Category Archives: Falcons Stadium

Baltimore, once a beacon for Atlanta’s downtown revitalization, sees its lamp dim

BALTIMORE – Once upon a time, Atlanta wanted to create the same kind of magic that enabled Baltimore to build a tourism destination around an aquarium. Those days seem long ago.

Baltimore, National Aquarium

The entrance plaza to the National Aquarium was devoid of pedestrians and vehicles Sunday around noon, about three hours after the facility had opened. Credit: David Pendered

On Sunday, spacious walkways around the National Aquarium were mostly vacant. There was no queue at the aquarium’s main entrance. Outdoor cafes on an adjacent wharf were filled with empty tables; idle hosts beckoned passersby to step in for steamed crabs and other seafood treats.

It wasn’t always this way.

In the years before the Georgia Aquarium opened, in 2005, Baltimore’s Inner Harbor bustled. Harborplace, Baltimore’s version of Underground Atlanta, was crowded. Visitors flocked to the National Aquarium. The nearby Fells Point neighborhood, Baltimore’s version of Little Five Points, was emerging as a popular destination for folk art and tattooists. In 2009, Urban Land Institute named Baltimore, “the model for post-industrial waterfront redevelopment around the world.”

Recent years haven’t been kind to the Inner Harbor.

For starters, attendance at the main tourist destination – the National Aquarium – has been has been erratic since the Great Recession, according to various published reports that present information that seems internally inconsistent.

The National Aquarium in Baltimore self-reported about 1.37 million visitors in 2012. That figure doesn’t comport with a report from wbaltv.com and other Baltimore media.

Baltimore, visitors from Brazil

Mr. and Mrs. Steve Duffy, of Brazil, visited Baltimore’s Inner Harbor Sunday. They came despite concerns about the city’s homicide rate and civil protests in April, and plan to stay in the city’s tourist area. Credit: David Pendered

The stories quote aquariums officials saying, in February 2014, that attendance had increased to 381,530 in the six-month period after the Blacktip Reef exhibit opened in August 2013. Officials said attendance in the same six-month period a year earlier was 372,740.

For these report to jive with the aquarium’s self-report, almost 1 million visitors would have to attend in the remaining six months of each reporting period.

The attendance issue aside, revenues from admissions, merchandise, services, and facilities rentals has increased since 2009. The annual gross receipts are: 2009, $28.1 million; 2010, $26.7 million; 2011, $27.1 million; 2012, $30.5 million; and 2013, $32.9 million, according to the most recent 990 tax form submitted by the National Aquarium.

Elsewhere in the Inner Harbor, a few cranes rise above two construction sites east of the harbor. Other parcels lay fallow as planned developments languish. Pleasure boating is virtually non-existent, despite a plethora of dockage that’s priced below than car parks.

Baltimore’s homicide rate and civil unrest has to factor into the recent dip in visitation to the Inner Harbor. Steve Duffy and his wife knew about the troubles before they arrived Sunday from their home in Fortaleza, Brazil. They came anyway, largely because the airfare worked out so they could spend a few days touring Baltimore and Washington before heading to see friends and family in California.

Baltimore, National Aquarium

The National Aquarium recommends purchasing tickets well in advance of a visit, but around noon Sunday there was no wait to enter. Credit: David Pendered

“We heard about what happened with the riots,” Duffy said. “We’re here only two days and are not concerned. We’re not going to venture out of the tourist area, and Monday we go to Washington. We didn’t want to stay here too long.”

Baltimore’s homicide rate was 208 and counting as of Monday afternoon. Civil protests broke out in April over the death of Freddie Gray, who died a week after his arrest by Baltimore police. Police now are trying to get a handle on a surge in youngsters who gather on city streets in neighborhoods to race and perform stunts on dirt bike motorcycles that typically have been reported as stolen, according to media reports.

At the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, advocates hoped the aquarium would jumpstart urban renewal in the vicinity of Centennial Olympic Park. They’re still waiting.

Development has been sluggish as the local economy sagged as a result of the Great Recession. Residential and commercial developers now seem to have shifted their focus to neighborhoods west of the future Falcons stadium. That said, the aquarium benefits from synergy from recently built attractions including World of Coca Cola, College Football Hall of Fame, and Center for Civil and Human Rights.

However, the key benchmark of the aquarium’s success – visitation – has remained above 2 million a year in each of the past eight years, according to self-reported data from the aquarium. The annual gross receipts are: 2009, $52.9 million; 2010, $49.9 million; 2011, $61.6 million; 2012, $67.6 million; and 2013, $71.3 million, according to the most recent 990 tax form submitted by the Georgia Aquarium.

