An Atlanta project aimed at converting an old railway into a 22-mile transportation pathway through the center of the city and has led to millions of dollars in economic development thus far, has local leaders buzzing about the future of the Three Mile Creek Greenway.
Clyde Higgs, CEO of the Atlanta BeltLine Project, spoke to officials with the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce, Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s office, the University of South Alabama (USA) and the Greenway board in a breakfast gathering Friday, Oct. 4.
Higgs, who graduated from USA, talked up the BeltLine as the “largest land-use and redevelopment project in the country.” Its goal is to connect 45 distinct neighborhoods in Atlanta.
“In the days of old, infrastructure was a way to separate communities,” he said. “Now, we’re using infrastructure to connect communities.”
The BeltLine, Higgs said, is a way to bring jobs to an area that had seen better days before the project began. The project, which is not yet 100 percent completed, is expected to bring 30,000 permanent jobs and 48,000 temporary construction jobs to the area, he said.
Housing is another huge piece of the project, he said. The BeltLine is charged with creating 28,000 new housing units along the way. Of those, at least 20 percent have to be for low-income earners. That’s about 5,600 new, affordable housing units. Affordable housing, Higgs said, is defined as rents that are between 60 and 80 percent of the area median income, or AMI.
To further aid the project and help avoid displacement of long-time residents, the city has set up a fund that will pay the difference in property tax rates for residents in designated communities, Higgs said.
“It’s not just an amenity at the end of the day,” Higgs said. “It’s truly an economic development project for the city of Atlanta.”
In all, about 20 percent of the city’s population lives within the BeltLine loop, he said, but that’s only the beginning.
“People are moving to Atlanta to be close to the BeltLine,” Higgs said. “We are responsible for a planning area that’s within a half mile either way of the BeltLine.”
Although the trail is not completed, Higgs said the areas impacted have already seen tremendous investment, in terms of residential and commercial development. Properties in the area where the old Ponce City Market once stood are selling for more per square foot than in Buckhead and Midtown, he said.
“It’s a happening place to be,” Higgs said. “It’s bursting with people.”
In addition, that side of the trail gets about 2 million unique visitors per year and between 20 and 24 television shows and movies have been shot there, he said.
“It’s the thing to do in Atlanta,” Higgs said.
In addition to the trail being created for pedestrians and bicyclists, the BeltLine is making space for a light-rail system that will help connect even more people to the area.
“That’s part of the future ambitions of the BeltLine,” Higgs said. “You will be able to get around the totality of the BeltLine without getting in a car.”
While the project has already seen $4.7 billion in investment, the goal is $10 million total in economic development by the time the project is completed in 2030, Higgs said. The project has seen a $559 million investment to date, Higgs said, which means it has enjoyed a return on investment of 8.5 to 1 to date. So far, 18,000 permanent jobs have been created; that’s more than half of the project’s goal. Around 33,000 construction jobs have been created as well.
Most of the more than $559 million spent on the project to date comes from a tax allocation district set up by the city, Higgs said. The city has also passed an additional sales tax to help boost the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority and its planned expansion into the BeltLine, Higgs said.
The project’s biggest budget line item is in its public outreach department, Higgs said. The project’s staff members have a number of community meetings and listen to residents about what they’d like to see in the future. Any successful public-private partnership must have public buy-in and a commitment to public outreach, Higgs said.
Mike Rogers, chairman of the Three Mile Creek Greenway board said he was inspired by the meeting with Higgs.
“Number one, it’s great inspiration,” Rogers said after the meeting. “Secondly, I would just say, it gives us hope and encouragement that we can do this.”
A first phase of the greenway project extending west from Tricentennial Park has been completed already, with benches, lighting, bridges and an extra-wide sidewalk. A second phase would begin in a few months, Rogers said during the meeting.
Stimpson said he was inspired by the before-and-after photos Higgs showed at the meeting. He called it “encouraging.”
The economic development numbers coming out of Atlanta’s project is also encouraging, Stimpson said.
“This is not just sunk money,” he said. “They’ve measured the economic development of it.”
Stimpson said he also hoped that in addition to economic development, affordable housing could be a “big part of it” for Mobile as well.
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.
It looks like you are opening this page from the Facebook App. This article needs to be opened in the browser.
iOS: Tap the three dots in the top right, then tap on "Open in Safari".
Android: Tap the Settings icon (it looks like three horizontal lines), then tap App Settings, then toggle the "Open links externally" setting to On (it should turn from gray to blue).