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Published on November 25th, 2015 |

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Buckhead Theatre stage for battle against racism in MARTA expansion vote

The Buckhead Theatre became the early stage Nov. 19 in a declared battle against racism in renewed efforts to lobby suburban north metro Atlanta cities to support a ballot initiative for an additional half-penny sales tax to fund MARTA rail expansions in Fulton and DeKalb counties.

North American Properties' Mark Toro speaks out about racism during Bisnow seminar Nov. 19 at the Buckhead Theatre.

North American Properties’ Mark Toro speaks out about racism during Bisnow seminar Nov. 19 at the Buckhead Theatre.

“It’s racism. We’ve got to recognize it and call it what it is,” said North American Properties’ Mark Toro, speaking out about the defeat of the T-SPLOST in 2012 and more than 40 years of resistance by suburban counties to MARTA’s expansion.

Toro, who is spearheading the new effort before the Georgia Legislature and metro Atlanta voters as chair of the Urban Land Institute Atlanta’s Livable Communities Council to lobby suburban cities in North was speaking to more than 250 commercial real estate professionals at a Bisnow seminar on millennials.

Toro was one of many commercial real estate leaders who made big, but overwhelmingly unsuccessful, pushes with voters in 2012 for the statewide T-SPLOST, claiming “there is no Plan B” for that plan to raise $8 billion for road and MARTA projects.

Mark Toro, left, listens as fellow panelist talks about diversity in Atlanta market.

Mark Toro, left, listens as fellow panelist Randy Gibbs talks about diversity in Atlanta market.

Voters within I-285 were highly supportive, while voters in the suburbs were ice cold to the 2012 vote.

“MARTA is deeply polarizing in the suburban communities as it has been for 40 years-plus,” Toro told the audience. “The train runs both ways, and we don’t want those people out here. That is the prevailing theme in suburban communities.”

As an interesting sidelight, almost concurrent with Toro’s remarks, The relatively new North Fulton city of Johns Creek voted a strong statement that it did not want MARTA extended out to that part of North Fulton and did not want the extra half-penny sales tax.

If approved for referendum and then approved by voters in DeKalb and Fulton, the new half-penny sales tax would raise billions through 2057 to help fund three major expansion programs: MARTA heavy rail 12 miles further into Alpharetta along GA 400, another heavy rail extension east-west along I-20 into the Stonecrest Mall area, and a light rail system to connect 8.8 miles from Lindbergh Center in Buckhead to Avondale Estates.

MARTA's Amanda Rhem was one of the Bisnow panelists at the Nov. 19 seminar.

MARTA’s Amanda Rhein was one of the Bisnow panelists at the Nov. 19 seminar.

Toro also has a personal and business vested interest in the rail extension to Alpharetta, since his company is the developer of Avalon there—and he lives at Avalon—and his company also owns most of Atlantic Station. He would be able to take MARTA easily between both properties.

Also on the Bisnow panel moderated by Toro, was Engel & Volkes Intown Atlanta’s Randy Gibbs, and MARTA’s Amanda Rhein who also support the efforts to support the new MARTA funding initiative.

Gibbs, who is African-American and lives in the southwest Atlanta community of Adairs Park, agreed with Toro that Atlanta is divided racially, as well as socially and economically. “We need to deal with that diversity,” he told the audience.

He added, “We need to make our (real estate) produces more affordable for all and throughout the Atlanta area, including along transit. We have to be very focused on dealing with that diversity.”

During discussion, there was some open criticism of the Atlanta Braves decision to move to an area with no direct MARTA connection. When asked how the project will fare due to that, Rhein responded: “I expect they will learn their lesson the hard way.”

Cobb County has been one of the decades long holdouts from accepting MARTA.

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    One Response to Buckhead Theatre stage for battle against racism in MARTA expansion vote

    1. Bob Balkcom says:

      For me, as a suburban dweller, the issue is not about race but my observations on how MARTA is managed.

      Combine that with people representing the cause to move MARTA into the suburbs in this article accusing and shaming that the main issue is racism and you’ll never get my vote.

      Why don’t the proponents address the real issues MARTA has had over the decades and demonstrate how this will be different?

      I believe most of suburbanites being lumped into the racism issue believe MARTA is just another bloated bureaucracy and don’t want that in their neighborhoods.

      Shame on proponents starting out with shaming opponents. Besides, any PR or marketing firm worth their stuff knows you’ll get further with the real truth and demonstrating how past issues will be overcome.

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