Will the BeltLine ever come to my side of town? As a small business owner and an Atlanta native, this is the question I’ve found myself regularly asking and now finally feeling some sense of hope and anxious anticipation about. It’s finally coming!
My neighborhood is the Martin Luther King Jr. / Lowery Boulevard area. My business is a small food market located right on historic Joseph E. Lowery Blvd in a vibrant and bustling historic African-American part of town with tons of unmet potential.
Like myself, business owners all along this corridor have watched as other areas of the city have enjoyed the benefits of the beautiful BeltLine trail. We’ve recently seen street improvements, sidewalks, and other infrastructure investments along MLK and now we believe it’s finally our turn to get the BeltLine.
We understand the original BeltLine plan 20 years ago was to begin the trail in specific neighborhoods and eventually complete the entire 22-mile project. It’s been a long time coming. We’ve been waiting for this for a very long time.
The CEO of the BeltLine has outlined a plan to raise the necessary funding to complete the trail and ensure long term residents and business owners aren’t forgotten and pushed out. This is essential and for business owners like myself, this is the most important part of the completion plan. It is essential to balance new infrastructure development with the retention of legacy residents and businesses.
Most of these legacy residents and business owners are black and have long looked forward to the BeltLine trail on the Westside of the city. A Special Service District (SSD) will be created in order to raise the funds needed to complete the 22-mile BeltLine trail. This SSD will include several different allocations of funds to ensure the BeltLine is fulfilling its obligation to ALL of Atlanta. They are putting the money where their mouth is. That’s a great thing. These funds include $50 million directed to affordable housing since affordability along the BeltLine is a primary concern.
Also included, to keep legacy residents in their homes, is a $12.5 million community retention fund. Since the COVID-19 pandemic has had an incredible impact on communities of color, the completion of the BeltLine includes the creation of 50,000 jobs to spur economic and social stability during this difficult time. To further support underserved communities and entrepreneurs, $150 million in construction funding will be directed to minority owned businesses and $7 million in additional support for small businesses like mine.
Some argue that businesses should not be burdened with the SSD now during a pandemic however, they must understand those of us without the BeltLine have had the hardship of no BeltLine PLUS the pandemic. None of us can control the pandemic but we can control whether we complete the BeltLine on the Westside of town. I sometimes wonder why wasn’t the Atlanta BeltLine started on the Westside of town? Why was it decided, from the beginning, that my community would be the last to benefit and the last to have the completed trail? I can’t answer that but what I can answer is how exactly my neighborhood will benefit. I know this answer: My side of town will benefit just as the other BeltLine neighborhoods have.
More foot traffic will come past my business, more energy and excitement will come to this historic corridor where community leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Joseph E. Boone once enjoyed businesses like Paschals and Busy Bee. The trail will bring alternative transportation methods like bikes and scooters and walkers and skateboarders. Folks from all over the city will have greater ease and access to the Westside where the lifeblood of a business is, of course, customers and the density of neighborhoods.
I don’t expect the BeltLine to cure all economic and social struggles. But I do know that it will bring an extremely positive and badly needed jolt of investment and attention to the Westside of town. Completion of the BeltLine symbolizes unity. It symbolizes the best of us. It symbolizes the Atlanta community holding hands, circling the city and showing we are all connected. What’s good for my neighborhood is good for your neighborhood and what’s good for your neighborhood is good for my neighborhood too. We are excited. We are hopeful and WE ARE READY