Runners, walkers and bikers use the Beltline’s Eastside trail in Atlanta on a Monday evening in July. BEN GRAY / BGRAY@AJC.COM
Photo: Ben Gray
Photo: Ben Gray

Georgia Senate bill would give Beltline a boost

Georgia legislators are considering a bill that would empower Atlanta Beltline Inc. to work with private companies to accelerate completion of the popular greenspace revitalization project.

S.B. 4, which passed the Senate and is now under consideration in the House, would permit public-private partnerships to help build out the Beltline’s planned 22-mile loop of parks, trails and transit. City leaders have been eyeing so-called “P3s” as a way to finance the most expensive portion of the project, a future light-rail system that, according to 2013 estimates, could cost about $2.3 billion and would connect with the existing Atlanta Streetcar.

Bill supporters say the legislation’s passage could enable the greenspace project to be completed sooner than its 2030 deadline. Atlanta Beltline Inc. oversees the planning and execution of the project.

“Passage of this legislation will serve as a very important step in expanding our capacity to bring the Atlanta Beltline to completion,” said ABI executive director Paul Morris.

The bill would also allow the city’s economic development agency, Invest Atlanta, to issue revenue bonds to finance Beltline development. The bonds could be secured by profits from user fees, such as fare box returns on the long hoped-for streetcar extension

A similar bill was introduced last year, but the session ended before Senate and House leaders could reach a compromise on a proposed amendment, said bill sponsor Sen. Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega.

Sen. Brandon Beach, R-Alpharetta, who sits on the Senate Transportation Committee, said he voted for the bill because it encourages the Beltline’s progress.

“The Beltline has provided a lot of investment in retail and residential and office space, and they have made that area a really cool place to be,” Beach said.

One potentially troubling provision in the bill would shield from public scrutiny certain “private financial information” submitted by companies seeking to do business with the Beltline, both during and after the bidding process.

However, after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution raised concerns about it this week, Gooch said he would be willing to amend the language. Bill supporters say S.B. 4 mirrors existing laws governing public-private partnerships used by the Georgia Department of Transportation. The legislators could change the language in coming weeks to match existing state law.

Gooch said it was not the intent of the Legislature to create a lack of transparency surrounding Beltline deals.

“All the information dealing with the contracts and anything dealing with public funds should be completely transparent and 100 percent open to the public,” Gooch said. “Any attempt otherwise, I wouldn’t support.”

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