Hales encouraging Trader Joe’s project revival, DJC Oregon
March 9th, 2014
In a recent column, Maria Saporta attributed Atlanta’s worst-in-class rankings for income disparity and social immobility to the post-Olympic period, which she characterized as one of “Atlanta’s Greatest Missed Opportunities.” While I hesitate to challenge Maria’s wisdom, I must disagree with her conclusions both about why Atlanta has such income disparity and social immobility and with her characterization of the post-Olympic period as a missed opportunity.
Taking the latter first, she references the Renaissance Policy Board, which was convened by Mayor Bill Campbell and chaired by Coca-Cola CEO Roberto Goizueta to plan out Atlanta’s post-Olympic priorities and strategies. Among others, its goals included attracting the middle class into the city, stimulating population growth, new business investment, reducing crime, improving public education, attacking poverty, rebuilding public housing and improving transit access to jobs and services.
She laments that these recommendations were ignored, with the plan “sitting on a shelf.” In many key aspects, her laments are unwarranted, as the plan helped set the course for both public and private initiatives to achieve progress that has visibly and substantively transformed many parts of Atlanta.
I’ll comment on the Renaissance Policy group’s goals and the City’s progress on achieving them. Then I’ll offer an alternate theory as to why we sit at the top of the disparity list and the bottom of the social advancement list.
Specifically, these Renaissance Policy Board’s goals set and met included:
Following 25 years of decline, population and investment in the city marked significant upticks in the post-Olympic years. Over the 10 years following the Olympics, 40,000 more people lived in Atlanta. Most of that growth was in the middle income category called for in the Renaissance report. Providing 25,000 housing units in 10 years for people in the $75,000 income range seemed daunting in 1997.
Yet that goal was achieved in just six years. In the five years following the Olympics, 42 new companies located in Atlanta, adding over 6,000 new jobs. And, as is widely noted, the Olympic era overhaul and production of the Atlanta Housing Authority, while controversial for some, has been remarkable in achieving mostly stable mixed-income communities. And crime decreased.
This growth and positive change was not accidental. Loosely following the Renaissance Policy Board’s suggestions, It was incented by: major rezoning initiatives, public improvement commitments carrying forward from Olympic infrastructure investments, the establishment of multiple Tax Allocation Districts, the use of Livable Centers Initiative and other funds to achieve major new streetscape and park frameworks and major new mixed-use, mixed-income developments — Atlantic Station, Midtown, and Lindbergh to name three.
These were achievements where the city government and private partners supported each other to indeed take advantage of the Olympic opportunity. In short, the Renaissance effort did not “sit on a shelf,” but in useful ways guided what some have characterized as a turnaround for the City of Atlanta.
Now, there have been and still are failings, and here is where we get into disagreement over the cause of disparity/immobility. Attacking poverty as a goal has gone nowhere – the unemployment rates have remained more of less the same since the Olympics. Harking back to the Renaissance policy goals, public education has been and is an ongoing disappointment.
As presently structured, public education is not a responsibility of the municipal government or the private sector. The Metro Atlanta Chamber tried to improve the situation, unsuccessfully and probably misguidedly. Joint public-private job training programs have not placed nearly enough of the unemployed and lowest wealth citizens into jobs. Effective poverty reduction needs to start with jobs, tailoring work to the capabilities of the unemployed instead of trying to fit people to jobs for which they aren’t prepared.
Similarly, access to jobs has been a major failing. Instead of shaping a transit system to get people to where the jobs and services are concentrated, the City committed three quarters of its city-wide TAD funding capacity to BeltLine transit. This program was never about meeting these access needs, especially for lower income transit-dependent people. Recently, though, the program is shifting its focus to recognize need as a co-driver of its mission with its first phase streetcar and proposed Downtown/Midtown-centered extensions serving concentrations of daily destinations. Regrettably, most of the lines serving these concentrations are located outside of BeltLine TAD boundaries, making them difficult to fund.
