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Downtown Growth Sparked by Streetcar

March 17,2014

From www.ajc.com

As the last of the Atlanta Streetcar rail is laid, the project has already attracted significant interest and investment to the corridor. Central Atlanta Progress and the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District have been leveraging the streetcar by encouraging redevelopment along its route. As a co-funder, the Downtown District expects the project to do much more than just improve transportation mobility and access; our desire is for it to be an incredible economic generator that will transform our neighborhood.

Five years ago, when streetcar planning was in high gear, we were experiencing one of the worst economic downturns since the Great Depression. Now, what is happening in our community is remarkable. In tandem with the streetcar build, several other key projects and initiatives are nearing completion. From world-class attractions to major corporate relocations, the city center is gearing up for an exciting and vital future.

Since the 2010 streetcar funding announcement, $370 million in capital investment in 26 projects has been completed within a five-minute walk of the route. Another 26 projects worth $375 million are on track to be completed in 2014. The pipeline of projects grows every day, from the restoration of the Atlanta Daily World building and the opening of 11 new restaurants to more than 2,000 new or renovated residential units and new office space in the Flatiron building for entrepreneurial infrastructure.

There are a number of efforts underway to assist existing businesses and attract new business and investment to the corridor. The efforts include tax incentives, beautification projects and a new retail program. Here are a few:

Opportunity Zone — In March 2013, Georgia’s Department of Community Affairs approved Invest Atlanta’s application to designate the Edgewood and Auburn district as an Opportunity Zone providing tax incentives for businesses to locate, expand and create new jobs in the area.

Facade Improvement Program — Invest Atlanta’s program has earmarked up to $2 million of Westside TAD tax increments and up to $3 million of Eastside TAD tax increments to provide technical assistance and cash grants to property and business owners to rehabilitate commercial facades.

Sweet Auburn Works — Sweet Auburn community stakeholders have established a commercial revitalization organization that will integrate the streetcar transportation enhancement project into its strategic plans for preservation-based economic development.

Auburn Avenue History & Culture Project — With funding from the Georgia Department of Transportation, a “walking tour” environment will be created. A sign system will improve the pedestrian experience and create a unique character along this segment of the streetcar corridor, as well as a notable improvement to the I-75/85 underpass. Installation is expected to begin in early 2015.

We are well on our way to leverage streetcar investment in many new and exciting ways — and the vehicles have not even taken their first test run.

A.J. Robinson is president of Central Atlanta Progress and the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District.