Atlanta Beltline Inc. report spells out project timelines and financial future

After enduring years of litigation and a Recession that wreaked havoc on its bottom line, the Atlanta Beltline’s board of directors approved Wednesday its first-ever strategic implementation plan, a detailed report spelling out how and when it intends to build each portion of its marquee project.

Many have speculated about when each element of the Atlanta Beltline would be completed by its 2030 goal, the deadline for when the tax allocation district that helps funds the project expires.

The Beltline is a massive city-wide undertaking which aims to transform dilapidated land into a 22-mile loop of parks, trails and transit and spur economic development along the way. The project is perhaps best known for its Eastside Trail, a popular running path that begins near Piedmont Park and winds through in-town Atlanta.

According to the report, top of the list for the next five years includes breaking ground on the Beltline’s streetcar/light-rail program where the system will intersect with Atlanta’s streetcar project, beginning construction of a portion of the Westside Trail, adding mileage to the Eastside Trail, completing four parks and building the Southwest Beltline Connector Trail network.

ABI also intends to ramp up its affordable housing plan to meet its goal of 5,600 residential units along the Beltline.

The Beltline report reveals the grim reality of funding needs. The project is expected to cost about $4.3 billion now through 2030. About $1.5 billion - or 33 percent — is expected to come from its tax allocation district, also known as a TAD.

That’s a dramatic drop in TAD revenue from what was anticipated when the Beltline was created in 2005. Then, city officials expected the TAD would support nearly 60 percent of the project, officials said.

That funding model took a devastating blow from two events: lawsuits challenging the use of property tax for economic development, which tied up its revenue in court for the first few years of the project, and the Great Recession, which slowed down development and resulted in less TAD cash.

“The first five years turned out dramatically different than had been mapped out,” said Ethan Davidson, Beltline spokesman.

Paul Morris, who assumed the role of Beltline CEO earlier this year, said part of the challenge is identifying all the necessary revenue sources to build the loop. In addition to the TAD, the Beltline is funded by public and private donations and local and federal grants. To date, the Beltline has received more than $360 million in public and private funding.

Though ABI has mapped out its timeline for when the projects will be designed and built, not all of the required revenue has been secured. The strategic plan suggests funding sources for 80 percent of costs.

“From year one they had to ask themselves, how do we figure out remaining funding needs?” Morris said, noting the failed penny sales tax referendum in 2012 known as T-SPLOST was an effort to fill the gap.

The Beltline received a shot in the arm in recent months with an $18 million federal transportation grant to develop a 2.5 mile stretch of the Southwest Corridor. In addition, Atlanta was recently named a Federal Transit Administration grant designee, allowing it to apply directly for federal funds to help build out the Beltline’s transit portions.

Morris said the federal grant is an example of the project’s ability to secure revenue and noted the Beltline has generated more than $1 billion in private development — a 3 to 1 return on investment. Despite the uncertainty of future funding, Morris maintained the Beltline will remain on schedule.

“Based on this track record we are confident that the Atlanta Beltline will be funded to its completion by 2030,” he said in a statement.

Return to AJC.com for updates.

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