Auburn Avenue area is newest Opportunity Zone

The Sweet Auburn area, a cradle of Atlanta’s African American wealth and political clout, received an economic development designation on Tuesday that city leaders hope will help spur revitalization in the district.

The neighborhood, which includes Martin Luther King’s boyhood home and other civil rights landmarks, has been designated as Atlanta’s latest Opportunity Zone.

The classification enables certain state tax incentives for businesses that expand in the zone, with credits of $3,500 per job available for the creation of as few as two net new jobs. The credits are available to both small and big businesses.

Kwanza Hall, the City Council member who represents the area, said the designation will help fuel redevelopment of the district along with other major investments such as the Atlanta Streetcar. The streetcar’s route includes portions of Edgewood Avenue, Jackson Street and Auburn Avenue and connects Centennial Olympic Park to the King Historic District. The streetcar is expected to start operations next spring.

Interrupted at times by the pulsing din of jackhammer along the streetcar route, Brian McGowan, president and CEO of economic development agency Invest Atlanta, said: “If you haven’t noticed there’s an economic recovery going on, and if you look around it’s going on (here).”

Atlanta has 10 other such zones and applications pending for dozens more. Businesses that create two or more jobs can exercise the credits against state income and payroll tax liabilities for up to five years. The designation is granted by the state Department of Community Affairs, and generally takes into consideration poverty rates within or adjacent to defined Census tracts, among other factors.

The Sweet Auburn Historic District has been listed as an endangered area by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and community leaders are in the process of developing a plan to help stimulate job growth and redevelopment in the neighborhood.

The new Opportunity Zone encompasses a vast swath of land east of downtown. It borders the Downtown Connector to the west, Irwin Street to the north, segments of Memorial Drive and nearby railroad lines to the south, and Cornelia and Randolph streets at its easterly most point.

At least two recent substantial economic development projects in metro Atlanta have ties to Opportunity Zones. General Motors is converting a former UPS property into an information technology research facility in a Roswell zone, where it will employ about 1,000 people. Athenahealth, a health care IT firm, is scouting Atlanta for new offices to accommodate an expansion of hundreds of jobs. People familiar with its search say the company is negotiating for space in Ponce City Market, the former City Hall East, which is also in an Opportunity Zone.