Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Future of properties around Dome - some of which are owned by Blank - gets second look

Posted By and on Tue, Apr 2, 2013 at 11:09 AM

Map Key: Benjamin Enterprises / JayCee Development

Now that a new Atlanta Falcons stadium seems to be (almost) a done deal, ideas for how Vine City, English Avenue, and Castleberry Hill could benefit from the project are starting to take shape.

Arthur Blank's eponymous philanthropic foundation and Invest Atlanta, the city's economic development arm, have pledged to invest at least $30 million in those areas. Both entities have not yet decided how those projects will be funded.

But Atlanta City Councilman Ivory Young, who represents English Avenue and Vine City, has proposed a long list of potential "legacy projects" for the neighborhoods located near the proposed stadium, which could be located either south of the Georgia Dome or along Northside Drive near Ivan Allen Boulevard. Examples include community centers, park space, streetscape fixes, health care facilities, and other neighborhood improvements.

Part of that proposal, outlined in specific detail in a 75-page document Young submitted to fellow councilmembers and obtained by CL, envisions improving Northside Drive near the Dome. A key part of that plan involves doing something with the parking lots across from the stadium - most of which are owned by a company connected to Blank and one other firm.

Currently, the parking lots serve Falcons fans and other Dome event ticketholders. But according to Young's proposal, the parcels along Northside Drive could one day feature an estimated $148 million multistory retail and residential complex stretching three blocks.

Two companies - Benjamin Enterprises, which is connected to Falcons owner Arthur Blank, and JayCee Development, owned by James Crawford of Maryland and former NFL player Charles Woodson - have spent years buying up the gravel and grassy lots along Northside Drive where the development could take shape. JayCee has spent more than $12 million on the properties, according to WSB-TV's Richard Belcher.

Blank purchased Benjamin Enterprises in 2007, according to his spokeswoman Kim Shreckengost. Benjamin shares an address with the foundation. According to the Georgia Secretary of State's website, Benjamin's executive officers also work for AMB Group LLC, which manages Blank's businesses' investments.

Shreckengost tells CL in an email that Blank has no plans for the properties that Benjamin owns, and they "anticipate that the lots will continue to be used for parking for our season ticket holders, fans and/or sponsor activation.

"We are familiar with JayCee Development, but we have no plans to work on any projects on their property," wrote Shreckengost. "The land we acquired about seven years ago is for the purpose of providing additional parking options on Falcons game days, not for any other projects."

CL's attempts to reach JayCee Development executives were unsuccessful.

Young tells CL that "delicate negotiations" have been in progress.

"JayCee invested their own resources to come up with some concepts that were consistent with the Vine City redevelopment plan," Young says, referring to a community-led vision for the area released in 2004. "I've been given enough assurance by [JayCee's] representatives that they don't take lightly our efforts to advance the development on Northside Drive, and at the proper time, they would be in a position to play a major role in helping to influence the outcomes."

Young thinks the mixed-used development, once built, could complement the proposed stadium and help transform the area into "a real destination" where people want to go, even on non-game days.

Young also wants to make sure MARTA is considered during the stadium talks. Funding for community improvements doesn't include helping MARTA improve its Vine City and Georgia World Congress Center stations to handle the large number of people who attend Dome and convention center events.

In a meeting last Monday with MARTA CEO and General Manager Keith Parker, Young said he addressed the question of who will pay for the the expansion. And because the GWCC and new stadium are (and will be) state-owned facilities, Young thinks the state should fund MARTA's upgrades.

MARTA, which did not respond to CL's request for comment before press time, is in the process of determining how much it would cost to improve the Vine City station. "In the coming weeks, we should get a report back from them illustrating all those recommendations," says Young.

"We're all clear that without the full redevelopment of Northside Drive, you really don't have anything of an enhancement that you can offer to the new stadium," he says. "All it is, is a more modern Georgia Dome."

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