Baltimore, the Power Plant

The restaurant row adjacent to the National Aquarium was mostly vacant at lunchtime Sunday. The facility, Power Plant Live!, has been a major destination. Credit: David Pendered

The record-high homicide rate in Baltimore this year certainly hasn’t helped spur visitation to its prime tourist and convention district, the Inner Harbor.

Baltimore has recorded 208 homicides this year, as of Monday afternoon. Most are gun deaths, though there are a fair number of deaths by stabbing and blunt force trauma, and even a few asphyxiations, according to reports by baltimoresun.com.

Baltimore’s homicide rate has increased by more than 33 percent, compared to 2014.

Atlanta’s homicide rate has increased by 19 percent but the numbers are vastly different – 57 year-to-date in 2015 compared to 48 for the same period in 2014, according to the Atlanta Police Department.

Baltimore’s tourist district is a bubble of safety. Homicides occur in neighborhoods surrounding the Inner Harbor. The harbor and downtown business district exist in a bubble shaped like a light bulb, with the screw end at the National Aquarium and the bulb spreading up into comfortable neighborhoods due north of the Inner Harbor, according to the map.

Baltimore, visitors from New Jersey

Baltimore’s homicide rate now stands at 208 for the year. Tourists from New Jersey, Andrew Perez (left) and Ron Marzan, said news accounts of three murders the day they arrived reminded them of reports from Newark. Credit: David Pendered

As a visitor from central New Jersey observed Sunday:

Baltimore’s two worlds do overlap when urban youths visit the Inner Harbor.

A shirtless young man peddled a bike along a causeway near the National Aquarium’s front door. He wore ear buds and quietly sang lyrics that seem to be from the 2013 album, Downtown: Life Under the Gun. The song is the fourth track on an album produced by Def Jam Recordings. The album cover contains an advisory for explicit content.

A few apparent tourists turned their heads to watch, and returned to their conversations.

A number of folks visiting Baltimore’s Inner Harbor on a brilliant afternoon said the killings didn’t scare them away. Their comments sound a bit hardened toward the prevalence of urban violence and social mores.

“I saw the news when we got here and saw three shootings right away, and I said, ‘This is just like Newark’,” said Ron Marzan, who said he’d traveled from central New Jersey to Baltimore for a weekend trip with family and friends. “Most seem to be young teenagers, like children. It’s gang related.”

Baltimore, USCGC Taney

The last survivor of Pear Harbor, USCGC Taney, attracted interest from one family around 1 p.m. Sunday afternoon. The wharf was all but vacant. Credit: David Pendered

Marzan and Perez were traveling with their families, and waiting outside the aquarium for Perez’ son to finish the dolphin tour. Perez said he likes what he’d seen of Baltimore.

“Compared to San Francisco, this area is better,” Perez said. “San Francisco stinks a lot because of the bums. They pee anywhere.”

Pee stink or not, on Sunday there were no crowds on sidewalks and plazas near the National Aquarium. The sense of solitude stretched to the main doors of National Aquarium; to Harborplace, a retail district built by the company that renovated Underground Atlanta, Rouse Co.; and Power Plant Live!, a former power plant that was shuttered in 1973 and repurposed as a commercial center.

Weather wasn’t keeping folks home – skies were clear and a light breeze tamped the effect of a heat index of 90 degrees. A tax-free shopping week for back-to-school items was wrapping up, but it had been underway for a week. The Orioles baseball game didn’t absorb the crowds, given that TV coverage showed acres of empty seats in a 1:35 p.m. game in which the Orioles defeated the Oakland A’s by a score of 18-2.

 

 

Common Cause forces resignation of Georgia leader as part of national realignment of interests

The forced resignation of William Perry, former executive director of Common Cause of Georgia, speaks to the breadth of redirection of the national organization under the leadership of former Clinton cabinet member Robert Reich.

William Perry, former ED Common Cause of Georgia

William Perry

The national Common Cause organization installed in 2014 a president, Miles Rapoport, who has said he intends to work on economic opportunity issues, sustainability and environmental protection.

Reich, President Clinton’s labor secretary, recused himself from the selection process because of his previous relation with Rapoport, according to a report in nationaljournal.com. Reich took over as chairman of Common Cause’s National Governing Board in 2010.

Atlanta attorney Emmet Bondurant could not be reached for comment Tuesday morning.

