The Atlanta BeltLine Puts Affordability First
The city’s landmark redevelopment project has experienced success far beyond expectations – making rising costs a challenge.For those who never knew Atlanta before the BeltLine, it’s difficult to imagine just how great of an impact the project has made upon the city.
Residents throughout the surrounding corridor and across the metro area interact with the BeltLine to such an extent – for work, exercise, social life and more – that it has become inextricably woven into the city’s cultural fabric. It has brought an unprecedented level of private investment and economic development that has forever enrichened Atlanta’s commercial landscape.
And the trail itself isn’t even complete yet.
“It’s not an exaggeration to say that the BeltLine is Atlanta,” reflects Clyde Higgs, President and CEO of Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. (ABI), the city’s official implementation agent for the project. “If you’ve never visited, you might think it’s just a path or a glorified sidewalk, but it’s so much more than that. When you experience the BeltLine, you experience the entire cross-section of what makes our city great.”
With much of the 22-mile loop open and accessible to the public, the progress made on such a complex undertaking has been impressive. The two main entities leading the project are ABI and the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership (ABP), the 501c3 nonprofit responsible for supporting the vision of the BeltLine through fundraising, programming, and advocacy. Close collaboration has been essential.
“The project is about building a better future for the people of the city,” says Rob Brawner, Executive Director of the ABP. “You’ll hear Clyde talk about it being ‘the people’s project.’ Both entities are focused not just on the infrastructure of building the BeltLine but ultimately how it improves quality of life and how it advances equity in the surrounding communities.”
The various legal and political obstacles involved in getting planner Ryan Gravel’s initial idea off the ground have been well-documented. But perhaps the biggest challenge since the early days has been a result of the BeltLine’s unforeseen success: residential and commercial affordability.
“As an economic developer, if you’re getting a return on investment of 2:1 or 3:1, you’re doing magnificently well,” Clyde explains. “But with the BeltLine, an investment of around $750M has seen more than $9B of private investment follow us. That’s more like 10:1 or 11:1. It’s created serious challenges around affordability that nobody could have predicted. We’ve been forced to figure out intentional ways of making sure not just part of Atlanta is winning, but all of it.”
One of the most important strategies that ABI and ABP have settled upon to address rising costs is land acquisition. They have begun purchasing various parcels in areas close to the trail – one of which is a 30+ acre plot on Chappell Rd near Westside Park. The goal is to preserve lower-cost housing and protect existing communities through direct ownership of the land itself.
“The land trust and land acquisition strategies have been a major step forward for us,” says Rob. “By owning the land, we can create long-term or even permanent affordability. The financing can be a challenge, and we may not get the headlines in terms of how many units are being created, but it’s the right thing for the future of the city.”
And that’s one of the ways that SouthState has stepped in to help.
“SouthState has been such an asset for us,” says Rob. “Their level of customer service and unique banking solutions are helping us work toward our mission. We’ve fostered meaningful personal relationships as well.”
“I feel privileged to work with Clyde and Rob in terms of what they’re doing for the city,” says Nancy Lewis, SVP at SouthState. “The BeltLine is such a beautiful space that has helped energize and engage the entire area. And while their organizational structure and the way they’re funded make for a unique challenge, I think, at SouthState, we excel because we’re able to bring in all levels of management to really understand how they work. We enjoy the partnership, and we’re looking forward to the future.”
“SouthState is an organization that’s aligned with us emotionally and spiritually,” says Clyde. “They care about Atlanta. Any project has to make investment sense, but for the partnership to work, you also have to believe in the project and what we are trying to accomplish. That’s what we felt from SouthState from the beginning.”
SouthState helps organizations like the Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. and the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership make a lasting impact on our communities. To learn more about the BeltLine project, visit their website. For more on how SouthState can help your not-for-profit organization, contact a banker today.