Former Council President Cathy Woolard and I started meeting regularly after our election. In every meeting no matter the meeting agenda Cathy insisted I learn more about the plan for conversion of rail to trails and transit called the Beltline.
Ryan Gravel, a Georgia Tech grad student’s thesis intrigued her and she in turn was determined I would pay attention to this idea. At the time my focus was fixed on city finances, overhauling essential city management systems and developing a funding model for dramatically upgrading the city’s water infrastructure.
In 2004, The Trust for Public Land commissioned internationally respected park planner Alexander Garvin to study greenspace opportunities, mile by mile, along the BeltLine corridor. Garvin’s subsequent Emerald Necklace Study concluded that a connected park, trail and transit system along the BeltLine was achievable, and Garvin outlined a proposal for its realization.
Encouraged by this report, I commissioned another group to determine the funding feasibility of the BeltLine with a Tax Allocation District (TAD). Chaired by Carl Patton and Barney Simms, the study found that revenue generated from a BeltLine TAD would cover as much as 60 percent of estimated project costs – without requiring a tax increase. The study also forecasted substantial long-term economic development benefits for the city.
A third study, by the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA), the Inner Core Feasibility Study, looked at several transit options for the City of Atlanta and recommended the BeltLine for inclusion in its Alternatives Analysis Study. The Alternatives Analysis Study and the extensive public input that accompanied it ultimately led the MARTA Board in January 2007 to approve the full 22-mile loop of the BeltLine and a light rail mode of transit as its Locally Preferred Alternative, a critical early step in securing federal funding for the project and gaining wide support from Atlanta residents and businesses.
In April 2005, the Beltline Partnership and Beltline Inc- were created and veteran civic and business leader Ray Weeks was named Chairman. The Beltline Partnership and Beltline Inc. came together to help galvanize private sector and citizen support led by the Atlanta Development Authority (ADA) to move the 22-mile live-work-play-transit corridor from vision to reality. The team including ADA (now Invest Atlanta), the BeltLine Partnership, City Departments and consultants obtained significant public input and the BeltLine Redevelopment Plan was completed in November 2005.
Based on the viability of the project and the tremendous public support generated, the Atlanta City Council, Fulton County Board of Commissioners, and the Atlanta Public School Board of Education all approved the BeltLine Redevelopment Plan and the BeltLine TAD in 2005.
A year later and a little over three years after my first conversations with Cathy Woolard the City Council adopted the Five Year Work Plan in July 2006 and the City began implementing the $426 million plan. And as they say, the rest is history. Bonds were sold, an affordable housing fund was set up, 10,000 community members provided input, community support has increased, businesses and foundations contributed over $37 million, 50% of the right-of-way is owned or under contract, six parks have been built, miles of trails have opened and today the Atlanta Beltline is completing the Implementation Plan for the next phase of development.
On any day of the week there are families, bikers, walkers and children using the trails and parks as they enjoy the benefits of intown living. This project models vision as described by Thomas Edison – “Vision without execution is hallucination”. Gravel’s vision is becoming reality….