Bondurant serves on the Board of Governors of the national organization, and the Board of Directors of the state organization.

Among the prominent lawyers who work at Bondurant’s law firm, Bondurant, Mixon & Elmore, are Jason Carter, a former gubernatorial candidate and state senator, in the capacity of partner; and Robert Ashe, chairman of MARTA’s Board of Directors, in the capacity of associate.

Perry’s focus on government ethics and spending did not comport with the new interests of the national organization.

Rapoport asked Perry to resign and issued the following statement Tuesday morning:

Miles Rapoport

Miles Rapoport

Perry issued the following statement Tuesday morning:

During Perry’s term in office, Perry has bluntly challenged a number of actions by leading elected officials and civic leaders overseeing major public projects. The list includes:

Falcons stadium, July 2015

Atlanta’s decision to provide up to $200 million to help pay for construction of the Falcons stadium drew strong rebuke from William Perry, who was forced out as executive director of Common Cause of Georgia by the president of the national Common Cause organization. Credit: newstadium.atlantafalcons.com

Here the full statements released by Common Cause of Georgia and Perry:

From Common Cause Georgia

Aug. 11, 2015

William Perry Leaving as Head of Common Cause Georgia 

Atlanta, GA – Common Cause Georgia’s Executive Director, William Perry, has resigned the position and will seek to pursue government watchdog work in a new organization.  The decision came as a mutual understanding between Mr. Perry and national Common Cause President Miles Rapoport, who requested Mr. Perry’s resignation, about the future of the Georgia chapter.

Rapoport said:  “William Perry has led the Georgia chapter of Common Cause for four and a half years.  He has been an effective advocate for government ethics and transparency, and I know he will continue to be so.  Common Cause, both nationally and in Georgia, has a broader policy agenda for an inclusive democracy, and new leadership will help move the chapter in these new directions.”

Perry sees this as a great opportunity to continue the work he likes most about his former job.

“I’m looking forward to the opportunity to work outside the confines of public policy advocacy and fully focus on government watchdog work. Over the past four and a half years, I’ve found exposing public corruption requires a single-minded focus, and it is the work I most want to do. I deeply appreciate the work that Common Cause Georgia does, and will continue to work with them as allies on issues that concern holding our public officials accountable.”

Newly elected Common Cause Georgia Board Chair, Clint Murphy of Savannah, said:

“We appreciate William’s service to Common Cause Georgia.  We wish him well, and look forward to working with him on important issues in the future.”

Common Cause, with the assistance of the Georgia advisory board, is beginning the process of selecting a new Executive Director.

From Perry:

Aug. 11, 2015

William Perry Leaving as Head of Common Cause Georgia

Organization and Director reach mutual agreement as organization seeks new leader

Atlanta, GA – Common Cause Georgia’s Executive Director, William Perry, has resigned the position and will seek to pursue government watchdog work in a new organization.  The decision came as a mutual understanding between Mr. Perry and national Common Cause President Miles Rapoport, who requested Mr. Perry’s resignation, about the future of the Georgia chapter.

Rapoport said:  “William Perry has led the Georgia chapter of Common Cause for four and a half years.  He has been an effective advocate for government ethics and transparency, and I know he will continue to be so.  Common Cause, both nationally and in Georgia, has a broader policy agenda for an inclusive democracy, and new leadership will help move the chapter in these new directions.”

Perry sees this as a great opportunity to continue the work he likes most about his former job.

“I’m looking forward to the opportunity to work outside the confines of public policy advocacy and fully focus on government watchdog work. Over the past four and a half years, I’ve found exposing public corruption requires a single-minded focus, and it is the work I most want to do. I deeply appreciate the work that Common Cause Georgia does, and will continue to work with them as allies on issues that concern holding our public officials accountable.”

Newly elected Common Cause Georgia Board Chair, Clint Murphy of Savannah, said:

“We appreciate William’s service to Common Cause Georgia.  We wish him well, and look forward to working with him on important issues in the future.”

Common Cause, with the assistance of the Georgia advisory board, is beginning the process of selecting a new Executive Director.

 

Atlanta provides funds for ongoing efforts to revitalize West End

The Atlanta City Council has provided $48,000 to the ongoing effort to improve the area around West End and Morehouse College, an area that a Georgia Tech plan suggests is on the brink of revitalization.

This effort is in addition to the city’s plans to develop a complete streets project along a major corridor just to the north of Morehouse College. The city plans to install bike lanes, sidewalks and a linear park along Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, all the way from Northside Drive to Fulton Industrial Boulevard.

