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Reporter’s Notebook: Park experts ask city officials to increase maintenance budget, ‘Phoenix Flies’ historic preservation celebration returns, first-ever Rising Voices forum

The week in local news.

Next week marks Presidents’ Day, celebrated on the third Monday in February. The holiday was first recognized on Feb. 22, 1800, to celebrate George Washington’s birthday the year after he died. This was one of the first federal holidays ever established, coming just behind Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, New Year’s Day and Independence Day.

On to other recent, local news:

The City of Atlanta Department of Parks and Recreation is responsible for maintaining 4,477 park acres. (Photo by Hannah E. Jones.)

Park experts ask Atlanta city officials to increase budget for maintenance

On Tuesday, Feb. 14, several park advocates joined the Community Development/Human Services Committee meeting to implore city leaders to increase the funding in the City of Atlanta’s FY2024 budget for park maintenance. The park experts each made a statement during public comment, including Park Pride Executive Director Michael Halicki, Park Pride Director of Communications & Policy Rachel Maher and Esther Stokes, a former Park Pride board member who currently serves on the Georgia Audubon board.

Many of Atlanta’s parks are well-loved but the high volume of activity can lead to litter and other maintenance issues. These concerns are primarily due to a lack of sufficient resources for the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR), which is responsible for maintaining 4,477 park acres around the city. 

As of December 2022, 26 percent of full-time positions in the DPR were vacant due to funding restrictions. 

The recent Moving Atlanta Forward bond package will allocate nearly $150 million to park and recreation center improvements and expansions but, as Halicki put it, “these investments do nothing to address the week-over-week, year-over-year costs of implementing and adhering to park maintenance standards.”

“I think we can do better; I think we deserve better,” he said. “We need a robust, public discussion to arrive at a goal that sets us on a path for day-to-day maintenance that parallels our recent gains in park improvements and park acreage.”

Stokes added: “Properly funding park maintenance would bring about substantial change that would be real and observable by the whole city. Please make this happen.”

Click here to read more about their ask of city officials.

— Hannah E. Jones

All registration opens on Feb. 17 at 10 a.m. on Eventbrite. (Courtesy of the Atlanta Preservation Center.)

‘Phoenix Flies’ historic preservation celebration returns

The “Phoenix Flies” celebration of historic sites and programs returns this year for a three-week run in March.

Organized by the Atlanta Preservation Center (APC) with many partners, the annual celebration began in 2003 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of saving Midtown’s Fox Theatre from demolition.

This year’s edition runs March 4-26. But some events have limited space and require pre-registration, which opens at 10 a.m. on Feb. 17 on Eventbrite.

The lineup has over 90 events. There are tours of the Fox, the Plaza Theatre, the Atlanta History Center’s archives, the Atlanta BeltLine Westside Trail and Cabbagetown’s Fulton Cotton Mill Lofts. There are programs on such topics as caring for historic houses. Among the walking tours are Downtown’s former brothel district, Midtown’s LGTBQ history, and Southeast Atlanta’s South-View Cemetery, the final resting place of many legendary African American community leaders. 

Full details can be seen in the Phoenix Flies online program.

— John Ruch

The forum will be held at The Gathering Spot. (Courtesy of All In Together.)

All in Together hosts first-ever Rising Voices forum

All In Together (AIT) — a nonprofit that educates and empowers voting-age women to participate in America’s civic and political spheres — is hosting its inaugural Rising Voice forum on Wednesday, March 1 in Atlanta. The forum is designed to explore the role that the younger generations play in our nation’s democracy, with diverse perspectives from civic, corporate and student leaders.

The two-hour nonpartisan program will feature a variety of speakers, including City Councilmember Liliana Bakhtiari, State Representative Jasmine Clark and Speak Georgia Co-Founder Janelle King. The event will kick off at 7 p.m. at The Gathering Spot. SaportaReport is a media sponsor.

Funds raised from the event will support AIT’s grassroots civic education initiatives, programs and events. For additional information and to secure a ticket, click here.

— Hannah E. Jones

The service is available for individuals and families with an income of $60,000 or under. (Photo by Kelly Sikkema, Unsplash.)

United Way provides free tax preparation services

The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance has partnered with the United Way of Greater Atlanta and the IRS to provide free tax services to families with low-to-moderate incomes and limited English-speaking taxpayers. 

From now until Apr. 17,  people can go to the food court every Wednesday through Saturday to have their taxes prepared by IRS-trained and certified volunteers. 

