during the meeting and would need to research the answers.

This level of detail was included in a related provision approved in May by the board of Atlanta BeltLine. The measure provided for studies of the streetcar expansion and BeltLine’s eastern segment, with funding to come from three tax allocation districts – BeltLine, Westside, and Eastside.

The price of the total project is expected to range from $5 million to $6 million, and the finished work will position the projects to accept federal funding, Nate Conable, the BeltLine’s planning director, told the BeltLine board at the time.

Conable told the Finance Committee at its July 10 meeting that the funding breaks down to:

  • $1.5 million from the Eastside and Westside TADs, including $950,000 from the Westside TAD;
  • $1.47 million in federal funds channeled through the Atlanta Regional Commission;
  • $1 million or more from the BeltLine’s FY 2014 budget.

Committee Chair Felicia Moore said those figures total about $4 million.

“So we still have more to go,” Moore said.

Councilperson Yolanda Adrean pressed for clarification of language in the legislation that she said indicates that city taxpayers will be on the hook for any cost overruns beyond the sum provided by TADs and ARC.

“It sounds like you’ll have a work product, and after the work is done the city will be billed for its percentage of the payment,” Adrean said. “It feels like the city will be making active payments, under this agreement, from the general fund.”

 

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

4 replies
  1. Jacob says:

    Well gee Maria, you think maybe if we weren’t spending $940,000,000 in public dollars on Arthur Blank’s new stadium we might be able to find money for projects like this? Choices have consequences. Atlanta’s choice to sink so much money into making Arthur Blank richer will have decades of consequences on the ability to fund other projects. It’s hard to take you seriously about funding shortfalls when you were such a big cheerleader for giving Arthur Blank three decades of tribute payments. Atlanta will pay the price for decades to come but hey, we’ll get a Super Bowl out of it, which makes it all better.Report

    Reply
    • moliere says:

      @Jacob Get real Jacob. Without the new stadium downtown, Blank would build a new stadium in Cobb, Gwinnett or Clayton County. And the major events would abandon the Georgia Dome as soon as the current contracts run out and relocate to that new stadium. And whoever gets the new stadium would start constructing other facilities to host even more events, taking even more conventions and tourists away from downtown.
      Result? No one to ride the streetcar in the first place. The streetcar isn’t for locals, although some college students who don’t have cars and hipsters will ride it. The streetcar is for tourists. And without the stadium and the events that it attracts, there will be a lot fewer tourists.
      A lot of folks who have this reflex opposition to the stadium project are pretending that if this is defeated, then Blank will simply wave the white flag and keep the Falcons in the Georgia Dome. He won’t. He will simply build his new stadium someplace else, and downtown will be stuck with a facility that will bring in so little money that it won’t even be enough to pay for the maintenance. And instead of using the facility to revitalize the area, that whole part of town will be rundown. No way the Georgia Dome would be able to compete with a newer facility in a suburban location. It isn’t about getting the Super Bowl, it is about an already struggling downtown not losing the main asset that it has. Right now downtown is making a slow (glacial really) comeback with some IT companies locating there (to take advantage of tax credits and other incentives mostly). If the Falcons skip town that glacial progress will be an avalanche in reverse.Report

      Reply
      • Wish for MIlton County says:

        moliere Mr. Blank is going to get his new stadium downtown….  $200 million in hotel tax has been approved.  Now lets hope Atlanta doesn’t get priced out of the convention business.  Hotel tax going up. Rental Car tax going up. Water rates going up.  Gasoline prices going up. Parking rates going up.  Airline Tkts going up.  Wow!!!!
        Hell City of Atlanta is spending vasts amounts of other peoples money.  They are addicted to other peoples money.  Taxpayers in City of Atlanta love it. Getting all these new toys using someone elses money.  My oh my!!!  How are the taxpayers of Atlanta going to Pay for all these toys.  I mean – 
        NOTHING IS REALLY FREE!!!!Report

        Reply
  2. ajtrach says:

    Ms. Moore needs to check her math…
    $1.5M + $950,000 + $1.47M + $1M = $4.92M
    “Committee Chair Felicia Moore said those figures total about $4 million.” But hey what’s $920K?
    C’mon Felicia, you’re the Finance Committee Chair!Report

    Reply

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