James M. Cox Foundation donates $30M to help complete Beltline by 2030

The James M. Cox Foundation on Tuesday announced a $30 million donation to the Atlanta Beltline — a gift that helps ensure the 22-mile path remains on track for a 2030 completion.

The donation is the largest in the foundation’s history and helps close a crucial fundraising gap for the design and construction of the remainder of the Beltline.

The Cox Foundation is one of the philanthropic entities of Cox Enterprises, which owns The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The $30 million gift eclipses the $25 million awarded to Emory University in 2015, which at the time was the foundation’s largest donation.

“I love the opportunity to be involved with something that improves the quality of life for whoever chooses to use it,” Jim Kennedy, chairman of the James M. Cox Foundation, said in an interview.

Just over 12 miles have yet to be paved, but most of the remaining segments are in the design or construction stage. The Beltline is working with the PATH Foundation to study and build portions of the Northwest Trail, the final and most complicated stretch.

“We’ve been involved with PATH since its inception and seen what hundreds of miles of trails being built around the city and elsewhere do to improve quality of life for folks,” said Kennedy, who also serves on the board for the PATH Foundation.

Kennedy co-chaired the fundraising campaign when the Beltline was launched in 2007; he and the foundation have now given a total of $44 million to help fund the Beltline.

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens said the donation is historic and shows the strength of partnerships in the city.

“I’m really big on making sure we have healthy safe and connected communities, and the Beltline does that,” Dickens said in an interview. “Now we will have the ability to have that equity and access around the entire Beltline, with this contribution from the Cox Foundation.”

The agency announced late last year it had surpassed the $300 million funding milestone for trail construction.

Beltline CEO Clyde Higgs didn’t make any promises, but said Monday that Beltline officials are “definitely going to try our best to beat the 2030 goal.”

“Now that we’ve put the funding together, thanks to these historic donations, to tell the entire country that we’re going to literally finish the Beltline, it’s really good to see,” Higgs said.

Rob Brawner, the executive director of the Atlanta Beltline Partnership, which helps raise private dollars for the Beltline, said the donation helps the Beltline surpass its goal of raising $100 million from philanthropic contributions for trail construction. The Robert W. Woodruff Foundation announced an $80 million contribution last year.

“Coming out of the pandemic … trails and linear park corridors such as the Beltline provide such an outlet for the community, to be able to be outside, enjoy one another, see your neighbor, recreate and be able to use the trails to get from home to work,” said Greta deMayo, the executive director of the PATH Foundation.

The Beltline is an ambitious project launched over a decade ago with the goal of turning abandoned rail lines into flat corridors for walkers, joggers and cyclists. Dotted with restaurants, bars and shops, the Beltline has become a popular attraction and destination for residents and tourists.

It’s sparked new waves of investment and economic development in neighborhoods across the city as rents and property values rose, fueling gentrification and displacement. In recent years, the Beltline has launched a property tax assistance program for legacy homeowners and put a focus on buying land around the trail to control development.