Recent economic & community development projects in Atlanta
Relay Bike Share
Good for you. Good for Atlanta.
Atlanta recently launched its new bike share program, Relay, with 100 bikes and 10 different stations around the city. The program plans to expand to 500 bikes and 50 stations by the end of the year. Users can choose from a variety of rental options and plans, including pay by the hour, monthly, or semester discount plans for students.
The launch of Relay is part of Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s vision of integrating bicycling into the daily lives of its residents and visitors. In 2013, the mayor committed to making Atlanta a “Top 10 Cycling City” and the Atlanta Regional Commission committed 1 billion dollars over the next 25 years toward transportation initiatives that support cyclists and pedestrians. Recent additions to the city’s bicycle infrastructure include a protected two-way cycle track downtown and increased connectivity between the Atlanta BeltLine and bike-friendly streets. These improvements emphasize increased safety, mobility, and sustainability in the City of Atlanta.
Bike share programs aren’t just for improving traffic congestion, the environment, and health outcomes, they can also be used as a tool to for local economic development. Increased bicycle traffic has been shown to promote local businesses. Taking out the hassle of car parking allows cyclists to make for frequent stops and providing bike infrastructure creates an opportunity for residents to not own cars, meaning more disposable income. The city’s leading bike advocacy group, Atlanta Bicycle Coalition, recently organized “Business + Bikes: Peachtree Street.” This event brought people together to patronize local businesses- “the purpose of the event is to bring the attention of businesses to the spending power of people who bike, and in so doing get their support for bike lanes.” Events like this show demand for safe alternatives to driving and how they can go hand-in-hand with supporting the local economy.
Ponce City Market
Gather, Eat, & Shop
Once the headquarters for Sears, Roebuck & Co., the 2.1 million-square-foot Ponce City Market has been transformed by Jamestown Properties into a mixed-use community hub with a Food Hall hosting some of Atlanta’s best chefs, national and local retail options, Class-A office space, residential units, a weekly farmers market, and a rooftop amusement park. Securing the largest Atlanta construction loan since the recession in 2014, Ponce City Market’s redevelopment marked an in-town renaissance. Currently, Atlanta’s largest adaptive reuse project, Jamestown President, Michael Phillips, calls the project an “economic and cultural catalyst for the Old Fourth Ward neighborhood.”
Ponce City Market sits on the BeltLine’s busy Eastside Trail, offering ease of access to pedestrians and cyclists (along with a free bike valet). Ponce City Market is also home to Atlanta City Studio, an urban design pop-up that serves as an “incubator, workspace, and meeting place for residents, visitors, design professionals, and curious urbanists to connect, share ideas, as well as development plans” run by the City of Atlanta’s Department of Planning and Community Development. Jamestown CEO Matt Bronfman commented on the Studio affirming their commitment to improving the fabric of the cities they invest in and stating, “Working with the City of Atlanta has always been crucial to the success of Ponce City Market and we are excited to continue that partnership.”
The Goat Farm Arts Center
Push Culture Forward
With a straightforward mission to “push culture forward,” West Midtown’s Goat Farm Arts Center has become a creative hub for the city. The Goat Farm occupies a 19th-century cotton gin and focuses on having a dense population of artists and “forward-thinking ventures” in residence. The Goat Farm considers themselves a Creative Industrial Complex; they have event spaces, studios, and housing. Their reach goes beyond art, hosting experimental and innovative entities in small manufacturing, new media, applied sciences, contemporary movement and dance, transportation, theater, nanotechnology, fashion, mobile app development, animation, film, and more. The Goat Farm has over 150 programs each year including workshops, dance, music, and seminars.
The 1889 factory campus was purchased in 2008 by Hallister Development. While they were originally looking to redevelop the property in a more traditional way, the recession forced them to reconsider. Hallister started renting studio space to artists and eventually developed the space for exhibitions, performances, and experiences where the Goat Farm community could show their work. The center operates as a for-profit business and does not use public funding, donations, or grants. One of the developers, Anthony Harper, said: “We see the Goat Farm as a type of case study, possibly; that it might lend ammunition to the argument that art and culture can be economic stimulators.” The developers see The Goat Farm Arts Center as a factor that can help draw talented people to the city of Atlanta.
