The Local Take: Westside development with Maria Saporta of SaportaReport

This interview originally aired on The Local Take on April 1, 2017.

This week on The Local Take I speak with Maria Saporta founder of Saporta Report, an in depth journalistic news service with a focus on metro-Atlanta. I speak with Maria about several recent reports on the Westside including her conversations with Authur Blank (Owner Atlanta Falcons) and Dan Cathy (Owner Chick-Fil-A). She shares with our listeners her reporting on the Westside redevelopment master plan that was led by Dhiru Thadani and a project involving the Atlanta University Center and the Federal Government to address flooding on the Westside.

As a native of Atlanta, Maria also shares her desires for the Westside including the former Paschal’s Hotel and the Herndon Home. She explains that change is coming and that residents should harness the change to benefit the community as well as the city. 

Listen to the full interview here:

For our listeners who are interested in learning more click here to subscribe to the Saporta Report.



Gov. Deal Sandra Allison Ashe

Commentary: Atlanta leaders ‘Sleep Out’ for the homeless

Original Story on WABE by Maria Saporta

Gov. Deal Sandra Allison Ashe

Covenant House’s Allison Ashe greets Gov. Nathan Deal and First Lady Sandra Deal (Photo by Maria Saporta)

The Covenant House, a refuge for homeless youth, holds a unique fundraiser every year.

It invites community leaders to sleep outdoors so they can get a taste of what it’s like to be homeless. The fifth annual “Sleep Out” happened Nov. 17, when a hundred Atlanta leaders slept outdoors on the campus in Northwest Atlanta.

For one night, it was hard to tell the difference between the homeless and the CEO.

Executives dressed down wanted to be as comfortable as they could for a night sleeping outdoors in the elements.

Governor Nathan Deal and First Lady Sandra Deal made an appearance early in the evening to show encouragement and support.

You might recognize some of the names of those who braved the night – Paul Garcia, the retired CEO of Global Payments; Bill Rogers, the CEO of SunTrust Banks Inc.; public relations executive Bob Hope; Jerome Russell of H.J. Russell & Co.; Clark Dean of Transwestern; civic leader Valerie Hartman; Coca-Cola North America President Sandy Douglas; film-maker David Lewis and his wife, Danica Kombol; and Gary Price, of the PwC accounting firm, flew in from New York to participate.

Delta Air Lines – a national sponsor of the Covenant House Sleep Outs – even recruited its employees in Atlanta, New York, Los Angeles, Detroit and Toronto.

Atlanta sponsors donated about $425,000 to Covenant House, as leaders stepped into the shoes of the homeless for a night.

Those funds will help Covenant House reach homeless youth in Atlanta, which total more than 3,000, according to Executive Director Allison Ashe.

Leaders and residents huddled together, candles were lit to represent young people still living on the streets.  And a list of names of the homeless, lost and fallen was read aloud.

And that’s when reality set in. We reflected on comforts we have, while working toward a better understanding those who have-not.


support MARTA

Commentary: The transit divide widens with election

Original Story on WABE by Maria Saporta

The Nov. 8 election produced a major win for MARTA.  Nearly 130,000 Atlanta voters, or 71.34 percent, approved a half-penny sales tax to expand MARTA within the city limits.

At the same time, the city voted to increase overall transportation funding by a .4 of a penny sales tax.

This is in addition to the one-cent sales tax that the city of Atlanta has been investing in the MARTA system since 1971 – when Fulton and DeKalb counties also voted in favor of the regional transit system.

Since then, only one new county has joined the system – Clayton County in 2014.

Atlanta’s vote will create a wider divide in our region between the transit rich and the transit poor – the communities with a robust rail and bus system and the communities without.

The city has been enjoying the benefits from its investment in MARTA in recent years. Most of the major economic development announcements have been located near MARTA stations, and most of those have been within the city limits. Think NCR Corporation, GE, Kaiser Permanente, among many others.

The counties without a rail transit system are seeing several of their top companies relocating to places served by MARTA, reversing the decades-long trend of businesses moving to the suburbs.

So why are companies moving near MARTA stations?

Simple. They want to employ the best and the brightest college graduates, and that demographic wants to be able to live, work, learn and play in places where they do not need to own a car.

