Mark Pendergrast, author of “City on the Verge.”

The 9 AJC articles mentioned in Beltline book, ‘City on the Verge’

When the $6.3 million purchase of more land for the Atlanta Beltline was announced earlier this month, completion of the major project became that much closer.

The purchase covers about 80 percent of the land needed to connect the Beltline, the city said, leaving 20 percent of active railroad or non-railroad properties on the loop’s north/northwest side to deal with. The development underscores just how far the Beltline has comes since its inception, a journey that’s detailed in Mark Pendergrast’s 2017 book, “City on the Verge.” 

The non-fiction book also spans more than a decade of Beltline coverage in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Pendergrast pulls from AJC coverage that includes the project’s first press, editorials, in-depth investigations and smaller developments along the way. 

Let’s take a look at nine articles that found their way into Pendergrast’s well-researched book:

Headline: Existing web of rail lines key to crafting better transit system

Date: April 1, 2002

Maria Saporta gave the Beltline its first press coverage, Pendergrast wrote. “At long last, Atlanta leaders are beginning to think creatively about real solutions for its transportation problems,” Saporta, a longtime AJC reporter at the time, said.

Headline: Belt Line plan gathers support

Date: April 12, 2004

Pendergrast mentioned this article and “banner headline” from Julie B. Hairston because it noted that MARTA was including the project in an ongoing study of transportation alternatives. “(Atlanta Mayor Shirley) Franklin is taking a lead role with the Belt Line now that (Atlanta City Council President Cathy) Woolard has announced plans to resign from the council and run for Congress,” the article, as quoted in the book, said.

The caption on this 2004 file photo read: "The Belt Line is proposed to intersect this site at the old train depot at Memorial Drive and the Glenwood Connector. These two bike riders attended prepare to cycle away from the press conference site and are (left to right) Kevin Whited and Dennis Hoffarth. Both are sympathetic to the Atlanta Bicycle Campaign and are avid city bikers."
Photo: W.A. BRIDGES JR./AJC staff

Headline: Beltline high-rise proposed

Date: May 19, 2005

The book talks about Wayne Mason, a Gwinnett County developer who once owned part of the Beltline. This AJC article by Walter Woods discussed the “first proposed development along the Beltline, a series of kudzu-covered railroad tracks linking many neighborhoods in a 22-mile loop.” He accurately predicted: “the local neighborhoods could protest buildings of that size bordering the city's central park.” Mason’s development never came to fruition. 

Headline: OUR OPINIONS: First notch in Beltline

Date: Nov. 4, 2005

The AJC “urged passage in an editorial, wryly observing, ‘the Beltline cannot single-handedly erase blight in poor neighborhoods, cure traffic congestion or, for that matter, the common cold,’” Pendergrast wrote. The editorial came in advance of what it called a “make-or-break vote” by Atlanta City Council “on the funding mechanism for the ambitious transit, trails and parks project known collectively as the Beltline.” The Beltline “could spur new green space, high-density housing, shops and businesses along the corridor, providing a multitude of benefits that have been valued at $20 billion,” the AJC wrote. 

The caption on this 2005 file photo read: Some of the 15 Sierra Club demonstrators in front of the Fulton County government building on Pryor Street. They were there to support the proposed beltline. This is Genie Strickland who was bundled up in the 29¼ cold.

Headline: Beltline's feasibility rides to forefront

Date: Sept. 21, 2009

Four days after Brian Leary got the job as head of Atlanta Beltline, Inc., Pendergrast wrote, the AJC published an article asking, “Is the BeltLine headed for the skids?” The reporter, Ariel Hart, “pointed out that the strategic plan for the project hadn’t been revised since 2006.” Pendergrast said the city’s deputy chief operating officer, quoted in Hart’s article, “tried to remain upbeat” by saying: “If anything might have changed, perhaps it will require a little bit more reliance upon other funding sources than we originally thought.’”

Headline: Spending by Beltline staff under scrutiny

Date: Aug. 12, 2012

The AJC broke a story about questionable Beltline expenditures from 2010 and 2011, which put Leary and his 23-member staff “under fire,” Pendergrast said. Greg Bluestein’s article began: “The wine bottle holder sent by Beltline staffers to their boss's fiancee last year came with a congratulatory note on her upcoming wedding. What it did not say was who picked up the tab for the $106.22 gift: Atlanta taxpayers.” 

Pendergrast didn’t seem to care for the coverage. He wrote: “The reporter went on to complain about ‘elaborate staff retreats, stays at pricey hotels, and expensive meals at some of the city’s finest restaurants.’” He said the newspaper coverage that “hammered away for the next week” made such charges sound “extravagant and nearly criminal.” He mentioned an editorial, published by the AJC’s conservative columnist Kyle Wingfield on Aug. 16, 2012, that said: “The Beltline now faces the task of living down its staff’s high living.”

“The whole affair seemed particularly strange” in light of other expensive projects planned in the city, Pendergrast wrote. “But the furor clearly wasn’t dying down, and the board forced Leary to resign at the end of August 2012,” the author added.

Headline: Betting on 'The Bluff'

Date: Nov. 1, 2014

Pendergrast mentions another AJC investigation, which was written by AJC reporter Willoughby Mariano. Pendergrast said the reporter “traced ownership of many vacant English Avenue homes to Rick Warren, a white Buckhead slumlord who was waiting for the west side to improve so that he could unload the properties for a huge profit. Kasim Reed subsequently made it his personal mission to punish Warren, even sitting in the front row during a trial over squalid conditions and code violations on his properties that put him in jail briefly.”

The caption on this 2004 file photo read: "Ryan Gravel looks over the railroad line near Piedmont Park that he would like to see turn into a trolley or street car system for MARTA connecting intown neighborhoods."
Photo: JOHN SPINK/AJC file photo

Bonus: Chapter 14 was topped by this epigraph: 

“[There is an] eternal conflict between OTP and ITP. Cobb, Gwinnett, downtown, Midtown. It's all Atlanta, right? Sort of and not really. I-285 represents a sharp division of worlds in collision, with mutually assured derision.” 

— Bill Torpy and J. Scott Trubey, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, (Nov. 17, 2013)

This purchase means the city now owns all the property it needs to circle the city.

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