For more information, click here

— Allison Joyner

Jerusalem House receives grant supporting their efforts for individuals with HIV/AIDS

Jerusalem House, an Atlanta-based organization providing a continuum of care for those living with HIV/AIDS, recently received a $200,000 grant from Gilead Sciences, Inc. to bolster its 360° Education, Workforce Development and Life Skills Program. Established in 1988, Jerusalem House now provides over 70 percent of Atlanta’s permanent supportive housing for residents affected by HIV/AIDS.

The 360° program was created to end chronic homelessness among those impacted with HIV/AIDS by offering job training and mentorship to help individuals and families become financially stable and independent. Some key components include GED testing, college prep, campus tours, workforce development workshops and life skills seminars.

“Our work isn’t just about housing or medical intervention, it’s about a comprehensive and total support system that allows our individuals to become self-reliant,” Jerusalem House President and CEO Maryum Lewis wrote. “Thanks to this incredibly generous grant from Gilead Sciences, Inc., we will be able to further help our residents take the next step in their careers and provide more financial stability for their families.”

Metro Atlanta is among the top in the nation for HIV/AIDS cases — affecting one in 51 people — and Black men are disproportionately impacted.

— Hannah E. Jones

A photo, released by DeKalb County, from a Feb. 15 inspection of the public safety training center site inspection, showing a path used for installing silt fencing.

DeKalb says training center site prep is OK while appeal is pending

DeKalb County inspectors say complaints about unlawful preparatory work at Atlanta’s public safety training center site are invalid, while a permit appeal had a court hearing pending.

A land disturbance permit (LDP) was issued earlier this month for the controversial training center on Key and Constitution roads in unincorporated DeKalb. The LDP has been appealed by a resident who is also a member of the training center’s official review committee. A court hearing was scheduled for Feb. 16 on a request to halt preparatory work while that appeal is pending.

Meanwhile, DeKalb has received complaints of “excessive” land disturbance and tree removal in violation of the LDP, according to the County press office. A Feb. 15 inspection found those complaints to be unfounded, according to the County. Inspection photos released by the County show a bulldozed path that is being used for the installation of fencing to restrict silt runoff, which is a major element of the LDP appeal. The photos show a police officer in military gear accompanying the inspector.

— John Ruch

International Women’s Forum of Georgia gears up for March 2 event

The International Women’s Forum (IWF) of Georgia will host a hybrid event on International Women’s Day — March 2 — that highlights women who are tackling some of the most difficult issues today. This year’s program focuses on young women leaders, the role of caregivers in the economy and the intersection of women and the climate crisis. 

The fourth annual event will feature three major topics, including:

  • The Climate Crisis — A look into the effects of climate change on women and girls, along with a new women-led global effort to unite organizations, businesses, academic institutions and governments to address the issue.
  • How the Ground Shifted for Women in 2022 — Examine the implications of Supreme Court rulings, COVID, protests in Iran and China and crackdowns in Afghanistan. Where do women stand now?
  • The Care Economy — Exploring the role of caregivers, both professionally and personally, which generally falls on women. If women are the world’s caregivers, who cares for them?  

The IWF of Georgia is part of a global organization that works to connect women leaders around the world. IWF Georgia is the fifth-largest Forum and was founded in 1988 by 15 women including Rosalynn Carter and Coretta Scott King.

Click here for additional details and ticketing information.

— Hannah E. Jones

John Buckovich. (Courtesy of SCAD.)

SCAD announces John Buckovich as VP for SCAD Atlanta and university operations

The Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) announced John Buckovich as Vice President of its Atlanta campus and University operations effective immediately.

He will be responsible for strategic leadership for SCAD Atlanta and manage the day-to-operations including university safety and academic excellence. 

Buckovich will also serve as the school’s ambassador to the Atlanta community in charge of several initiatives like SCAD SERVE and SCAD FASH Museum of Fashion + Film. 

“It’s a privilege to take on my new role with the university at this dynamic location which is embarking on transformational growth and expansion to provide students with an unparalleled academic experience while preparing them at an elite level for their creative careers,” Buckovich said. 

— Allison Joyner

A 10-foot, Caddo Tribe-inspired sculpture was placed along the BeltLine in December. (Photo by Erin Sintos, courtesy of Art on the BeltLine.)