The MLK project is priced at $60.2 million and the city has commitments for half the funding. The remaining $30 million will be sought from the federal government, through a TIGER grant, the same source that helped pay for construction of the Atlanta Streetcar.

For the ongoing West End study, Councilmember Cleta Winslow provided the $48,000 through the carry forward account associated with her council district, according to legislation the council approved Monday.

Winslow has provided money to three separate programs that seek to improve the West End area. Here’s how the funding breaks down:

The Morehouse program was created in order to, “establish and sustain economic and social improvement within the greater West End community,” according to its website.

The UDC was formed in 1988 in order to, “improve the physical neighborhood and enhance the quality of life for the more than 15,000 residents in the areas adjacent to the Atlanta University Center,” according to its website.

Finally the Oakland City/Lakewood LCI plan that was completed in 2004 is the subject of a major update. The Atlanta Regional Commission announced in February that it will provide $60,000 for an update that is to include the Fort McPherson area in the plan.

In addition to these ongoing plans, Georgia Tech students produced a framework plan for the West End area. This plan was the outgrowth of the students’ previously completed framework plan for Northside Drive, including the communities around the new Falcons Stadium.

The framework study suggests that West End is ripe for new investments in retail and residential. Although the area faces plenty of problems, including blight and a high percentage of vacancies, the report found glimmers of hope:

“The high level of vacancy and depressed property values should not be seen as a weakness; in fact, this should be seen as an opportunity.”

A major part of the framework plan is a renewal of Mall West End.

The student plan envisions the outparcels being developed while the existing shops function inside the mall. At some point in the future, new buildings would predominate and the mall could be demolished and replaced with structures that could meet any number of market demands.

Atlanta slated to begin $125,000 study on improving area near Falcons stadium

Atlanta is poised to embark on a study costing up to $125,000 on how to involve residents of the Westside communities, near the Falcons stadium, in code enforcement and flooding issues.

Falcons stadium, June 2015

Construction continues at the Falcons stadium, as shown in this photo from June. Credit: newstadium.atlantafalcons.com

The study is to be funded with a grant from a program named City Accelerator, which is a project of Living Cities Foundation. The foundation is an initiative of Living Cities and Citi Foundation, and it’s funded similar studies in other cities.

The Community Development Committee of the Atlanta City Council approved the project Tuesday, setting it up for expected adoption by the full council at its July 20 meeting.

Councilmember Cleta Winslow, who sponsored the legislation, said the money will help pick up the community engagement process that dwindled after the city authorized up to $200 million in city bonds to help pay for the stadium’s construction.

“These are funds that are needed in areas that have much need, especially Vine City, English Avenue, outlying areas such as Castleberry Hill,” Winslow said. “We need to encourage community engagement to make sure we’re listening to the residents and pulling together to put together the best projects we can, that will reinvigorate these neighborhoods.

“We started with the community benefits [discussion], which kind of trailed off,” Winslow said. “There’s a need to go back in … and reengage and make sure we have all the stakeholders there, and cast a winder net than with the community benefits plan.”

Community benefits are considered to be a variety of programs intended to make certain that neighborhoods around a publicly funded project benefit from the project. Benefits often will include programs to train and hire community residents.

Atlanta is not required to fund a matching grant to claim the funding from City Accelerator, according to the legislation. The program is to be administered by the mayor’s Office of Innovation Delivery and Performance, in partnership with various city departments and unidentified external partners.

This is Atlanta’s objective for the grant, according to a summary of the city’s application posted on governing.com:

The Westside Future Fund was formed as a partnership of Invest Atlanta and the Arthur Blank Family Foundation. Its board of directors was announced in December by Reed and the Atlanta Committee for Progress, a group of business leaders that advises the mayor on various issues.

The purpose of the Westside Future Fund is to, “secure a stronger, healthier future and spur job creation, civic engagement and business investment for the historic neighborhoods of Vine City, English Avenue and Castleberry Hill,” according to Reed’s statement posted on the organization’s website.

The Westside area is to benefit from a total of $30 million in allocated funds.

The Blank Foundation authorized $15 million through its Westside Neighborhood Prosperity Fund. The money is to promote, “economic development, improved safety and lower crime, better education and a greater focus on healthy communities,” according to its website.

Invest Atlanta authorized $15 million from the Westside Tax Allocation District, money which by statute had to be invested in the Westside area where it was collected.

