Central Atlanta Progress celebrates 80 years

January 15,2021

Martin Sinderman, Atlanta Business Chronicle

Throughout its 80-year history, Central Atlanta Progress Inc. has been downtown Atlanta’s advocate, addressing both new and longstanding issues faced by area.

Founded as the Central Atlanta Improvement Association (CAIA) in 1941, the organization helped navigate a path through the economic recession of the early 1990s, according to Sam Williams, assistant director for External Relations/Professor of Practice at the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University.

“CAP played a major role in keeping downtown vibrant during that downturn when, among other problems, all the long-time downtown Atlanta banks were being bought out by North Carolina banks, and left behind empty buildings in the process,” said Williams, retired president of the Metro Atlanta Chamber, Williams was also president of CAP from 1994 to 1996. 

CAP leaders worked closely with downtown property owners, the Woodruff Foundation and Georgia State University, whose ongoing expansion of its facilities downtown has made a major impact on the area, said Williams.

The1996 Centennial Olympic Games, as well as its preparation, marked a turning point in the story of downtown Atlanta. In 1995 CAP formed the 120-block Atlanta Downtown Improvement District (ADID), a public-private partnership dedicated to making downtown cleaner, safer and more welcoming for Olympic and other visitors.

ADID programs include the Ambassador Force of trained public safety officers, capital improvement projects and programs to assist downtown Atlanta’s homeless population.

Following the Olympic Games, CAP leaders worked to redevelop the area around Centennial Olympic Park, Charlie Battle Jr., CAP’s president from 1996-1999, recalled.

“The park is the defining legacy of our hosting of the 1996 Olympic Games and its economic impact has been absolutely astounding,” he said. 

Current CAP president AJ Robinson cited some examples of that and CAP’s impact, including the revitalization of Woodruff Park, the creation of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights and the first phase of the Atlanta Streetcar.

Economic development projects like The Stitch and The Gulch receive a lot of attention, Robinson said, but CAP’s efforts extend beyond commercial real estate are also important to keep downtown Atlanta a viable business, hospitality and increasingly residential community. Many of CAP’s programs involve services for people experiencing homelessness, preservation of historic properties, financial and business support for entrepreneurs and business owners, and beautification.

Robinson, who has been with CAP since 2003, said that over the course of the past two decades, “we’ve seen a great expansion in the organization’s areas of focus, which now include social impact, sustainability, economic development and public space management.”

What is the biggest challenge facing downtown today? “I suppose the biggest challenge,” Robinson answered, “is that there is always one to face. We’re always fighting to maintain downtown’s relevance, to get people to care and to position downtown as the heart and soul of the city. Downtown is, and will continue to be, the image of Atlanta, and it’s up to us [at CAP] to help make that the best image possible.”