The Atlanta BeltLine started as an idea in 1999 as part of urban planner Ryan Gravel‘s thesis at Georgia Tech. Since then, the BeltLine has become a revitalization force to be reckon with. The Eastside Trail has attracted major companies to Ponce City Market, where the Atlanta City Studio resides, and continues to encourage development in the surrounding areas. Last year’s fall Lantern parade attracted more than 60,000 people to the area. Last week, according to the Atlanta Loop, the BeltLine approved a multi-million dollar budget to complete the 22-mile loop of paths, parks and transit, including $40 million for capital projects, $20 million for debt repayment, $7.5 million for affordable housing and $2.5 million for economic development.
“To date we’ve built, or we facilitated the build of over two million square feet in commercial space, and that’s in various locations around the Atlanta BeltLine,” says Jerald Mitchell, director of economic development at the Atlanta BeltLine. “Especially if you look at areas like Ponce City Market. That is now home to companies or organizations like General Assembly, Twitter, Google, MailChimp, athenahealth and Cardlytics.”
Upon completion, the Atlanta BeltLine will connect 45 neighborhoods around the city and that kind of connectivity can only make Atlanta propel farther into success. The Westside Trail broke ground last year and other sections of the city will follow suit while attempting to maintain the true vibrance of the neighborhoods.
Mitchell breaks down the Eastside Trail’s economic impact around the Old Fourth Ward neighborhood and makes a compelling argument as to why your business should relocate near the BeltLine.
What positive impact have you seen of the Eastside Trail and Ponce City Market as they have grown and attracted more businesses?
That’s a great question. What we’ve seen is quite a bit of private sector growth. If you look at Ponce City Market, that building and its most recent use prior to the opening of Ponce City Market was a government center. It was City Hall East, and now that area is all commercial and residential, so we were seeing the rise at Ponce City Market of private sector jobs versus public sector jobs. If we look at the Historic Fourth Ward Park, that area was one hundred percent industrial. Now that area is probably eighty percent multi-family residential.
There were infrastructure needs for that area. That area was an area that flooded significantly, and now we’ve been able to make a partnership with the City of Atlanta, Invest Atlanta and with the Old Fourth Ward Conservancy for infrastructure improvements that one alleviated flooding issues in the area, but two, created a condition that opened up further development around the Historic Fourth Ward Park. If you look at the Eastside Trail, what we’ve seen between Piedmont Park and Krog Street Market is roughly eight hundred million dollars in new private investment just in that leg of the Atlanta BeltLine and I think that’s pretty significant.
What are the benefits of being near the BeltLine as a business?
The first thing I would pitch to those companies is quality of life because of, depending on where you live and depending on where you worked, the ability to not spend a large portion of your day in whatever commute that you’re making. Again, I think we have the opportunity to connect lots of neighborhoods, lots of hubs, and that is a non-monetary incentive that I think is very effective. In addition to that, I think we can position space. We can position an active development community, and then I think to my previous point, the partnerships with organizations like the Georgia Department of Economic Development and Invest Atlanta that allow us to build scenarios, funding scenarios, that help companies thrive.
Every company has a different requirement, or every company has different factors that are driving their need to grow or their need to relocate, and what we would basically do is speak with the company and start to have conversations about what’s missing. Once we understand the requirement, we really try to drill into what the gap is and what’s missing. Those are all things that go into the mix in terms of helping companies make a decision to be in this area.
What economic goals do you have for the trail as you open more sections of it?
As we open different segments of the Atlanta BeltLine, from a development standpoint, what we view as progress is having definitive beginnings, middles and ends to these different legs of the Atlanta BeltLine. If you look at, for instance the Eastside trails, a good beginning or end would be Ponce City Market or Krog Street Market and a definitive and thriving middle is Ponce City Market. We would try to approach development around the different legs of the Atlanta BeltLine as they’re built in a similar way.
Further, some of the goals that we have are for the creation of 5,600 affordable work force housing units, 30,000 permanent jobs, new jobs around the Atlanta BeltLine planning area. We’re also looking at 48,000 on- year construction jobs by the end of the project. We’re also looking to attract ten to twenty billion dollars in new private investment. To date, we’re right around the three billion dollars of private investment mark and that is BeltLine wide.
How do you keep true to the different areas surrounding the trail?
There’s the character of the neighborhood, so we’re very cognizant of that. Density and interaction with the trail is very important for trail transit, but it will be different in different parts of town.
Each of the different areas around the Atlanta BeltLine just, they have such a different fabric or make up, and if you look at areas like Krog Market. The BeltLine in that area was really straddled by two very different community makeups. If you look at Inman Park being traditionally affluent, and then you look at the Old Fourth Ward which was historically stable but not necessarily affluent. That, I think, drove a certain dynamic in that part of the Atlanta BeltLine, but now we’re also looking at other parts of the BeltLine whether it be on the South or West or Northwest.
Photos provided by the Atlanta BeltLine/Christopher T. Martin.