Visioning plan for Atlanta’s first black suburb reveals anxiety about stadium, hope for BeltLine

A new visioning plan intends to guide the revitalization Atlanta’s first suburb developed for African Americans, a neighborhood where two thirds of residents who took a survey think the new Falcons stadium will have a negative impact on their community.
The survey size was small – just 18 respondents. But it does represent a snapshot of the perspective of a group of people, nearly half of whom have lived in Washington Park more than 40 years and feel a strong connection to the place.
Twelve respondents said they expect the stadium will have a negative impact on Washington Park, located a mile west of the stadium. Twelve said they think the neighborhood will be a very different place in 10 years, and most think that’s a good thing. Blight and vacancy are the main concerns about current conditions.
Conversely, the Atlanta BeltLine is expected to have a positive impact on the neighborhood, according to eight of the 17 who answered that question during a community meeting last Oct. 21.
Of note, residents viewed the BeltLine as a threat during a presentation in Washington Park a decade ago. No poll was taken that night. However, many in the audience expressed concerns that real estate speculators would drive up property values, and the corresponding increase in property taxes would force longtime residents to leave their homes.
Washington Park is located on rolling wooded land and was developed between 1919 and 1924 by Heman Perry. Perry previously was a Texas farm hand who moved to Atlanta and created a business on Auburn Avenue that the plan says was the first million dollar, black-owned conglomerate.
Washington Park was developed in the same era as the Virginia Highland neighborhood. The architecture is similar, and both were developed along winding roads.
This is how the visioning plan characterizes Washington Park:
• “As the first planned suburb in the City of Atlanta developed for Blacks by Heman E. Perry between 1919 and 1924, it was home to some of the city’s most influential community leaders and movers and shakers in the Black community and some of the finest and most influential Black owned businesses and institutions in the city. It is remembered by many as being a beautiful neighborhood in the early 1920’s that fostered an extremely positive, supporting, and loving environment.”
The neighborhood is located between the Atlanta BeltLine and Joseph E. Lowery Boulevard. The southern boundary is Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, and Joseph E. Boone Boulevard forms the northern boundary.
Time has taken its toll on Washington Park, as it has on surrounding neighborhoods. Housing values cratered as much as 47 percent during the past 14 years in these neighborhoods, and they have not rebounded, according to a report last year by Georgia Tech Professor Dan Immergluck.
Consequently, some homes are in need of repair. On Sunday afternoon, a fair number of homeowners were working in their yards and stacking yard debris in bag along the curb for pickup.
A group of residents banded together in 2007 to form the Conservancy at Washington Park. The conservancy is listed as the client on the Washington Park Neighborhood Visioning Plan.
The plan was released in May by Atlanta-based Perez Planning + Design, LLC. Partners include the Atlanta Regional Commission – Community Development, and Atlanta’s Office of Planning. Atlanta City Councilmember Ivory Lee Young, Jr. is acknowledged.
The Atlanta City Council is slated to adopt the plan Monday, and insert it into the city’s Comprehensive Development Plan.

Atlanta advances plan to retool MLK into complete street, with sidewalk, bike lane

