Mayor, business leaders eye west side improvements

A group of Atlanta business leaders is seeking to have a larger role in the future of west Atlanta.

Mayor Kasim Reed said he and members of the Atlanta Committee for Progress, a board of local CEOs and university presidents, are in talks to form a philanthropic nonprofit to support communities near the future $1.3 billion Atlanta Falcons stadium.

Speaking at the ACP’s quarterly meeting Friday, Reed said the planned nonprofit — tentatively called the Westside Future Fund — will raise private dollars to support other nonprofits and city agencies’ efforts. Plans for the nonprofit are in the early stages, but the Westside Future Fund could be formed later this year.

Reed said the area has lacked “a permanent structure that wakes up thinking about the Westside every single day.”

“The facts are the facts. Things aren’t very good there. A hundred million has been spent and there hasn’t been any long-term change,” he said, referring to grant funds spent in that community in recent decades.

Reed said the Westside Future Fund would be modeled after the Atlanta Beltline Partnership, a 501(c)3 that raises funds from private donors to help build the Atlanta Beltline greenspace project.

The nonprofit would focus on areas including English Avenue, Vine City, Atlanta University Center campus, Ashview Heights and parts of Castleberry Hill. The overarching goal is to improve economic conditions in the largely impoverished community.

Reed said the area is poised to receive more than $100 million in assistance. Atlanta is a finalist for a $30 million Choice Neighborhoods Implementation grant. The stadium communities — specifically English Avenue, Vine City and Castleberry Hill — have already been promised $15 million from the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation and $15 million from the Westside tax allocation district. And the Westside TAD has a total balance of more than $50 million, the mayor said.

Reed said he sees the nonprofit as a way to coordinate groups overseeing those funds. It’s unclear just what role the organization would have, but the mayor said it’s likely that organizations applying for funds from the Westside TAD — via Invest Atlanta — may have to work with the future nonprofit.

“There is a possibility they will have to have a conversation with these folks,” Reed said. “I believe as long as we are open and honest and transparent and fair and reasonable, the community will respond favorably.”

The new stadium — which Reed has touted as an anchor to revitalization of the neighborhoods just west of downtown — has stirred up deep-seated tensions between residents, elected officials and the football franchise set to profit from the project.

Those rifts were exacerbated during a series of meetings last year over how to spend millions pledged in community benefits to the stadium communities.

Deborah Scott, executive director of the community organization Georgia STAND-UP, said the Westside Future Fund is promising, as long as it first considers existing residents.

A longtime participant in the stadium negotiations, Scott wants to know more about the nonprofit’s goals and whether it will implement anti-displacement measures and work to boost small businesses, affordable housing, transit-oriented development and jobs.

“Will we close the gap on the tale of two cities as we work together to build a better Atlanta region?” Scott said via email Friday.