Published on July 26th, 2017 |0
BCID board votes 4-3 to move forward planning 9-acre park over Ga. 400
The Buckhead Community Improvement District board Wednesday (July 26) committed by a 4-3 vote to move forward with an ambitious plan to build a $250 million park over Ga. 400 in the heart of Buckhead to fund the next phase of study and setting up a nonprofit to oversee development.
The 9-acre park would create green space and a central gathering place across a half-mile stretch of Ga. 400 from the Peachtree Road overpass to Lenox Road. The concept is still speculative
and unfunded. The nonprofit’s task will be to find public and private money to fund construction.
For its part, the BCID board voted Wednesday devote $262,500 more to studying the project. It’s already spent about $900,000 so far. The planning has evolved during about two years of study to date and BCID Executive Director Jim Durrett is quoted as saying it’s time for the project to move to the next phase.
Durrett told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution “the plan is for the park to be steered by a dedicated organization — something akin to the Piedmont Park Conservancy — that can manage fundraising, sponsorships, permitting and development.”
In an interview with the AJC, Durrett said, “The goal would be for us to truly hand this off to the new entity where they could count on some funding from the CID to help stand them up and help attracting additional partners,” Durrett said in an interview.
The Buckhead CID, a self-taxing business district, voted to spend up to $262,500 to continue its contract with the concept’s designers, a team led by Rogers Partners Architects + Urban Designers, through the end of 2017.
With the vote, the BCID will take the next five months, through December 2017, to develop a plan to name the park, create a nonprofit organization to manage construction and operations, and prepare for the design, engineering and permitting phase that’s expected to begin in January 2018.
“I believe this is such a good idea and it won’t fail,” Durrett said in a Monday phone interview with Atlanta Business Chronicle. “Successful cities require great gathering spaces … I know this will benefit the larger Atlanta community.”
Other steps include hiring Atlanta’s Coxe Curry & Associates to conduct a formal philanthropic feasibility study, Durrett told the ABC.
The ABC reported that “groundmaking,” or the start of construction as the team is calling it, is set for 2020. The hope is to open the park in 2022, with it fully functional by 2023. The BCID said that’s an earlier timeline than previously thought.
It will cost about $1.7 million to operate and maintain the park each year, Durrett said. The Buckhead park could generate its own revenue through events and concessions and other means, and could become a tourist draw, planners have said. The park would likely have opportunities for naming rights and areas for restaurants.
Though the park plan has been well-received by many, it isn’t without controversy.
The AJC reported that BCID Board member Howard Shook, who represents the Buckhead area on Atlanta City Council, said he opposed moving forward because of a lack of key details. Shook said he has asked numerous questions for over a year that have gone unanswered.
Shook told the AJC some board members appeared to be privy to information not known by the rest of the panel. He was concerned the vote by the board was a commitment to go forward with the project.
“Today I think we’re making a decision to buy a new car before we know if we can afford it,” he told fellow board members according to the AJC story.
Shook, whose approval will be key to gaining city support, told the AJC, “What alarms me here is I think there’s a lot of confusion whether this is a fourth phase of what was sold as a three-phase preliminary exercise or whether we’ve crossed some kind of Rubicon — or are in the middle of it — and whether this fourth phase is really a commitment to do this project.”
After the meeting, Durrett told the AJC, he’ll address Shook’s concerns. “We’re going to figure out how to smooth it over,” Durrett said. “His voice is important and his vote is important.”
Along with Councilman Shook, Lenox Square General Manager Robin Suggs, and JWMarriott Atlanta Buckhead General Manager Tom Boyer voted to oppose the measure.
“We believe the park project is not the best use of the BCID’s resources, and believe a vote to further extend the BCID’s commitment to the project is premature and inappropriate at this time,” Suggs who represents Simon Property Group’s Lenox Square mall, wrote in a July 25 letter to Durrett and BCID Chairman David Allman, president of Regent Partners Inc.
She also raised questions about board members who have property abutting the project, of which those within 500 feet could see property values rise 20 percent to 30 percent. “As a result of this significant financial interest, we believe board members with property abutting are in an untenable conflict of interest.”
In a response letter, Allman said, “I am deeply troubled by your accusation that members of the BCID board have engaged in conflicts of interest. While I believe this issue is better left to the board’s counsel to discuss in open meeting, I am obligated to state that I am not aware of any conduct by a board member that violates this clause, and, if you are aware of any such conduct, I ask that you formally notify counsel for the board.”