Atlanta is moving forward with plans to create a pleasant place to walk and cycle along Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, all the way from the future Falcons stadium to Fulton Industrial Boulevard. A new linear park is to be built.
The 7.2-mile stretch of roadway is the latest of the city’s efforts to retool heavily used corridors into complete streets. The notion is that streets are not complete until they serve pedestrians and cyclists and transit, as well as automobiles and trucks.
Atlanta also is converting a portion of Ponce de Leon Avenue into a complete street.
The total cost for the MLK conversion is budgeted at $60.2 million. The price includes a linear park to be built on the north side of MLK, between Peyton Place and Lynhurst Drive.
The schedule calls for construction to begin in September 2017 and be complete in September 2019. Design and engineering is underway.
Invest Atlanta, the city’s development arm, voted May 28 to provide a total of $2.7 million through funds collected in two tax allocation districts – Howell MLK TAD, and Westside TAD.
Other funding sources include an anticipated federal TIGER grant; PATH Foundation; Georgia Department of Transportation; city general funds; and implementation grants from the Livable Centers Initiative, sponsored by the Atlanta Regional Commission.
Here’s how Invest Atlanta describes the overall project in a fact sheet:
“The entire project includes improvements along Martin Luther King Jr. Drive from Northside Drive to Fulton Industrial Boulevard (7.2 miles). It will reconfigure the roadway to provide a complete street allowing for multi-modal transportation options, green infrastructure and streetscapes. It will also include a linear park along the north side of the road from Peyton Place to Lynhurst Drive, landscaping and pedestrian bridge at the I-285 interchange, and lighting and aesthetic improvements at both I-20 bridge underpasses.
“The purpose of the MLK Jr. Drive Improvements project that began in 2014 was to develop a single strategy to address the transportation needs of the community and corridor uses, improve aesthetics, and stimulate the revitalization of the corridor and surrounding communities. This strategy includes both short-and long range corridor projects that aim to:
• “Provide mobility throughout the entire corridor including accommodating regional trips without degrading local trip making;
• “Incorporate a full range of multi-modal transportation options, address safety issues, and maximize the use of public transportation;
• “Recognize and preserve the historic and cultural significance of the corridor;
• “Be consistent with previous and ongoing planning and project development efforts;
• “Encourage future development and revitalization in the corridor.”
Invest Atlanta approved the use of $1.4 million from the Howell-MLK TAD to help pay for the conversion of almost a mile of MLK. Here’s the description of this part of the project:
“Hollowell-MLK TAD funding will be used for a portion of a linear park, multi-use trail, and streetscape improvements along the north side of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive from Peyton Place to Boulder Park Drive, (approx. 5000 linear feet). The streetscape improvements will include: a 12-foot wide sidewalk with 6-foot buffer strip, street and pedestrian lighting, green infrastructure, street furniture, and landscaping.”
Invest Atlanta approved the use of $1.3 million from the Westside TAD to help pay for the conversion of about 3,000 feet of the corridor. Here’s the description of this part of the project:
“Westside TAD funding will be used for beautification and streetscape improvements along the north side of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive from Northside Drive to James P. Brawley in the Westside TAD boundary (approximately 3,000 linear feet). The streetscape improvements will include: a 12-foot wide sidewalk with 6-foot buffer strip, street and pedestrian lighting, green infrastructure, street furniture, and landscaping.”

Atlanta funds project to ease flooding, add bike lanes near Falcons stadium

Atlanta on Tuesday took another step toward improving the environment just west of the future Falcons stadium in the Proctor Creek basin.

The gist of the plan is to restore the land’s ability to handle stormwater runoff along a portion of Joseph E. Boone. In addtion, the street will be narrowed and bicycle and turn lanes will be installed.

The Atlanta City Council voted unanimously to allocate up to $387,747 for the project. The money will match an anticipated grant from the federal Environmental Protection Division, which has already identified the area for technical assistance.

The total cost is budgeted for $1.8 million, which was previously funded, according to the legislation approved by council.

The timeline calls for the project to be complete in July 2016. Construction could begin as early as October, presuming that preliminary engineering is finished, as planned, by March.

The project is scheduled in the portion of Boone Boulevard that’s located between Northside Drive and Joseph E. Lowery Boulevard.

The legislation says the project includes the following work:

The project is supposed demonstrate the effectiveness of these methods to control stormwater runoff in the English Avenue and Vine City neighborhoods.

These two communities have a long history of problems with flooding during heavy rainstorms. Similar problems exist near Turner Field, and the city is in the process of acquiring a number of properties that typically are flooded during storms.

The description of the Boone Boulevard plan says:

Councilmember Ivory Lee Young, Jr. introduced the funding proposal this month and council approved it without comment Tuesday. The council met Tuesday because the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday fell on Monday.

Incidentally, Boone Boulevard is the relatively new name for the street formally named Simpson Street. Simpson was renamed in 2008 to recognize the civil rights organizer and former minister of Rush Memorial Congregational Church, near the Atlanta University Center.

The city’s money will help implement a proposal that was included in a 2012 report by Park Pride, titled, Proctor Creek/North Avenue Watershed Basin: A Green Infrastructure Project.

Park Pride’s report is a comprehensive evaluation of environmental challenges in the 1,652-acre study area. The report recommends a number of potential solutions to environmental degradation that’s common in the Proctor Creek basin.

The plan’s vision for the Boone Boulevard calls for it to drain stormwater runoff into two future parks, Boone Park East and Boone Park West. The report provides this description of its vision for the Boone Boulevard green infrastructure project:

 

Dreams of jobs training hit realty; Atlanta vows it won’t surrender

Less than 10 percent of those who applied for a job-training program initiated by Falcons team owner Arthur Blank passed the drug/alcohol test required for acceptance to the program, according to Atlanta City Councilmember Ivory L. Young, Jr.

