Thursday, July 31, 2008

Beltline bomb throwing

Thomas Wheatley's latest doesn't cover a whole lot of new ground on the Beltline - Atlanta Beltline, Inc. still owes its soul to Wayne Mason, who still eats children for breakfast, preferably with a little maple syrup on the side. Everyone not living in the northeast quadrant of the city is still pissed at ABI for this deal. [This isn't a dig at Thomas - I think he does great work.]

My take is that ABI made the deal with Mason when it expected to be getting a lot more TAD money to spend on other projects. So the criticisms of how much is getting spent in what area of the is a little unfair - its not like ABI planned it this way. I mean, they screwed up, but they didn't intentionally set out to spend most of the money on Wayne Mason.

There is another issue, though - whether the deal was a "good deal":
The larger issue, according to the Beltline advisory committee, was the Beltline's decision to purchase the entire Mason property rather than just the railroad easements. They argue that it was an unwise business decision in today's real estate market.
The AJC recently published an opinion piece arguing that the Beltline needs to control more of the development around the parks - well, this deal does just that. It gives the Beltline control of the area most ripe for development. From that angle, I think it was a good deal. I also think that the current market shouldn't dictate the conditions of the sale since we are still several years out from any development actually occurring. The numbers you are projecting are still like 5 to 10 years out. If the deal itself was a good deal before the TAD got stripped, then the numbers should still hold up internally.

Mason is still being,um, difficult, of course. Mary Norwood thinks she can win him over by "appealing to the philanthropic side". What in the entire sordid history of Mason's interactions with the city makes her think that he has the warm and fuzzies for the city? He basically refused to negotiate, and hasn't given any inclination that he'll help out so far. He has the city up against a wall and he knows it, and for a guy who does what he does because he loves closing deals, that's about as good as it gets. He's got all the leverage, so I don't expect him to budge, appeals to his better half or not.

Personally, I'm very frustrated with the Beltline. The great appeal for the Beltline originally was transit. Then it got hijacked with all these parks and stuff, which are great ideas, but also great examples of scope creep. The core of the Beltline has always been about transit and better connectivity for areas that are currently under-served by rail. We need to get the right-of-way as soon as possible, not over the next 25 years. The priority should have been on getting the transit line up and running within 5 years. In the current climate that is fantasy land stuff.

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