City boosters to state: Peachtree is a vital artery
by Maria Saporta and Douglas Sams
With hundreds of millions of infrastructure dollars at stake, Atlanta economic development boosters want to make sure city and state political leaders don't overlook a more than 8-mile stretch of Peachtree Road — from the heart of downtown to Buckhead.
The leaders of three community improvement districts in downtown, Midtown, and Buckhead, have teamed up to fund a study of the Peachtree corridor. The reason: underscore its role as a magnet for investment and development.
City boosters want that message to resonate with state leaders who spent the summer studying transportation infrastructure funding. The committee meetings followed the overwhelming defeat of the 2012 transportation improvement referendum, or TSPLOST, which would have allocated more than $7 billion for projects including the expansion of transit.
Now, political leaders are trying to determine how to increase those funds and which regional job centers will receive the bulk of those improvement dollars. Those issues may come up in next year's legislative session.
"We hope their recommendations will establish a bold and comprehensive (answer) for all transportation issues," Atlanta Regional Commission Executive Director Doug Hooker said Nov. 7 in speech during ARC's State of the Region breakfast. Peachtree is one of the best-known corridors in the South, dotted with office and residential towers that in the past two years have sold for record prices and lured companies such as PulteGroup (NYSE: PHM), which relocated its corporate headquarters from Detroit to Buckhead in 2013.
The study of Peachtree's economic impact produced some eye-popping numbers: $5.5 billion of new construction has entered the pipeline and 80 projects are either planned or in development. Roughly 58 percent of all the jobs in the city are housed on Peachtree, where 241,300 people work in the office buildings that line the corridor, according to Bleakly Advisory Group, the consultant that carried out the economic and fiscal impact study.
"We wanted to create a scorecard that helped us understand where we were as a corridor and its importance to the city, the region and the state," said Central Atlanta Progress President A.J. Robinson.
That's a potentially timely argument.
The city of Atlanta has been laying the groundwork for a $250 million infrastructure bond that Mayor Kasim Reed wants to take to voters next year.
Atlanta faces an infrastructure backlog of more than $900 million, including $881 million for deteriorating roads, bridges and sidewalks. Much like department heads during federal budget hearings, leaders of the city's different business districts are making their case.
In October, Buckhead Community Improvement District director Jim Durrett sent a letter to Atlanta Chief Operating Officer Michael Geisler and Commissioner Richard Mendoza saying "transportation infrastructure, rather than public facilities, should receive the greatest emphasis at this time."
Durrett argued for the need to improve the city's bridges — "vital elements in a well-connected transportation system."
In an interview with Atlanta Business Chronicle, Durrett said Peachtree is evolving from a thoroughfare focused solely on moving cars to a boulevard that needs different transportation improvements and infrastructure, allowing people to drive, walk, bike, and take transit, seamlessly connecting Buckhead, Midtown and downtown.
His counterparts agree.
"It is not healthy to devolve into a Buckhead versus Midtown versus downtown mentality," said Kevin Green, president and CEO of the Midtown Alliance.
Cities along the Georgia 400 corridor are often guilty of a similar mindset, where the simmering debate is what's the true center of Atlanta.
Some argue it remains Peachtree and the urban core, where the region's longest standing companies such as The Coca-Cola Co. (NYSE: KO) and most influential lenders, such as SunTrust Banks Inc., remain headquartered.
But, newer cities such as Dunwoody and Sandy Springs argue they are emerging hubs for jobs and investment. In Dunwoody, a new campus for State Farm Insurance Co. will employ 8,000. The office project, developed around the Dunwoody MARTA station amid the amenities of Perimeter Mall, is one of the largest ever for the region.
The project will be a key recruitment tool for State Farm.
In his state of the region speech before the ARC, Mayor Reed suggested metro Atlanta leaders have to work together to remain the economic center of the South.
"Young people are choosing to move into dense areas, into cities and into metros," Reed said. "And businesses are being forced to follow that talent into dense areas. In the future, density doesn't just mean in the city of Atlanta. Density is where people want to move to be close to one another. That's what Millennials are looking for — and it's going to change the way we live."
- 241,300- The number people who work in the Peachtree St. corridor.
To learn more about the Economic and Fiscal Impacts of the Peachtree Corridor report, please visit: www.PeachtreeCorridorStudy.com.