We Love BuHi
Livable, Inclusive, Sustainable Buford Highway
We Love BuHi is a social enterprise created to make the Buford Highway corridor a more livable, inclusive, and sustainable community using strategic partnerships with local governments, businesses, and nonprofits. Buford Highway’s immigrant entrepreneurs are an integral part of the community and a huge asset to the area; We Love BuHi founder Marian Liou is leading efforts to bring these business leaders together with other area stakeholders to revitalize Buford Highway. With organizational support from We Love BuHi, over 30 area business owners came together to start the Business BuHi Coalition. The association’s mission is “to encourage economic growth and vitality in the Buford Highway area by providing its members with advocacy and marketing that promote the area’s multicultural character.”
Many of the area businesses are restaurants and markets; We Love BuHi created an international dining guide to the area that includes eateries representing over 20 countries. To bring these businesses and the community together, We Love BuHi organized a five-part trolley tour series that showcased Buford Highway’s cuisines and connectivity. The Celebrate WALKtober at Banchan Urbanism walking tour of Buford Highway pairs the incredible international food that the area is known for with discussions about pedestrian safety, walkability, transit-oriented design, affordable housing, and redevelopment.
Collaboration continues to be an essential part of We Love BuHi’s process, they are currently participating in the Livable Centers Initiative with two area cities. The City of Doraville and the City of Chamblee received a Livable Centers Initiative grant from the Atlanta Regional Commission to develop a plan for the revitalization of Buford Highway, to address connectivity, affordable housing, and pedestrian safety. As the area experiences rapid changes, We Love BuHi works to keep the residents and business owners engaged while advocating for immigrant communities.
Spaces for Next-Gen Innovation
Downtown Atlanta’s iconic Flatiron building recently underwent a $12 million renovation transforming it from a crumbling relic to next-gen office space called FlatironCity. Completed in 1897, the city’s oldest standing skyscraper now holds collaborative workspace that can be rented by the desk, suite, or floor. FlatironCity has partnered with Georgia Tech’s ATDC and the lending group ACE to provide occupants with entrepreneurship resources and they are also home to the Microsoft Innovation Center, which offers access to the latest Microsoft technology and on-site assistance from experienced tech workers.
The top floor of FlatironCity is occupied by the Women’s Entrepreneurship Initiative (WEI) incubator. This city-backed incubator currently hosts 15 women-founded companies. WEI aims to provide unprecedented access to the human, educational, and financial capital critical to empowering early stage company-building entrepreneurs, who just happen to be women. The incubator allows the 15 chosen companies to operate with no overhead costs in FlatironCity. They also provide business support services, a collaborative work environment, and access to business education and mentorship.
Where Atlanta Comes Together
The Atlanta BeltLine project has been called the “most comprehensive transportation and economic development effort ever undertaken by the City of Atlanta.” The BeltLine was conceived as a master’s thesis in Georgia Tech’s City and Regional Design program by Ryan Gravel. The development is transforming a historic 22-mile railway corridor into a multi-use trail that connects the city’s in-town neighborhoods. The plan includes six new parks and three park expansions, a long-term goal of adding light rail, and will take about 20 years to complete. The BeltLine is part of a city-wide effort to provide transportation alternatives to driving cars and a new focus on Transit-Oriented Development (also seen in MARTA development plans).
As it develops, the neighborhoods surrounding the BeltLine have seen economic growth and renewal. In part, this was made possible through a Tax Allocation District where redevelopment expenses are funded through the promise of future incremental increases in property taxes by the new development. The BeltLine is also funded through the City of Atlanta, local, state, and federal grants, private investments, donations, and public-private partnerships. The BeltLine is made possible through two entities: Atlanta BeltLine Inc. and Atlanta BeltLine Partnership (ABP). BeltLine Inc. oversees the planning and execution, works with the city, secures public funding, and engages with the community. ABP secures private, corporate and philanthropic funds, develops programs to raise awareness, and engages with the public. According to the website, the Atlanta Beltline has had an economic impact of more than $2.4 billion dollars in private development which is six times more than the $400 million in public/private investment to date.