When communities like Downtown and the Westside thrive, Atlanta thrives.
Intro by John Ahmann
Thanks to AJ Robinson, President of Central Atlanta Progress (CAP), for this week’s column. Founded in 1941, CAP is a member-based not-for-profit advocating on behalf of a vibrant Downtown Atlanta. As the leader of CAP, AJ has been a long-time advocate of greater connectivity between Downtown economic vibrancy and the historic westside neighborhoods. An example of this is the Westside Tax Allocation District. Nearly all the tax proceeds are generated by businesses in Downtown Atlanta but 20% of the proceeds must be spent west of Northside. Historically, much of the housing in the neighborhoods originally developed as housing for workers at factories in Downtown Atlanta, when it was a manufacturing hub served by the railroads. The Westside Future Fund (WFF), as part of its cradle-to-career impact strategy, is intentional about connecting residents on the westside to Downtown job opportunities, many more of which will be coming thanks to the resurgence of Downtown Atlanta. I have had the good fortune of working with AJ Robinson for nearly 20 years, and as a leader he is a true living example of the spirit “the more we, the more I can do,”. On behalf of the WFF, we are grateful for the strong working partnership with CAP.
By AJ Robinson
In a city of neighborhoods, Atlantans commonly define themselves by demarcations – not this district, but that one.
This conglomeration is a mainstay of our city’s character and uniqueness, but it comes with its challenges, too, in that we sometimes emphasize our divisions more than our connectedness.
As a community improvement district, our clearly-defined boundaries are necessary for governance and deploying our clean and safe initiatives, but as the work of Central Atlanta Progress and the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District evolve, the fluidity of Downtown’s borders (east, west, north, and south) becomes more essential to the collective betterment of our city—namely, we believe that what benefits Downtown, in turn, benefits our neighbors, and vice versa.
The same can certainly be said of the Westside Future Fund, whose mission likewise centers on the wellbeing of its focus communities whose ultimate success translates into the greater wellbeing of Atlanta.
The work of CAP/ADID and WFF are both concentrated on holistic community wellness, our areas of focus, from infrastructure and greenspace improvements to economic vitality and public safety. Our organizations each benefit from the support of the business and philanthropic communities, whose sense of corporate and social responsibility are essential in helping our districts reach their full potential.
Though Downtown has historically been something of an island unto itself, due to the interstates and other man-made barriers that carve their way through the urban core, a national trend of urbanization is helping reconnect us to our neighbors, including the Westside.
Progress has been slow and steady, with notable milestones concentrated along Northside Drive, which is currently a rather formidable gulf of separation.
Mercedes-Benz Stadium and the newly-opened Home Depot Backyard are some of the best-known examples. Located squarely between our districts, the stadium and greenspace fit neatly into the context of our burgeoning entertainment and convention landscape with a demonstrated commitment to benefitting the communities beyond their immediate footprint.
Of course, another high-profile project expected to bridge a gap—a 40 acre gap—is the redevelopment of the Gulch by CIM Group. While vertical development at this site will not physically link Downtown to adjacent neighborhoods, the expected $5 billion in generated revenue will, as Ambassador Andrew Young said in a recent interview, “help everybody. Everybody in the city will benefit.”
Downtown-adjacent communities were also factored into our recent Downtown Atlanta Master Plan effort, which was adopted by Atlanta City Council in late 2017, a plan that is reflective of all of the work that’s been done in recent years within and around Downtown.
In addition to capital improvements, the Plan proposes that we forge strategic partnerships with local universities and hospitals to expand their involvement Downtown and further support the needs of residents and businesses, wherever possible. Knowing the rich history and crucial presence of the AUC campus, this is just one example of many future opportunities to strengthen the bonds between Downtown and the Westside.
If you spend even a few minutes studying the missions of Central Atlanta Progress and the Westside Future Fund and other community organizations, you’ll quickly see that while our geographies and areas of focus are somewhat varied, our common goals are in lock-step: collaboration, unity, and vitality, resulting in strengthened communities. CAP firmly maintains a “rising tide” mentality—that even in a city of neighborhoods, we are all ultimately working toward a strengthened gestalt, a city where all of us can connect and thrive.