Maria suggests in her column that the cause of our dismal rankings on the equity scale is failure to meet the Renaissance Policy group’s goal of attracting the middle class. In fact we have met and exceeded that goal. What our traditional political and private leadership hasn’t done, and isn’t doing, is to notice the low income, unemployed, mostly minority populations who have been here for decades, mostly in the same locations. The inequality gap is between the rich and the poor, not between the rich and middle class, nor the middle class and the poor,
Now, at a time when income disparity and social immobility are beginning to worry the rich as possible precursors to instability – certainly not in their interest - in Atlanta we have the opportunities to climb out the hole we keep digging. Five billion dollars’ worth of projects are in the planning and implementation stage. All of these involve major public investment and government approval requirements, yet none of them are directing any appreciable effort to train, hire, or otherwise meet the needs of the communities where the bottom end of our disparity resides. The big projects are the BeltLine, Fort McPherson, the Falcons stadium, and the Multimodal Passenger Terminal, and there are a lot of smaller ones.
Setting aside the occasional encouraging words about addressing the needs or aspirations of those locked into poverty and unemployment, the public/private partners of these projects have consistently opposed any binding commitments to actually do anything about it.
While the Atlanta City Council reluctantly did adopt community benefit language in the BeltLine TAD legislation, little of it has been directed toward meeting the needs of the thousands of low wealth citizens through which it passes.
Recently, the City Council failed to adopt community benefit agreement language in its legislation committing $200 million, and potentially as much as $900 million, of hotel-motel tax proceeds to the Falcons stadium deal.
The redevelopment of Fort McPherson, still treading water, has persistently resisted incorporating community-serving provisions into its planning process. And the Multimodal Passenger Terminal project, still down the road, does not yet have meeting low wealth community needs on its radar.
Income disparity and social immobility are Atlanta’s biggest problem, our national disgrace, whether we recognize it or try to keep it invisible. Our traditional way of doing things and the private and political leadership that steers the process, is wasting a fifth of the city’s population.
These people are resources with capabilities and the desire to improve their quality of life. This is an economic and sustainability issue, not just one of morality, ethics or philosophy. Why shouldn’t we – Renaissance Policy Board style – set a goal of reducing the wealth gap by 15 percent and improving our social mobility performance by 15 percent over the next 10 years?
We could again outstrip our competition cities, attacking poverty and increasing our productivity at the same time. With all these projects underway, if do not address poverty and improve our social mobility, then we truly will experience our ”greatest missed opportunity.”
By Guest Columnist MIKE DOBBINS, a Georgia Tech professor of architecture and planning who also served as the city of Atlanta’s commissioner of planning, development and neighborhood conservation from 1996 to 2002
After a highly publicized debate over gentrification killed a proposed Trader Joe’s development in Northeast Portland, Mayor Charlie Hales is looking to commit $20 million to combat displacement and spark resurrection of the $8 million project.
The Portland Development Commission planned to sell a 1.79-acre parcel at the northwest corner of Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Alberta Street to Los Angeles-based developer Majestic Realty for construction of a 20,000-square-foot retail center. Proposed anchor tenant Trader Joe’s pulled out after community stakeholders targeted the project amid claims that the PDC’s actions, past and present, were causing displacement of longtime residents. The controversy even received national attention when talk-show host Conan O’Brien joked about it in a monologue.
On Monday, following a meeting with members of the African-American community in Northeast Portland, Hales announced that he would reach out to Trader Joe’s. Dana Haynes, spokesman for Hales, said that after the retailer pulled out, the mayor’s office received hundreds of comments from residents, business leaders and African-American community stakeholders who said they supported the project.
“The mayor wants Trader Joe’s to know that,” Haynes said. “The reason he called the meeting … was to say, ‘Look, I really want to go after this thing, but I need to tell them I’m going with wholehearted support.”
Some of it came via an online petition that the Oregon chapter of the National Association of Minority Contractors initiated; it called on the mayor to bring a commercial project to the site. The petition pointed out that, though the property is zoned for commercial and residential use, site constraints make mixed-use development too costly. The organization also noted that upwards of $15 million in subsidies could be required to make an affordable housing project feasible. NAMC-Oregon suggested that other sites would be more appropriate for affordable housing; its plea has garnered support from approximately 700 individuals.
Cyreena Boston Ashby, director of the Portland African American Leadership Forum, which criticized the development plan, said in a prepared statement that her organization never opposed Trader Joe’s, but rather a lack of transparency and community engagement in the city’s land development processes.
