Michael J. Thompson

The Atlanta BeltLine Inc. provided a 3rd quarter public briefing Aug. 9 that focused on progress made in raising funds and building partnerships, but shut out any public questions regarding the proposed PATH through Tanyard Creek Park as part of the BeltLine system.

During the question and answer period following the presentation by Atlanta BeltLine Inc. President and CEO Terri Montague, a question was asked about the proposed 12-foot-wide concrete PATH trail that is proposed to run through the heart of Tanyard Creek Park, which was the site of one of the Civil War’s bloodiest battles.

Before the question could be addressed, Montague cut off all conversation about the Tanyard Creek Park path.

The proposed PATH would cut through a green open space in the park that is used by families and students for a myriad of events. The path would connect numerous parks in the area and serve as small link in the BeltLine’s planned 22 miles of trails, transit and green spaces. The path would cost $1.3 million.

Several members of the Friends of Tanyard Creek Park attended the meeting to try and create a dialogue that they hoped would lead to an alternate plan for the PATH trail in that area around Collier Road between Peachtree Road and Northside Drive.

The first order of business during the meeting, which was held at the auditorium of the Atlanta Public Schools administration building in downtown Atlanta, was to unveil the logo that will be used by the ABI board and partner organizations.

“We’re very pleased with the logo and believe it illustrates the importance of the Beltline connecting Atlanta,” said Montague.

But the presentation quickly turned to more serious aspects of progress in obtaining BeltLine right-of-way and real estate and, of course, obtaining funding.

“We have worked hard to get more federal funding and are positioned for an additional $300,000 federal grant, despite this year’s significant reduction in earmarks,” Montague said.

“We are working to solicit several new partnerships and to expand our current financial partnerships for more private financing of the strategic fund to secure the transit route and create opportunities for transit oriented development (TOD),” she said.

The BeltLine project proposes to combine green space, trails, transit and a new development along 22 miles of historic rail segments that encircle the urban core. It will include over 1,300 acres of new and expanded parks, 33 miles of continuous trails and will create 30,000 permanent jobs and 48,000 yearlong construction jobs. An estimated $20 billion increase in the tax base will be created over 25 years.

It was also discussed that ABI and Marta are working to form a team of senior staff to explore applying for admission to the Federal Transportation Authority’s Public Private Partnership Pilot Program. At this time, no application is anticipated.

It was revealed that the “Locally Preferred Alternative” advocated by the city and BeltLine Team contemplates the BeltLine’s full 22-mile Lindbergh-to-Lindbergh route, and is codified in the “Alternatives Analysis” approved by the MARTA Board.

More importantly, the ABI Board’s budget for fiscal year includes $7.75 million to fund environmental, engineering studies for the complete 22-mile BeltLine transit route, including a detailed study of the transit and trail alignment in the Northwest.

It also was announced that the (ABI) and NE Beltline, LLC have negotiated a public/private partnership to jointly own and develop the northeast corridor of the BeltLine property, which is currently owned by Gwinnett developer Wayne Mason and his attorney son Keith Mason. The new partnership between ABI and NE Beltline LLC, whose principals are Ben Raney and Barry Real Estate Companies, plans to purchase the Masons’ property subject to normal due diligence before the end of the year. Financing of the acquisition and development of the property is being finalized, but may involve a combination of capital provided by the venture partners and private debt. However, no price has been announced for the property.

This partnership agreement to purchase the property was called a major milestone and positions the city to control the destiny of the right-of-way and manage future development of the Beltline’s northeast corridor.

“This is a major step in the right direction for all citizens of Atlanta and for those who believe we can have a city that is more livable and alleviates traffic congestion, that provides for a healthier environment among other things,” Montague told the audience.

This will be the first section of the BeltLine under control of ABI and represents the third major BeltLine acquisition, following last year’s acquisition of the Bellwood Quarry in northwest Atlanta and the complete assemblage of Boulevard Crossing Park in June 2007. The 20-acre Boulevard Crossing Park was acquired in the Chosewood Park neighborhood, south of Zoo Atlanta.

“I’m confident the BeltLine will be a great project that citizens of Atlanta should get behind,” said Chadwick Barr, a resident of Atlanta, after the meeting.

In regards to other areas of the Beltline, negotiations for the acquisition of the Southwest, Southeast and Northwest remaining right-of-ways, currently owned by the Georgia Department of Transportation and private rail companies have been initiated as well.

The Beltline Affordable Housing Advisory Board was organized and announced and Bruce Guenther was named the chair.

In outreach and education news, Montague said that finalization of the re-design of a more user-friendly web site is scheduled to be complete by Oct. 1st.

A database for BeltlLine newsletter/e-mail distribution increased by 1500 residents since the last quarter, which is a good sign, according to Director of External Affairs, Robert Godlewski.

“We’re doing a good job getting the information about the BeltLine project out and educating the public,” he said.

The $60 million capital campaign that was launched in January has $15.7 million in pledges and other commitments, or 26 percent of the campaign goal. There are two outstanding proposals totaling over $12 million.

“Support and interest from the private sector remains strong and I’m convinced we will reach our campaign goal,” Montague said.