Opinion: Atlanta should act on once-in-a-generation Gulch opportunity

Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms talks to the crowd during her first State of the City speech in Atlanta on Wednesday, May 2, 2018.

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Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms talks to the crowd during her first State of the City speech in Atlanta on Wednesday, May 2, 2018.

Atlanta does not play small ball. We never have.

We became the cultural and economic engine of the Southeast by pushing bold ideas and dreaming big with the building of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the staging of the Centennial Olympic Games and the creation of the Atlanta Beltline.

Now is the time to do so once again.

Atlanta is currently facing an opportunity to transform Downtown and define our city for decades to come.

The development proposal for the Gulch, currently a massive hole in the ground, is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to usher in a new era of economic vitality, infrastructure and inclusion for our city.

By creating a new 24-hour mini-city rising on 40 acres of vacant land, this project will generate the kind of business and residential energy that catalyzed the explosive growth of Buckhead and Midtown.

At roughly the size of 30 football fields, this will be the largest development of its kind in Atlanta’s history, and in the entire Southeast.

The Gulch project will both increase the city’s tax base and bring us closer to achieving our vision of “One Atlanta,” so we can provide equity and affordability throughout the city.

This proposal includes community incentives that will have long-lasting impact far beyond Downtown. They include:

  • A $28 million Affordable Housing Trust Fund;
  • A commitment to build a minimum of 200 affordable housing units or up to 30 percent of the total built, whichever is greater;
  • An investment of $12 million in an economic-development fund that will encourage investment citywide;
  • $12 million for a seven-bay fire station, with a police mini-precinct constructed and leased to the city for $1 per year;
  • $2 million for a workforce-development plan on behalf of Atlanta Public School students.
  • And $5 million to replace the Nelson Street Bridge.

The result will be 40 acres of new infrastructure, roads, sidewalks and parks in what has been a canyon of desolation for decades, an area that has brought us nothing in the way of sales taxes, business revenue or social value.

There is no risk involved for the taxpayers of Atlanta. The bottom line is that the Gulch project will pay for itself over the long term, while immediately bringing economic and community benefits to the city.

Upon completion and repayment of the bond debt, the City of Atlanta, Fulton County and Atlanta Public Schools combined will receive tens of millions in new tax dollars annually.

Ultimately, I believe this development is emblematic of the positive public-private partnerships that have fueled Atlanta’s extraordinary growth over the last half-century — and continue to this day, in areas such as Atlantic Station, Camp Creek Marketplace and Ponce City Market.

We already see how our public investment keeps leveraging the transformation of our Westside communities.

Through community-conscious development with businesses and nonprofits such as the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, we are finding new ways to improve our urban core while addressing the deep need for equity in our most-vulnerable neighborhoods.

Just this past week, I had the pleasure to cut the ribbon on The Home Depot Backyard at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which will serve as an 11-acre park and community greenspace for residents on the Westside and patrons attending sports events and concerts.

On the same day, I was privileged to join Bernie Marcus at the groundbreaking for the new expansion of the Georgia Aquarium, a world-class attraction that helps set the bar for our tourism-and-hospitality industry serving 54 million visitors a year.

In the middle of all this progress stands the new State Farm Arena, representing a partnership between the city and the Atlanta Hawks that continues to benefit Downtown and our neighborhoods.

I stand proudly behind our city’s participation in all these investments and, as mayor, I urge the expeditious approval of the Gulch proposal.

As with many business negotiations, time is of the essence. Atlanta’s competition remains steep. In this case, corporate relocations hang in the balance.

In my lifetime, I have known the Gulch only as an eyesore whose most appealing feature has been its potential.

We now have an inspired blueprint for that potential – and for a future Atlanta that will create the kind of opportunities we have yet to imagine.

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