With the support of Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, community leaders, and Atlanta Beltline Inc. executives, Atlanta City Councilman Dustin Hillis has introduced legislation that would effectively speed up construction while bringing new jobs, more affordable housing and economic recovery along the Atlanta Beltline.

In a couple of ordinances introduced at Tuesday’s Atlanta City Council meeting, Atlanta Beltline Inc. has asked the council to create a Special Service District (SSD) within the Atlanta BeltLine Planning Area, an effort that would generate various streams of revenue to aid in the completion of the 22-mile loop of mainline, multi-use trails by its originally planned completion date of 2030.

The first ordinance seeks to create the BeltLine Special Services District, designate the boundaries of such district, provide for definitions, and provide for reports to the Council to complete the 22-mile loop of the project.

The second one requests Invest Atlanta to establish a master program for financing or refinancing the acquisition, development, construction, equipping, and installation of the BeltLine Trail Completion Project through the authorization by the authority of its master draw-down special services district tax revenue bond in the aggregate principal amount.

Council members will review and discuss the proposed legislation in an upcoming committee meeting, scheduled for next week.

According to ABI executives, the completion of the Atlanta Beltline planning area requires a new mechanism for generating the necessary funds to meet targeted dates of delivery. Without additional funding, ABI contends the trail corridor would not be completed before the current Tax Allocation District (TAD) expires in 2030.

Also known as tax increment financing (TIF), tax allocation financing is a redevelopment and financing tool by which governments can provide financial assistance to eligible public and private redevelopment efforts within an officially designated area or TAD. 

Increases in property tax revenues, which are generated primarily from new investments in the district, are allocated to pay infrastructure costs or certain private development costs within the TAD.

Once completed, the Beltline will ignite the development of new job centers, restaurants, retail, and housing. And this is a prediction already proven by how much of an economic engine investment in the Beltline has already driven.

According to ABI, initial investments of an estimated $600 million in the Atlanta BeltLine project have led to the creation of 18,700 permanent jobs; 3,175 affordable housing units being created or preserved — 2,133 of which are located within the BeltLine TAD; and a $6.2-billion economic impact to the neighborhoods along the corridor.

Designation of the Beltline planning area as a special service district will help offset what ABI executives have forecast to fall short by more than $1 billion of the original projections.

According to a fact sheet distributed by ABI, the creation of the SSD would generate an estimated $100 million in 2021 via bonds, which would unlock another $100 million in philanthropic funds and $100 million in BeltLine TAD funds to complete the trail.

The potential to create at least $200 million in additional funding in a year’s time would go a long way in closing the projected deficit, which was caused by early legal disputes that delayed the ability to issue a fully backed bond to finance BeltLine implementation until the end of 2016 – more than a decade after the BeltLine TAD was created. The lack of early funding to construct the BeltLine, combined with the Great Recession, led to a slower pace of private development around the full BeltLine than initially anticipated. 

What would result is a fully realized Atlanta Beltline and with it, the potential for an expected total economic impact of $10 billion and nearly 50,000 permanent jobs. Additional benefits, ABI portends, include access to health and recreation opportunities, new homes nearby, closer proximity to health care providers, and expanded broadband connectivity.

The additional funding would also encourage large-dollar investments from the non-profit and private sectors, ABI executives predict.

The proposed legislation has found favor among a number of city officials, including Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who said the adoption of the ordinances will help achieve her vision of a unified Atlanta.

“This additional funding moves us one step closer to our vision for creating One Atlanta,” Bottoms said. “I am encouraged by this latest commitment to move our plans for affordable housing and community revitalization forward.”

Essentially, if adopted, the new SSD would enable the City of Atlanta to levy additional taxes on commercial and multi-family property owners within the planning area. 

These property owners would see an estimated 2-mill increase — i.e., two-tenths of a penny per dollar in the assessed value of each property. As used in relation to property tax, 1 mill is equal to $1 in property tax, which is levied per $1,000 of a property’s determined taxable value.

The collected funds would go towards trail acquisition, design, and construction.

Residents living in single-family homes would not be subject to the increase. Further, almost half of the commercial and multi-family parcels contained within the proposed SSD would pay less than an additional $250 annually, or about $20 a month.

“Fulfilling the promise of the Atlanta BeltLine, and especially the benefits to the community, is more important than ever,” said ABI CEO Clyde Higgs. “The proposed district will bring value to communities by focusing on greater job creation, housing affordability, and equitable economic access which all support Mayor Bottoms’ One Atlanta Plan.”

Higgs and other ABI executives also said that funds generated through the SSD – combined with philanthropic support and the growth in TAD revenue – would generate an additional $50 million in funding to create deeper and longer-term housing affordability around the BeltLine and $7 million in small business support.

These additional dollars would help exceed the original plan’s goal of creating 5,600 additional units of affordable housing along the Beltline.

In addition to ABI’s commitment to meeting the project’s 5,600 unit goal, the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership (ABP) recently launched the Legacy Resident Retention Program – a $12.5 million philanthropically-funded initiative to alleviate the burden of increasing property taxes for legacy homeowners. 

The residency retention program is planned to complement existing home empowerment workshops that connect BeltLine residents with resources to stay in their homes.

“Atlanta’s philanthropic leaders have made early and ongoing investments in the BeltLine and want to see its benefits brought to all the communities it will connect,” said ABP Executive Director Rob Brawner. “Our continued fundraising success is dependent upon those who benefit most financially from the Atlanta BeltLine’s completion making a meaningful contribution as well.”

(Photo: Atlanta Beltline Inc.)

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