Art on the BeltLine receives $75,000 in grants

Art on the BeltLine — a linear public art gallery that runs along the Atlanta BeltLine — recently received a combined $75,000 to support its arts and culture programming. The City of Atlanta Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs awarded $50,000 to the program, with the remaining amount coming from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Art of the BeltLine is the largest outdoor, temporary art exhibition in the South, and the two grants will support the exhibition that spans 12 miles and 20 communities. The highlighted works vary across mediums, including sculptures, murals, dance, photography and more from both local and international artists.

“People have come to expect a rich arts and culture experience when on the Atlanta BeltLine,” said Clyde Higgs, Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. president and CEO. “Support from the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs and the National Endowment for the Arts continues to elevate Atlanta’s stature in the art world and supports the local arts economy.”

— Hannah E. Jones

Famed heavy metal house-flipper works in Atlanta

The frontman of legendary heavy metal band Testament runs a house-flipping company that is working in Atlanta, according to media reports.

Chuck Billy, who did not respond to a comment request, is the lead singer of the California thrash band, which has been active since the 1980s and is known for such songs as “Over the Wall” and “Practice What You Preach.” Regarded as one of the most popular and influential thrash bands, Testament is working on its 14th studio album. 

The heavy metal news site Blabbermouth in December reported Billy’s real estate side gig with a company called Discovery Home Solutions. Billy had spoken to Detroit radio station WRIF about the business, saying he was renovating two houses in Atlanta at the time, as well others in California. 

“Say one day my voice isn’t working right and I can’t do this,” Blabbermouth quoted Billy as saying. “What am I gonna do? I’m not gonna go get a job. I’m gonna do something I still enjoy doing and love doing. And this was it.”

— John Ruch

Carl Allegretti.

College Football Hall of Fame announces new board member

The Chick-fil-A College Football Hall of Fame welcomes the latest addition to its Board of Directors — Carl Allegretti, president of Arbor Investments. A former college football player for Butler University, Allegretti brings a passion for both football and philanthropy. 

Allegretti has over 40 years of experience in financial services and executive leadership. In 2020, he assumed his current role as president of the private equity firm focused on the food and beverage industry. 

He currently serves on several boards, including the Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, the USA Football Board and the National Football Foundation Board. He was also inducted into the NFF Leadership Hall of Fame. 

“We are honored to welcome Carl Allegretti to the Hall’s board of directors. His experience with the Special Olympics, National Football Foundation and USA Football make him the perfect addition to our already impressive group of individuals,” President and CEO Kimberly Beaudin wrote in a press release. “A former college football player, Carl will be invaluable to helping us further our mission and vision. With this announcement, 2023 at the Hall is off to a fantastic start!”

— Hannah E. Jones

Gas South donated over $3 million to Georgia, Florida children in need

Natural gas provider Gas South recently announced that it donated over $3.2 million in 2022 to Georgia and Florida youth in need. 

The funds went to Georgia and Florida nonprofits that serve children who require additional support. In Georgia, the donations help support mental health services at Ser Familia, a new STEAM lab and solar flower at the Andrew & Walter Young Family YMCA and a new kitchen at the Atlanta Ronald McDonald House.

“Nothing has been more satisfying than watching the young lives positively impacted by our mission to Be A Fuel For Good,” said Kevin Greiner, president and CEO of Gas South. “This is Gas South’s way of ensuring families build strong foundations, and it’s also setting us apart from others in our industry in terms of the size and scope of our commitment to the community.”  

The natural gas provider more than doubled its giving compared to the previous year and is projected to donate more than $4 million this year.

Click here for more details from Gas South’s annual giving report.

— Hannah E. Jones

Hannah E. Jones

Hannah Jones is an Atlanta native and Georgia State University graduate, with a major in journalism and minor in public policy. She began studying journalism in high school and has since served as a reporter and editor for two newspapers. Hannah managed the Arts and Living section of The Signal, Georgia State’s independent award-winning newspaper. She has a passion for environmental issues, urban life and telling a good story. Hannah can be reached at hannah@saportareport.com.


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  1. Steven Lindsay February 17, 2023 11:14 am

    Hear! Hear! to the request for better funding of Park Maintenance.
    If you check your home property tax estimate you’ll see Parks gets a tiny fraction of it.
    The results is a staff has no career structure or hope of advancement and consequently woefully under-trained, transitory and poorly supervised.
    This leads to sub-standard and sometimes counterproductive work ie erosion, compaction, weed infestation, damaged plants..
    Parks& Rec also appear to have No allocation for Park equipment repair or replacement; many paths, fences, small bridges, drainage and edging installations are literally falling apart. Some have not been repaired for so long that they will have to replaced, at a greater cost.Report


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