This Week on The Street August 1, 2012
(A more or less regular compilation of news, factoids and observations.)
By Harold V. Shumacher
What Happened and Who’s to Blame are the questions Atlanta civic and political leaders are asking after the stunning defeat of the regional transportation plan earlier this week. The most expensive transportation campaign mounted anywhere in the country (over $6.5 million) and the first to be defeated has leaders pondering what comes next.
For what it’s worth we’re still in shock. Throughout Atlanta’s history the city (and region) have undertaken bold steps to insure its continued growth and prosperity. Now observers –here and elsewhere-are questioning Atlanta’s place in the spotlight, the city’s continued prospects for growth, what the short and long term impact will be on everything from corporate re-location to the future of now stalled transportation improvements.
So what happened? Number one proponents under-estimated the distrust of government officials and their ability to spend money wisely. Even though transportation cuts across party lines and affects virtually everyone on a day-to-day basis that wasn’t a strong enough appeal to voters. The on-going gridlock in Washington D.C. is a constant reminder of governmental inefficiency.
Race continues to trump politics. The transportation plan included a heavy component of funding for mass transit- including a proposed new MARTA line from the Lindbergh Station to Emory University and funding for the Atlanta beltline (clearly an “intown” project.) Forty two percent of voters polled think mass transit still increases crime. The disparity in the voting in the 10 counties comprising the metro region shows a clear pattern. The vote was closest in Dekalb and Fulton County (approximately 52 percent against 48% for) and defeated almost two to one in the surrounding counties. MARTA is still perceived as a minority oriented transportation alternative and the day of trains zipping throughout the metro region is far off.
Despite the tremendous outlay of funding the perceived benefits were never clearly defined. The proposal went from being a transportation plan (cobbled together by 21 government officials trying to make everyone happy) to an economic stimulant. Television ads were fuzzy, showing a frazzled suburban mom caught in traffic. Granted that’s an image a lot of us are familiar with but not a clear enough message of why to vote yes. Overlooked –we believe-was the economic message that the region will now lose out on millions of dollars of matching Federal funds that were already slated for specific projects.
Finally, there was no clear leader-other than Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed in the last few weeks-who stepped forward and led the charge. Governor Deal was on the sidelines until the last few days and now the onus of improving transportation falls back on the state, where there’s always been a reluctance to fund Atlanta’s growth at the expense of other parts of the state.
If there’s a winner it may be Mayor Reed. By leading the charge he clearly established himself as a regional leader. He staked his political chips on the outcome and now has the strong support of the business community (i.e. funding sources) for any future race he might consider.
Sixteen years ago this month Atlanta hosted the world in the hot glare of the Olympic spotlight. For those who were here it was a wondrous two weeks filled with memorable athletic and cultural moments. Looking back what were the impacts on the city and region. There are several we can think of. First the physical legacies left behind, a new baseball stadium, a re –energized west side of downtown including Centennial Olympic Park and the museum complex hugging the park; the rejuvenated Luckie Marietta District, new dormitories and athletic facilities at Georgia Tech, Georgia State and the Atlanta University Complex.
Perhaps a bigger message was the realization by many metro area residents that Atlanta had a vital central core, it was easily accessible thanks to MARTA, relatively easy to navigate and offered the amenities of big city living without the need to re-locate outside the region. We would contend that the residential boom in Midtown, Buckhead and to a lesser extent downtown can be traced back to this event. The growth of Georgia State University as an urban campus was another beneficiary.
Atlanta’s hospitality scene blossomed. Showing we could host the world efficiently led to countless other events such as the Super Bowl, SEC championship, the Final Four and the Chick Fil A classic and kick off games. There have been new hotels built, along with a new international terminal at the airport an expanded Georgia World Congress Center and the Georgia International Convention Center. The restaurant scene began its ascendency and now ranks among the best in the country.
Atlanta and Georgia became more prominent on the international business scene, the region and state seen as the business and distribution capital of the Southeast, while foreign investment and ownership increased dramatically. Best of all the city ended up debt free.
What will Atlanta look like in the future. University of Utah and former Georgia Tech professor Arthur “Chris” Nelson has some interesting thoughts. In a research presentation to the Atlanta Regional Housing forum last June Nelson observed that metro Atlanta will be increasingly multi-ethnic, older and more likely to be renters than home owners. “Between 2010 and 2030 ninety percent of the growth in housing will be for people without children (whether single, divorced or aging baby boomers.) During that same period 75 percent of the population growth will be among minorities and the percentage of home ownership will drop to slightly over sixty percent.” Nelson further noted that half of all housing built in the next two decades will be aimed at renters which will likely impact the market for single family home sales. During this coming period there will be a great senior sell off by people 65 and older. Of those sellers 59 percent will likely become renters than owners adding to the demand for rental housing.
What’s the impact of restaurants in downtown Atlanta? According to Central Atlanta Progress significant. Twenty percent of the City of Atlanta’s total restaurant sales are derived downtown (approximately $334 million) which is 50 % of downtown’s total spending (which may speak as much to the lack of retail amenities but we digress.) Among the newest downtown attractions White Oak Kitchen, from Max Lager’s owner Alan Le Blanc, and Arepa Mia, a Venezuelan sandwich shop, Yum Diggity, gourmet hot dogs and High Road Craft Ice Cream all at the Sweet Auburn Curb market.
New seafood restaurants are also creating quite a splash. Midtown newcomers The Optimist and Lure are leading the buzz but keep an eye peeled for Fins, from the owners of Barnacles, and Hammock Trading Company, in Sandy Springs.
Chef Shaun Doty is staking his reputation on chicken. Closely following the planned fall opening of Bantam and Biddy at Ansley Mall look for a second chicken cenetric concept at Atlantic Station in the former Grape space. Chef Ford Fry will be opening a new concept (his fourth) at the soon to be shuttered Nava in Buckhead. At last report the working name was Oak. Del Frisco’s Grille is also under construction in Buckhead and is expected to open mid to late fall.
Barbecue continues to maintain its popularity with patrons and operators alike. Look for Community Barbecue’s second location on Marietta Street, Greater Good, from Fellini’s founder Clay Harper in Tucker, a second Fox Brothers on Scott Boulevard in Decatur and Bonelick, from the owners of P’Cheen on the west side.
What’s the best expressway exit for dining in metro Atlanta. Self professed traffic guru Mark Arum (the gridlock guy in the AJC) says Howell Mill and I-75. In addition to the recently opened, and still operating Atlanta food truck park, the exit offers a wide variety of chain and local restaurants from Willy’s and Fellini’s to Chin-Chin and Flip. Close behind Barrett parkway at I-75 and Ga. 92 at I-575 (Woodstock.)
And finally, perhaps the most intriguing new concept to come down the pike Waffolds (a sandwich made from a waffle) opening in the short-lived Burger Tap in Morningside.
Recent transaction for the Shumacher Group Include
4095 Lawrenceville Highway, Lilburn Georgia by Garrard Development for Family Dollar
Golden Corral Pad at North Dekalb Mall (Decatur, Ga.)