Monday, February 11, 2008

Mayor: Beltline effort will continue

Posted By on Mon, Feb 11, 2008 at 9:58 PM

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"ALL BIG DREAMS HAVE CHALLENGES": Mayor Shirley Franklin addresses the press as Beltline CEO Terri Montague looks on.

Mayor Shirley Franklin has good news and bad news.

We know what the bad news is. Anytime you have to start a Monday morning knowing a highly valued and expensive public works project has been stripped of a large chunk of its funding, well, that sucks. As the mayor said, this was unanticipated. But she sees a light at the end of the tunnel.

Speaking before a bank of camera crews, ink-stained scribes and microphones in City Hall, Franklin and various members of Atlanta City Council and proponents of the Beltline said that even in light of this morning's state Supreme Court ruling, the effort will continue to roll forward.

"We will not be able to use $1.8 billion [of TAD-generated funds], but we can use about $800 million," Franklin said. "This is a bump along the way. We are overall in a good position, but not a great position."

Beltline CEO Terri Montague said work will continue on the West End trail, Boulevard Crossing Park, North Avenue Park and Bellwood Quarry.

Montague said it's too early to predict the impact the ruling will have on specific segments of the Beltline, such as parks, trails or transits, but she added that her team remains focused. A spokesman for the project echoed Montague's comment and said the team has just started assembling information -- to speculate on any changes would be premature, he said.

Montague said the outpouring of support from private companies in the forms of grants and loans has helped and will continue to sustain the operations while alternate sources of funding are examined. Project officials will reach out to city and state leaders for additional funding. Montague said she's looking forward to an upcoming Sister Cities day in March, which will provide the city a chance not only to showcase the Beltline, but perhaps even jockey for foreign capital investments.

TAD projects where bonds have already been issued -- Atlantic Station, for example -- would not be impacted by the ruling, said city attorney Beth Chandler. If additional bonds have to be issued, however, that may pose a problem. She said the ruling would affect projects where bonds have not yet been issued, such as the Perry Bolton, Westside and Turner Field TADs. For a city to capitalize in the future on the school-tax segment of a TAD -- as Franklin emphasized has been the case in other cities across the country that have used the mechanism -- the General Assembly would have to alter the state constitution and the voters would have to approve the change.

"The Beltline is a project that enjoys community support," Franklin said. "It had it when I was elected in 2001. We believe that support is wide and deep." She noted that $160 million has been allocated for the project in the form of loans, donations and grants from the city and the private sector. She added that "all big dreams have challenges," and offered the city's ongoing sewer repairs and fifth runway at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport as examples.

"A lot of people said [those projects] wouldn't happen," she said. "But [they] did."

Photo by Joeff Davis

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