There are few areas in our region that provide the transportation alternatives that Atlanta offers. And that divide will only become more apparent as MARTA and the City of Atlanta begin to invest their new half-penny in expanded bus service and light rail lines.

This parallels continued investments in sidewalks, bicycle lanes and multipurpose trails – all key ingredients in creating a more walkable and livable city.

Meanwhile, the rest of Fulton County, DeKalb, Cobb and Gwinnett passed local sales taxes to invest in transportation – primarily roads – which will only deepen the transit divide.

The longer Atlanta’s neighbors hesitate in joining our regional transit system, the more we will become a tale of two cities.


John Grant Bill Nordmark

Commentary: ‘Friendship Initiative’ bridging cultural divide

Original Story on WABE by Maria Saporta

John Grant Bill Nordmark

John Grant and Bill Nordmark talk about how their new-found friendship can be a model for others (Photo by Byron Small, Atlanta Business Chronicle)

Two Atlanta business leaders have launched a new effort – the Atlanta Friendship Initiative – aimed at bridging divides in our community.

The idea is for two people of different races or ethnic backgrounds to agree to become friends. They pledge to see each other once a quarter and bring their families together once a year in fellowship.

Bill Nordmark, an Atlanta business consultant and former president of the Rotary Club of Atlanta, had become increasingly concerned about the state of race relations here and incidents of violence between the police and citizens around the country.

He reached out to John Grant, the former CEO of 100 Black Men of Atlanta, and asked if they could become friends.

The two men then set out on a mission to get others to join their cause. Since September, the two civic leaders have been able foster a total of 47 pairs of friends. That means there are 94 metro Atlanta leaders – black, white, male, female, Islamic, Jewish, Christian – who are proactively reaching out to people different from themselves.

Grant told Nordmark he felt God’s hand in the establishment of the Atlanta Friendship Initiative. Grant said he was familiar with how the now-defunct Atlanta Action Forum had played a similar role among the city’s black and white business leaders during the 1970s and 1980s. But the city has changed, and the business community is now more transient.

Nordmark and Grant, however, say they’ve been encouraged by the response. Almost everyone they’ve approached has embraced the idea and joined the self-directed initiative to build friendships across society’s divides.

Ed Baker, the former publisher of the Atlanta Business Chronicle who is now with Georgia State’s Robinson College of Business, had been talking with Nordmark about similar concerns for years. Not only has Baker become one of the friendship pairs, he said the Robinson College of Business will provide administrative support for the initiative.

Nordmark says he hopes civic organizations, churches, businesses and nonprofits will adopt the initiative. He already has reserved domain names for the America Friendship Initiative and the International Friendship Initiative.

As Nordmark said: “What better place to start this than Atlanta?”


Commentary: Cartooning for peace integral to free speech

Original story on WABE by Maria Saporta

Cartooning for Peace features more than 140 cartoonists bridging international barriers to find engaging and provocative ways to promote free speech in a democratic society. COURTESY OF FRANCE-ATLANTA.ORG

Cartooning for Peace features more than 140 cartoonists bridging international barriers to find engaging and provocative ways to promote free speech in a democratic society.

As part of France-Atlanta, an exhibition and program is being presented called “Cartooning for Peace: The of Art of Democracy.” Three world-renowned press cartoonists participated in the program – Jean “Plantu” Plantureux with Le Monde, France, Michel Kichka with Courrier International who is based in Israel, and our own Mike Luckovich with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Ten years ago, Cartooning for Peace was born. Plantu of Le Monde worked with then U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan on a seminar called “Unlearning Intolerance.” It included 12 famous editorial cartoonists from around the world.

Since then, Plantu has come to Atlanta several times – joining his colleague Luckovich – Atlanta’s Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist.

And this October, Cartooning for Peace brought together Plantu, Luckovich and Kichka.

They helped kick off an outdoor exhibit of Cartooning for Peace cartoonists, part of the Atlanta arts initiative – ELEVATE.

Louis de Corail, the consul general of France in Atlanta, welcomed the cartoonists for lunch at his residence where the conversation centered around the presidential election and the amount of political unrest in the world today.

At one point, Luckovich asked Plantu if he had known the cartoonists who worked for the Charlie Hebdo newspaper who were gunned down by radical extremists.

