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Sustainable Communities Thought Leadership

ULI Atlanta’s Center for Leadership team delivers 7 impactful metro Atlanta projects

Featured Image: Photographed from left to right, Marc Brambrut and Sheba Ross

By Sheba Ross, Urban Land Institute member and mTAP Chair (2019-2020); and Urban Designer, HKS

“Pencil in your plans. Write your vision in ink.” This profound thought from Andy Stanley’s book Next Generation Leader has become evident in multiple facets this year. In January 2020, the 34 multi-disciplinary emerging leaders of the Urban Land Institute’s Atlanta District Council (ULI Atlanta) Center For Leadership (CFL)  were divided into 7 teams to provide technical assistance on land-use challenges posed by public agencies and nonprofit organizations. Every year, the Mini Technical Assistance Panel (mTAP) of the CFL program is a game-changer not only for the fabric of our cities, but also for the dynamics of the teams. The projects are typically addressed with significant hands-on collaboration, engaging client and community interactions, and are undertaken at a swift pace. So when March 2020 came with its own agenda of a pandemic, agility became the name of the game! With a commitment to the same vision, the plans for the mTAP process were adjusted and the class quickly realized that navigating this season will probably be one of the most indelible leadership lessons in their career.

These 7 projects that were selected by the class were characterized by distinct action words to describe the possibilities of the outcome and underline the common charge to make actionable plans:


Using several online platforms, the class leveraged technology to maintain contiguity in the process and communication while repurposing software tools to fill the gaps and facilitate collaboration. Ploughing through personal and professional challenges, the teams worked strategically with their Clients to drive the projects in a mutually convenient pace. The result was a mosaic of recommendations that were rich in prospects and diverse in opportunities:


The objective of this project was to explore the development potential and define the future of Five Points Station. By drawing inspiration from local and national case studies and by capturing the spirit of Atlanta’s moniker as a “City in a Forest”, recommendations were outlined for the Station’s short-term activation and long-term use. A plan for public art and purposeful network of open spaces complemented the suggestions for the mix of uses proposed through thoughtfully articulated manifold phases. 

Client: Marsha Anderson Bomar, MARTA

  1. STRANGER THINGS MALL REDEVELOPMENT: Gwinnett Place Mall Re-imagined

The title is fashioned from being the home for the ‘Stranger Things’ show but the need was centered around positioning the 90 acre Gwinnett Place Mall site for redevelopment and for securing partners that will enhance the community, strengthen the business district, and facilitate long – term growth of the County. The team conducted a comprehensive SWOT analysis that unearthed the value of tactful incentives, adaptive reuse, potential zoning overlays and a framework to attract institutional investors, even at the midst of a global pandemic. 

Client: Joe Allen, Gwinnett Place CID


The CID had already established a relatively robust planning and design process, and hence the mTAP task became focused on how to breathe life into the alleys once built and support that activity both immediately and into the future. The team created a compelling multi-dimensional deliverable that started with a precedent analysis and demonstrated potential through zoning, public art, community iconography and green infrastructure.  They test drove the ideas of people-based placemaking by crafting relevant user personas aptly named: Longtime Locals | Brunch Bunch | Family of Four | After-school Crowd and this approach was highly commended by the CID audience. 

Client: Beth Ganga, Tucker-Northlake Community Improvement District

  1. BROOKHAVEN ENTERTAINMENT DISTRICT: Validate potential at Apple Valley

The City of Brookhaven engaged with the CFL mTAP team in a Visioning exercise to formulate an entertainment district for a 22-acre assemblage along Apple Valley corridor (1/2 mile from MARTA). The result was an integrated site plan that exemplified the synergy between live-work-play programmatic elements taking into consideration the Peachtree Road Overlay District and prioritizing a multi-modal infrastructure. The economic impact of the proposal was also drafted along with an estimate of the anticipated construction cost. The team presented their findings and conclusions at the work session of the August City Council meeting and included a walk-through which garnered interest from a diverse audience. 

Client: Shirlynn Brownell, Economic Development Director, City of Brookhaven

  1. STIMULATING MAIN STREET: FCS Historic South Atlanta RedevelopmentFCS was seeking a land-use strategy for a mixed-use, mixed-income, commercial corridor for Historic South Atlanta. The team tapped into their montage of expertise to suggest ideas not only for the built environment, but also for the organization personnel (like engaging a Development Manager or Director whose sole focus is to track, apply for and follow up on all local, state , federal and private funding opportunities through FCS). The recommendations identified civic branding techniques, grassroots opportunities, innovative funding sources and an offering memorandum to pitch Historic South Atlanta’s vision and regeneration potential. Client: Jeff Delp, FCS Ministries
    1. ATLANTA’S NEXT UNICORN NEIGHBORHOOD: Integration of Mechanicsville

    Mechanicsville sits in the shadow of downtown Atlanta. This neighborhood is in the NPU-V, one of the oldest neighborhoods within Atlanta and the mTAP team was requested to identify methods for revitalization. With a large study area for the scope and maneuvering the constraints of virtual interaction, the group targeted easily accessible community feedback to gauge prospects for Mechanicsville’s future. Expanding on the 2016 LCI Study and 2004 Mechanicsville Community Development Plan, the recommendations largely focused on enhancing leadership (Community Quarterbacks!), developing public-private partnerships, strategizing placemaking of streets ad edges, focusing on community wellness and strengthening the Cradle to College Education Pipeline. 

    Client: Senya Zaitsev, Sunny ETC; Tommy Cooper; and Jason Dozier 

    1. SMYRNA SITE: Converting Vision to Reality

    The Smyrna team had to pivot twice this year even as the scope shifted from the Emerson Center to a different study site within weeks of starting the project due to changes that outpaced the mTAP duration. With the same need to revive under-utilized land, the group was assigned the new study site located in proximity to one of Atlanta’s largest employment cores, and adjacent to two major freeways (285 & 75), including The Battery, Truist Ballpark, Cumberland Mall, and Cobb Galleria Centre. Through local influencer interviews and in-depth site analyses, the deliverables outlined a framework to create an elevated lifestyle destination experience that was illustrated in a site plan with 3d massing, described using an economic development toolbox (Tax Allocation District, Tax Abatement and Grants) and evaluated for financial feasibility. 

    Client: Jason Gaines, Cobb County Community Development Agency and Russell Martin, City of Smyrna

    As #unprecedented became a repetitive hashtag over the past few months, the mTAP took ownership of that adjective in its own unique way. Even though the manifestation of collaboration and engagement was shaken, the foundation remained untouched as the CFL class of 2020 experienced a live case study of leading through uncertain times. It has been an honor to serve this program as Chair along with Vice-Chair Marc Brambrut. 

    Check out the final project presentations at https://atlanta.uli.org/resources/mtaps/ that are a testament to the passion and commitment of the Center for Leadership class!


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1 Comment

  1. Nick Forkson May 4, 2022 5:16 pm

    ULI Atlanta’s Center for Leadership team is a great organization that let people to obtain new knowledge and make us more versatile. Becoming a leader is crucial for those who want to achieve success, especially in it relates to students. I am writing a paper on this subject and in order to be unique I use fixgerald.com to check plagiarism. I think that true leader should have advanced and creative mindset, and this program will be a perfect one for growing such a great projects.Report


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