Hales is now proposing to set aside $20 million in tax increment financing over five years for new affordable housing projects in the Interstate Corridor Urban Renewal Area. That plan would need to be approved by the PDC’s board of commissioners and Portland City Council, but Ashby said it would be a victory for all people who have been displaced and marginalized over the past 20 years. PAALF could not be reached immediately for comment, but Haynes acknowledged its objections.
“We heard there are historic problems that the city needs to own about investments and disinvestments that have had consequences – unintended and intended,” he said. “Absolutely there is a historic tradition of not doing well by certain parts of our community. Having said that, Trader Joe’s would mean jobs and economic vitality for that region.”
The $20 million injection would add to $16.6 million currently earmarked for affordable housing in the area. Shawn Uhlman, spokesman for the PDC, said accounting details will be ironed out in early April during a series of budgetary work sessions.
The PDC also is proposing creation of a Community Benefits Agreement for the Trader Joe’s site. It would include goals for minority contracting, as well as a commitment that 50 percent of tenants in the development’s second building be local businesses. Haynes said city staffers have already contacted the retailer and Majestic Realty to discuss the prospect.
Approximately 50 community members attended Monday’s meeting with Hales. He said in a prepared statement that the city could not change the past, but it could learn from it to create a future where longtime African-American community members enjoy new economic opportunities. “Step one is to get this popular grocer to come back to the table,” Hales stated. “That will mean jobs. Step two is our commitment for more affordable housing. That will keep people from being displaced. Step three will be a long-term commitment to the economic vitality of the Interstate Corridor area. And that’s going to take all of us as a team.”
Getting there, however, will require some legwork. “Let’s not sugarcoat this,” Haynes said. “It will be an uphill climb. When Trader Joe’s said they were moving on, they walked out the door … The mayor’s job is to get them to walk back through the door.”
Meanwhile, Andrew Colas, president and chief operating officer of Colas Construction – the general contractor chosen for the project – recently traveled to Los Angeles to talk with development stakeholders. “I went down there and I met with Majestic, and I met with representatives from Trader Joe’s,” said Colas, who also is the president of NAMC-Oregon. “And really, the biggest thing was I presented the petition that NAMC-Oregon put together to support bringing the project back … I left the meeting cautiously optimistic that there was a chance that they might come back.”
He added that the two groups were waiting to hear from Hales.
Mar 3, 2014
Despite recent opposition from stadium critics, the Atlanta City Council has agreed to abandon several Downtown properties that will become a part of the Atlanta Falcons' proposed $1.2 billion stadium complex.
Councilmembers today voted 11 to 1, with one abstention, to abandon six parcels of land needed for the proposed Falcons stadium site. Councilman Howard Shook cast the lone vote against the resolutions and Councilwoman Felicia Moore abstained due to a potential conflict of interest. We've reached out to Shook about why he voted against the measures - we'll post an update if we hear back.
Before Council signed off on the abandonment, they engaged a contentious, drawn-out debate over two resolutions aimed at improving transparency during the stadium's forthcoming construction. The proposals, which were eventually passed with unanimous support, came in response to adamant pushback from community activists who for weeks have protested City Hall's decision to demolish part of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive without warning in early February.
One piece of legislation, introduced by Councilmembers Yolanda Adrean and C.T. Martin, forms a "stadium oversight committee" comprised of elected officials, city employees, and neighborhood reps to keep Council informed of the stadium's ongoing infrastructure projects. Adrean said the group would make sure the full body was "not behind the eight ball" on future construction issues.
Another measure from Councilman Andre Dickens urged Mayor Kasim Reed to create a new plan that guarantees that MLK Drive will keep connecting Downtown with Castleberry Hill, English Avenue, Vine City, and other westside neighborhoods. The newly elected at-large rep said that he hoped the paper would give elected officials "full access to information" and would prevent them from being left in the dark again.
At the start of today's meeting, dozens of opponents including representatives from Common Cause Georgia, Georgia Stand-Up, and local churches spoke out against different aspects of the proposed stadium. Rev. Anthony Motley was among the most critical residents and chastised councilmembers for doing "nothing whatsoever" on behalf of their constituents.
"It was unethical, it was illegal, and it was immoral. In addition, it was politically damaging to you," Motley said about the way councilmembers have handled the stadium process.
The stadium opposition is expected to continue when a group called "Atlantans for a Fair Deal" plans to rally outside City Hall at 11 a.m. tomorrow morning.