Cartooning for Peace

Cartooning for Peace: Mike Luckovich with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.Michel Kichka with Courrier International who is based in Israel, Jean “Plantu” Plantureux with Le Monde with French Consul General in Atlanta – Louis de Corail (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Plantu bowed his head calmly naming all his friends who were killed that day.

Cartooning for Peace is the antidote of such events. More than 140 cartoonists are bridging international barriers to find engaging and provocative ways to promote free speech in a democratic society.

Political cartoons create a valuable space for dialogue, reflection and tolerance by using humor, satire and irony to evoke thought and freedom of expression.

The cartoonists had just met with students of the Atlanta Public Schools and Georgia Tech, and they were impressed by how engaged they were in current affairs, including the U.S. presidential race.

At one point, Luckovich said he has an easier job when he disagrees with a president, saying it was harder to make fun of Barack Obama than of George W. Bush. But then Luckovich added, he would rather have a good president than an easy job.

Billi and Bernie Marcus

Commentary: Marcus Trauma Center ‘Destiny’ for Philanthropist

Original Story on WABE by Maria Saporta

Billi and Bernie Marcus

Billi and Bernie Marcus in front of the plaque in their honor (By Renay Blumenthal of the Grady Health Foundation)

Grady Hospital dedicated the Marcus Trauma and Emergency Center on Oct. 5 in recognition of philanthropy of Billi and Bernie Marcus, a co-founder of the Home Depot.

In all, the Marcus couple have given a total of $50 million to Grady, which also went to the establishment of the Marcus Stroke and Neuroscience Center.

The biggest disappointment in Bernie Marcus’ life was when he was accepted to Harvard’s medical school, because his family could not afford the $10,000 tuition.

And he wasn’t eligible for a scholarship because Harvard had already met its 10 percent quota of Jewish students.

Marcus had to set aside his dream of becoming a doctor and settled on becoming a pharmacist.

“I could have been somebody,” Marcus joked with me at the Grady dedication ceremony.

Marcus did become somebody. After being fired from Handy Dan, a home center retailer, Marcus and his colleague, Arthur Blank, decided to launch their own chain of home improvement mega stores.

The chain, Home Depot, was founded in Atlanta in 1978 and the two became billionaires.

But Marcus never forgot his first dream – of saving lives.

He and his wife have donated generously to Marcus Autism Center, Piedmont Hospital, the Shepherd Center and to Grady Hospital.

Marcus described his missed opportunity to become a doctor as “bashert,” which is Yiddish for “destiny.”

His contributions to Grady and the dedication of the Marcus Trauma and Emergency Center has helped fulfill his destiny.

Bernie Marcus was destined to save people’s lives.


Richard Bradley

Commentary: Perceptions about downtowns are changing

Original article on WABE by Maria Saporta

More than 700 people from around the country descended on Atlanta from Sept. 7 to Sept. 9 to attend the International Development Association meeting at the Westin Peachtree Plaza. The event harkened back to 1977 – the last time the IDA came to Atlanta. At the time, Dan Sweat, who was heading Central Atlanta Progress, hosted the organization.

Richard Bradley

Richard Bradley receives IDA’s Dan Sweat award from Jim Cloar and Tally Sweat (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Downtowns have changed dramatically in the four decades since the last time the International Downtown Association met in Atlanta.

For instance, the organization’s members were the top executives of downtown groups – and at the time, they were all male. So Atlanta put together a “ladies program” for the spouses. Dan Sweat’s wife – Tally Sweat –helped organize the program.

Today, the association’s members include staff members in addition to top executives and industry consultants – and a large portion of the attendees were women.

Richard Bradley was president of the association in the 1980s. He remembered journalists calling when downtown department stores started closing and asking him whether their downtowns were dying.

Bradley optimistically told them downtowns were changing.

In the 1970s and 1980s, stores and businesses were moving away from central cities as suburbs were booming.

Today, downtowns are rebounding. More people want to live and work in urban centers – choosing authentic and historic locations rather than cookie-cutter suburbs.

The lingo also has also changed. Now downtown leaders talk about “place making” and creating experiences – a sharp contrast from the previous perception that downtowns were dirty, dangerous and dull.

Richard Bradley’s efforts have come full circle. He was recently presented with the IDA’s Dan Sweat Lifetime Achievement Award. One of the people presenting the 2016 award was Sweat’s widow – Tally Sweat.


