Published on October 6th, 2016 |4
Buckhead CID votes 4-2 to continue studying $200M-plus park over GA 400
The Oct. 5 vote authorized spending up to $340,000 for 16 weeks of further study of such issues as funding sources, traffic impacts and economic benefits. The vote does not authorize the park to be built at this point.
The CID first proposed building “a park in the sky” over GA 400 more than a year ago. It was originally proposed as a 9-acre total cap over the roadway and MARTA rail line and station between Peachtree and Lenox roads.
Last month, Rogers Partners (the hired consultants doing the studies) unveiled a design for a 6 ½ to 7-acre, half-mile-long park built atop a bridge-like structure over Ga. 400 with a roughly estimated cost of $195 million to $245 million.
But, as BuckheadView has reported over months of the park discussions and votes, there was significant opposition from some members on costs and whether it is an appropriate project for the CID. The 4-2 vote was low because board members Thad Ellis, Scott Selig and Dist. 7 City Councilman Howard Shook were not able to attend the Oct. 5 meeting.
As the park discussion began, Simon Property Group’s representative on the CID board, Robin Suggs, voiced some of the strongest opposition to the park proposal to date on behalf of her company’s Lenox Square and Phipps Plaza malls.
Suggs read a statement calling the park planning a “slippery slope” to higher taxes and a “distraction to more pressing needs.” She called for a referendum vote on the park proposal of the entire CID membership (commercial property owners who pay an addition 3 mil tax for community improvements) not just board.
Pointing out that several voting board members own property abutting the proposed park, Suggs pointed out that the park “would primarily benefit the properties abutting the park. Per the initial visioning study, properties within 500 feet of the proposed park can expect a 20 percent to 30 percent increase in real estate values.
Suggs said Simon Property Group believes this “constitutes a conflict of interest as board members are the only ones permitted to vote on these commitments.”
Speaking on behalf of Simon’s Buckhead malls, Suggs told the board in a statement she asked to have written into the minutes, “We remain strong supporters of the BCID’s mission and vision for the area. We believe the near-term transportation needs of the growing community is and should remain the BCID’s top priority, especially as extensive office and apartment developments are currently underway in the area.
“We simply do not believe this park is the best use of the BCID’s resources at this current time,” Suggs said concluding her statement. She was one of the two votes opposed to continuing the next
phase of the study.
The other vote against funding the second phase of the park study was by BCID board’s vice chair John Lundeen of Coro Realty Advisors. He told his fellow board members “I have struggled with this….At this time I have to oppose it.”
Lundeen said he cannot see how the CID can justify spending $200 million plus on this park. “I think this is far beyond the scope of the CID, which was transportation. I can’t see how we can justify it.”
Similar concerns were raised by members of the Buckhead Hotel Council and Jim Sprouse, executive director of the Georgia Hotel & Lodging Association who were attending the meeting in force. They claimed no stance on the park idea at the moment, but they are concerned about raising hotel taxes in Atlanta, which they said already are among the nation’s highest.
Their message to the BCID board: If you raise the hotel tax to help fund this, Atlanta will have the highest hotel taxes in the country and that is a major factor considered by groups when they are planning where to hold their meetings and conventions.
They asked for and were assured they would have a seat at the table during further discussions.
“Most people love the idea, love the design,” said board chair David Allman of Regent Partners, explaining that the board is sensitive to the taxation issue. The Buckhead CID has the lowest tax
rate among metro Atlanta CIDs, he said. (Regent Partners is one of the companies that owns property adjacent to the proposed park.)
Allman said he had received emails from CID board members Thad Ellis, who represents Cousins Properties on the board, and Selig Enterprises board representative Scott Selig, both of which would have voted in favor of funding the next phase of the park study. He said he had not heard from City Councilman Howard Shook.
However, Sally Silver, an aide to Shook who was at the Oct. 5 CID meeting, told Allman that Shook would most likely have voted against funding the second phase of the park study.
Board member Robin Loudermilk of the Loudermilk Companies supported the park plan, but called for input from outside Buckhead as well. He said the initial public unveiling of the proposed park design last month at the Buckhead Theatre drew a “pretty broad sampling” of the local Buckhead community and appeared to get a largely positive response.
But Loudermilk requested a more “formal metric” for gauging response and for input to come from the region so it’s “not just a local, self-serving type park.” A five mile radius would include parts
of Brookhaven, Dunwoody, Sandy Springs, Smyrna, Decatur and Midtown and Downtown.
On Tuesday evening (Oct. 4), Buckhead CID Executive Director Jim Durrett made a brief presentation about the park to the board of Neighborhood Planning Unit-B and asked the 18-plus board members how many of them like the plans for the park and would like to see it built. The board members unanimously raised their hands. However, although Durrett briefly mentioned a special tax district might have to be formed to help pay for the park,it was not mentioned that residential neighborhoods in Buckhead likely would be included in that tax district.
As Durrett ended his presentation, he turned to the board members and asked, “You wouldn’t mind spending $1,000 (per year) for a park like this would you? Some of the board members facial expressions changed a little at that point.
Durrett said the next phase of park planning will study an array of issues, including: parking and traffic; legal and regulatory issues; a communication and outreach plan; park programming and projected annual costs (maintenance); technical engineering issues; economic impact projections; and possible funding sources.
In addition, it was announced at the meeting that planning for the park will merge into the public process for a recently begun update of Buckhead’s master plan, now renamed “Buckhead REdeFINED.”
The first public meeting for Atlanta Regional Commission Livable Centers Initiative process, is slated for Oct. 17 at a time and location to be announced. That initiative is being spearheaded by Livable Buckhead Inc. Executive Director Denise Starling, who also is heading up the PATH400 project.