Young cited the figure to illustrate the challenge of job training for individuals who have troubles past or present. Of 160 applicants, 18 were accepted, he said.

The issue of jobs-training is again becoming relevant in Atlanta, as the new Falcons stadium creates jobs and filmmaker Tyler Perry prepares to build and operate as many as 17 studios at the shuttered Fort McPherson.

In a related development, a new report suggests the reemergence of redlining in some of the very Atlanta neighborhoods that struggle with low household income and higher rates of unemployment. Georgia Tech Professor Dan Immergluck’s report predicts some of these areas will take a “very long time” to recover value lost during the great recession.

Workforce training is a well-worn issue in urban affairs. It’s also an issue in which politics make it hard to do much of anything, because any one thing will never adequately address the scope of the condition.

Laying blame contributes to the issue’s complexity, Young said.

“Some would condemn this entire population – shame on them,” Young said during the Oct. 10 meeting of the council’s Community Development/Human Relations Committee.

“But they are our neighbors, and more often than not the neighborhoods that raised them, they stay there,” Young said. “They are less able to compete in a very competitive job market. I’m asking for your help to help a similar demographic as the people I serve.”

Evidently, shaming is a common community response for the applicants who failed the academic and/or drug and/or alcohol requirements of Westside Works and other adult training programs. Westside Works is the brightest of lights in the stadium neighborhoods, as residents hope to benefit from Blank’s promise to help some of them get construction jobs.

Meanwhile, Atlanta is taking steps intended to help keep youngsters out of trouble, and to train adults for meaningful jobs.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, with support from the Atlanta City Council, has re-opened recreation centers in a bid to give youngsters a constructive place to spend time. The centers address the notion of idle hands and the devil’s workshop.

At his second inauguration in January, Reed garnered a standing ovation when he said the city would help troubled individuals get back on track. Reed called it a human rights issue.

“If you put the gun down, we’ll put a book in your hands, a job in your hands; we’ll work to put a future back in your hands,” Reed said. “Prisoner reentry is not simply a criminal justice issue … or race – it’s a human rights issue.”

In August, Reed addressed the city’s long-troubled job training program by naming one of his top advisors to retool the Atlanta Workforce Development Agency.

The agency’s management has drawn fire for years, and Reed acted amidst the crescendo of an internal audit, an ongoing federal criminal investigation, and an external review.

The pressure is on Michael Sterling, the new AWDA director, to be quick in providing results.

Civic leaders and councilmembers voiced hopes that the AWDA will fulfill the promise of federal funds that are provided to Atlanta to teach residents the skills needed to get and keep a meaningful job.

“Sir, you are our best hope; our next generation hangs on you,” said Tony Torrance, a community leader working to clean the Proctor Creek basin. “We appreciate you for revamping AWDA. We appreciate the new group trying to push the agency forward in a new direction because it’s going to take that, where this city is going is going to take that.”

Councilmember Joyce Sheperd called on Sterling to create training programs specifically for the film industry. Skills are unique to that industry, she said, and she requested a report within 90 days on steps AWDA has taken.

“I know it’s tough,” Sheperd said. “But as we roll out jobs in our community, we have to give them training.”

Councilmember Michael Julian Bond noted that the problems associated with skills shortages and fitness for work date back for generations. Failure to fix them now will be a mark on the legacy of public servants, he said.

“Something has to be done, in the city of Atlanta … about poverty that has existed in Atlanta for all my life, and I’m 48,” Bond said. “If it continues to persist, those of us who have given public service will not have done very much.”

But it was Young who struck the strongest notes.

“You help those people , and we get the others and we will give you everything you need,” Young said. “God has placed you here for a very unique purpose. You’re not carrying that by yourself.”

Sterling had come to the meeting prepared to present a quarterly update on changes he has made in AWDA. He had talked about initiating efforts to help individuals find jobs, to restructure the office staff, to recovering a state award that had been withdrawn.

Sterling’s concluded his remarks to the committee with these comments:

“We are developing a timeline, a project dashboard. After we finalize that project dashboard, I’ll be happy to share with members of the committee as well, and the entire city council.

“The first step is to get strong,” Sterling said.

 

Proctor Creek area, other Atlanta brownfields, to be assessed by city

Atlanta is about to embark on another assessment of brownfields that are located in strategic locations the city seeks to prime for redevelopment.

The first site on the list is the Proctor Creek watershed area. The new Falcons stadium is in the Proctor Creek basin, which also encompasses a portion of a planned $30 million urban renewal project to be funded by Atlanta and the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation.