Column: Coca-Cola Foundation’s Helen Smith Price working to make Atlantans ‘feel the benefits of our presence’

By Maria Saporta
As published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on Aug. 12, 2016

Helen Smith Price could not have been more prepared when she was tapped in April to become the new president of The Coca-Cola Foundation.

Price has served as executive director of the foundation since 2001, joining the company in 1993. As the protégé of her predecessor, Ingrid Saunders Jones, she also has seen how the Foundation has evolved over the years.


Commentary: Atlanta’s need for a Peachtree Streetcar

Original Story on WABE by Maria Saporta

Atlanta Streetcar

File/Credit: Maria Saporta

The city of Atlanta and MARTA are planning major transportation investments in two separate sales tax referendums that will go before voters in November.

If approved, both taxes would generate hundreds of millions of dollars a year for a myriad of improvements including expanded streetcar or light rail lines, improved bus services, new multi-use trails and road upgrades into complete streets.

But one project missing from the plans is for a Peachtree streetcar.

The city of Atlanta has had a rocky experience with reintroduction of the streetcar.

Some question why the new streetcar followed an east-west tourist route from Centennial Olympic Park to the King Center.

The project was envisioned to be part of a larger system that would have had a streetcar going up and down Peachtree Street from downtown to Buckhead.

When the city was not awarded federal funds to build the entire system, it had to build the east-west loop first for the streetcar maintenance facility located under the Downtown Connector.

The assumption was the Peachtree streetcar would be next – connecting the main activity centers in the city.

The most recent transportation plans show all kinds of lines for light rail in the city. But the Peachtree streetcar is not one of them.

How shortsighted. One of the biggest jabs against the existing Atlanta streetcar is that few people ride it – especially since the city began charging a $1 fare.

By comparison, a Peachtree Streetcar would generate more riders than any other route in the city because of the existing developments. While part of the route parallels the MARTA rail line, the two transit systems would serve different functions.

The heavy rail carries people on longer trips at a rapid speed. The streetcar would serve people going shorter distances who want to jump on and off to go to shops, restaurants, clubs, offices, hotels, condos and apartments along the corridor.

There also are stretches of Peachtree without rail transit – from the Arts Center MARTA Station to the Buckhead MARTA Station, a route that includes Piedmont Hospital and Peachtree Battle.

The good news? These plans are not carved in stone. As Atlanta grows, people who are now skeptical of a Peachtree streetcar will be begging for a better way to move up and down our signature street.


Manuel's Coke sign Obama

Commentary: Manuel’s Tavern Coca-Cola sign a Community Icon

Original Story on WABE by Maria Saporta

Manuel's Coke sign Obama

President Barack Obama stops by Manuel’s on March 10, 2015 – greeting people in front of the iconic Coke sign (Photo: Special – Manuel’s Tavern)

Manuel’s Tavern is being refurbished inside and out.

The Coca-Cola Company is restoring the painted Coke sign that has graced the tavern’s wall for decades.

A hundred years ago, one of Coca-Cola’s top advertising tools was painting larger-than-life signs on the sides of buildings all over the country.

Those signs, painted by specialists who used a stencil provided by the Coca-Cola Company, fell out of favor as billboards started popping up on major roadways.

As time went on, the paint on those walls began to chip and fade, and those advertisements got a new name – ghost signs.

Coca-Cola Company archivist Ted Ryan said the wall-painted signs are making a comeback with the preservation of older buildings.

The company decides which paintings to restore on a case-by-case basis depending on the location, the customer and the building’s significance.

It didn’t hurt that Manuel’s has been a longtime customer in Coca-Cola’s hometown.

When Manuel’s Tavern shut down for renovations at the end of last year, it began exploring a possible restoration of its Coca-Cola sign.

The company said it would pay for the restoration – bringing Jack Fralin, an expert sign painter from Virginia.

The restoration is under way, with the existing image being blasted from the exterior brick wall. And Fralin will hand-paint the new sign to its previous Coca-Cola glory.

The tavern’s owner Brian Maloof said the sign has been a landmark for people looking for the tavern.

Instead of playing much of an advertising role, these signs actually evoke a sense of nostalgia, reminding us of a simpler time.

Manuel’s should reopen in the first week of August.