The Atlanta BeltLine Vision is Advancing in Momentous Ways
By Rob Brawner, Executive Director of Atlanta BeltLine Partnership
Over the past 15 years with the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership, I have witnessed the Atlanta BeltLine transform from concept to concrete—both figuratively and literally – and the momentum has never been stronger.
As our partners at Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. (ABI) have captured in this year-end video, significant accomplishments were made in 2021 to move the full Atlanta BeltLine vision forward, including delivery of three new trail segments, the opening of Westside Park, the launch of the Legacy Resident Retention Program, substantial affordable housing production, and more. Like all BeltLine progress, these milestones could not be accomplished without robust public, private, non-profit, and community partnerships.
The most important milestone, though, has been the commitment by Atlanta’s leaders and the community to complete the full 22-mile BeltLine trail corridor by 2030. Before 2021, funding for completion of the BeltLine’s backbone had been uncertain due to early litigation, recessions, the COVID-19 pandemic, and other funding challenges. Catalyzed by passage of the Special Service District (SSD) in March, more than $300 million of the $350 million needed to finish the trail corridor has been secured from local, federal, and philanthropic sources, and the remaining funds are being aggressively pursued.
With every new section of the BeltLine improving connectivity, quality of life, and Atlanta’s economic competitiveness, the importance of locking in these funds cannot be overstated. A few key things made this possible, and they provide learnings that can be helpful for other components of the BeltLine and other city projects.
Outcomes for people. While tempting to focus on the 15 miles of trail corridor that will be completed, the BeltLine and other infrastructure projects are ultimately investments to improve people’s lives. As Atlanta charted its course for an equitable economic recovery from the COVID-induced recession, our leaders recognized the BeltLine could create a stronger future for our residents. In addition to the clear health and wellness benefits, completion of the corridor will spur:
- A projected $10 billion in economic impact ($7.9 billion in private investment has been catalyzed through 2020)
- 50,000 permanent jobs (approximately 23,300 forecasted for 2019)
- 5,600 units of affordable housing (2,666 already delivered)
- $12 million in funding to support small businesses
- Up to $150 million in construction funds targeted towards minority-owned contractors
Urgency. It has been difficult at times to elevate the BeltLine amid other competing civic priorities, as people tend to think there will always be enough time to finish a multi-decade project. That has changed.
- A major shift occurred when ABI and funding partners recognized that continuing a piecemeal approach to completing the corridor – which was necessary when the BeltLine was in a proof-of-concept phase – would not deliver the full 22-mile loop and its myriad benefits before the BeltLine’s main funding source, the Tax Allocation District (TAD), expires in 2030.
- Equally important was the understanding that the sooner we could provide certainty the trail corridor would be completed, the faster it would spur new development that, in turn, will increase the amount of TAD funding to deliver all BeltLine components, including affordable housing, transit, parks, art, and equitable economic development.
Clear implementation and funding plan. Investors – including taxpayers, elected officials, federal agencies, and philanthropists – needed a clear roadmap to completion.
- Acknowledging there is uncertainty in any multi-year plan, BeltLine development is far enough along that ABI and its partners were able to set a clear schedule and budget based on their experience building the (very complex) BeltLine trail corridor.
- The $350-million funding plan, anchored by ABI’s $100 million commitment of TAD funding, was vetted and validated with key investors to build alignment that has resulted in multiple funding sources being committed.
Public and private leadership. Many leaders across multiple sectors have come together to co-invest in this plan.
- Then-Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Atlanta City Council led by passing the Special Service District (SSD) in March, matching ABI’s $100 million commitment.
- The seeds for the SSD had been planted years ago through the leadership of key commercial and apartment property owners who advanced it as a mechanism for those benefiting financially from the BeltLine to invest in its completion.
- Leadership from Georgia’s senators and congressional representatives, the Atlanta Regional Commission, and state agencies have helped secure critical federal funding, including the recent $16.46 million RAISE grant as well as Transportation Improvement Program grants.
- The philanthropic community has responded with an $80 million leadership gift from the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation through the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership that – together with other gifts being pursued as part of a broader campaign – will yield $100 million for corridor completion while also supporting new BeltLine parks, resident retention, and BeltLine programming.
There is still much work to be done. Collaborative leadership from Mayor Andre Dickens and the new Atlanta City Council will be critical as ABI moves aggressively to complete the corridor in partnership with the PATH Foundation and others.
At the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership, we continue to connect with new and longtime BeltLine donors to raise the remaining philanthropic funding needed to complete the BeltLine trail corridor and other BeltLine projects. For these donors, the Atlanta BeltLine is recognized as a proven investment that drives jobs, economic impact, and community well-being. Now is the time to be part of bringing the BeltLine vision to life for our city.
Want to be part of Advancing the Vision? Contact Rob at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 404-446-4404 to find out more and how you can help.