The city has allocated $392,000 for the project. Proposals are due Nov. 5. The first report is due April 30, 2015 and the federal funding for the project expires Sept. 30, 2016, according to the request for proposals.

The city’s Department of Planning and Community Development is to administer the project. The department currently does not have a commissioner.

Citizen oversight is to take the form of a 30-member Brownfield Stakeholder Advisory Committee. The committee is to include public and private sector partners who will, “provide professional and technical advice and support to the project.” The RFP does not identify the process for naming members to the committee.

In 2012, Atlanta completed a Brownfield Area-wide Planning Pilot Program that was funded with $400,000 federal grant. The project team included Georgia Tech; AMEC, Inc.; Bleakly Advisory Group; and Georgia Health Policy Center.

The current request for proposals identifies six categories of property in the city that are to be assessed. The sixth is the region that was studied in 2012:

  1. “The Proctor Creek Watershed area – an approximately 16 square mile area wholly located within the City, Proctor Creek, which runs nine (9) miles in a northwesterly direction to the confluence of the Chattahoochee River.
  2. “Targeted Redevelopment Plans and Corridors – These target corridors are: Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway, Simpson Road, Jonesboro Road, Campbellton Road, and Memorial Drive.
  3. “Tax Allocation Districts – the City has 10 Tax Allocation Districts.
  4. “The City’s Opportunity Zone Program Area – The City has designated Opportunity Zones. An Opportunity Zone (OZ) is a State of Georgia designation that is currently administered through the Department of Community Affairs.
  5. “Sites that were identified in the City’s 2009 Greenspace Program to be redeveloped: The major goal of the plan will be for the City to significantly increase the acreage of greenspace and improve its equitable distribution throughout Atlanta neighborhoods.
  6. “The Brownfields Area-Wide Planning Program Area: This 3,282 acre project area is in Southwest Atlanta and has five redevelopment nodes.”

Brownfields assessments provide critical information regarding the amount of hazardous substances, including petroleum contaminants, that have to be remediated before a property can be redeveloped.

Atlantic Station may be the largest example in Atlanta of a brownfield that was remediated to allow the property to be redeveloped. The old steel mill that once occupied the site contaminated the ground. An enormous amount of soil was hauled off by trucks. The parking deck in the center of the commercial section was built atop contaminated soil to prevent it from releasing its hazards.

 

 

Stadium update: Opponents of city bonds say they are weighing options to appeal

Atlanta has won the first round of the legal fight over its authority to issue more than $278 million in bonds for the future Falcons stadium.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Ural Glanville ruled last week in the city’s favor. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s office issued a statement saying the mayor was “pleased” with the outcome.

However, the city cannot issue any bonds during the 30-day period during which the opponents can appeal the court ruling. Opponents said Sunday they are weighing their options and previously have said they would appeal an unfavorable ruling. They already have delayed a sale that was on a fast track in February.

Reed’s office issued a statement Friday that quoted the mayor as saying:

The statement concluded:

Early actions by the city indicate officials intended for the bonds to have been sold by now.

The petition that seeks authorization for Atlanta to sell the bonds was submitted Feb. 4. Granville issued a ruling that same day, setting the bond validation hearing for Feb. 10. Presuming the judge ruled fairly quickly and the paperwork is in order, the bonds could have been on the market in March.

Woodham and Wyatt Moore challenged the bond issuance on a wide array of points. Incidentally, Woodham may be best known in Atlanta for his six-year court fight against the funding mechanism of the Atlanta BeltLine; Moore, a retired Fulton County Superior Court judge, has been praised for her ruling that was first in the nation to link coal-fired power plants to global warming.

As Woodham and Wyatt Moore describe the process the state and city used to enable Atlanta to extend the hotel/motel tax to help pay for a new sports arena, fatal errors were made all the way from the state law that purports to authorize the extension, to the Georgia World Congress Center Authority for its handling of various matters, to Atlanta for abandoning property for the stadium project and other matters.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking.

Terms of the deal include a Sept. 30 deadline for Atlanta to sell at least $200 million in revenue bonds backed by the city’s hotel/motel tax and deposit the money into the appropriate account.

The Falcons have proven flexible on other deadlines, notably the determination of a stadium site that involved acquisition of two churches and their properties.

The delays in public financing also weigh on a $200 million construction loan from the NFL. The G4 program that’s to provide the loan has a requirement that public funding be part of the overall construction funding.

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