Monday, June 28, 2010

This train is leaving the station

I have not been posting lately for a few reasons.  I graduated, so some of the time I've been taking it easy.  Another factor is that since I am not in school, I am frankly less driven to write.  Part of my writing here is a result of the intellectual stimulation of graduate school, as well as a bit of a stress release.

The other big reason that I have not been writing is that I have spent a decent amount of time looking for a job.  Now, I've found a job that I think is a pretty good fit.  The position is at a real estate/development consulting firm, doing primarily New Market Tax Credit work.  I'll be doing financial and market analysis, some asset management/project compliance stuff, funding applications, etc.  I'm very excited about the folks I'll be working with - they all seem quite intelligent, hard working, and amenable.

The only catch is that the job is in Chicago.  As readers of this little blog, you are probably quite aware how much I love Atlanta.  It would take a very good opportunity for me to leave - and I think this job is a great opportunity. So I'm moving.  I'll be in Chicago looking for a place to live next week, and moving the week after that.

Terminal Station retrospective and reminiscing after the jump:

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Paddling week recap

I am back in Atlanta, getting ready for the US-England World Cup game.  Overall, the trip was great.  Shook off the rust, got a lot of time in the boat, disconnected from things a little bit.

Kayaking is very spiritual for me - I had forgotten what a great metaphor the river is for how to live one's life.  I'll spare you the philosophical musings, but suffice to say that kayaking is an important part of my mental and spiritual health.  I felt good to get back in the water again.

Day five on the river was very good.  I had a few combat rolls, no wet exits, surfed a little bit, and just overall felt much more comfortable on basic maneuvers.

I also wanted to go ahead and post this photo before I left town again.  It is a picture from a 1990 parade in Downtown as part of the 1990 International Raft Rally/ Project RAFT event.  The event was apparently organized by Russian and American rafters to promote peace between the nations.   There was a raft event at the Nantahala Outdoor Center, and a parade in Atlanta.  I love that you can see the construction of the 191 tower in the back.  Sorry for the picture quality - I had to take a picture of the framed picture.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Day four on the river: Section III

So we spent today running part of the Chatooga. As much as I hate to admit it, I am basically a beginner again. Some stuff has come back to me, but for the most part I am very sloppy on the river. No spills or anything since the first day, but more narrow recoveries than I'd prefer.

Still, a good vacation so far. I'll be back in Atlanta tomorrow night and am having a few folks over for the World Cup game. Then I'm flying out Sunday morning for a few days in Chicago.  After that maybe I'll have a chance to research that NOC parade picture and get to a few other things, like the MARTA project.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Beginning to feel it

Today was an improvement on yesterday. I'm shaking off the rust a bit and remembering how the river feels. 

One great thing about paddling is that it really puts everything into perspective and forces you to focus on being in the moment. It is very hard to worry about the job market when you are trying not to drown.

The pic above is the Nantahala around sunset. The main restaurant here has a picture of a parade down Peachtree street from 1990 that I'm going to have to research. You can see 191 being built in the background. I snapped a pic and will post later.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Day one on the river

The first day on the river is done. I am beat up a bit, but had a blast. The day's data: three or four nice rolls on the lake in the morning, one combat roll on the river in the afternoon, and two swims in the cold, cold, Nantahala. After two years out of the boat, I am rusty.

It felt great though, and I have high hopes for tomorrow.  Hopefully the bloody shin above is the extent of my injuries. 

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Graduation present

I am spending the next week at the Nantahala Outdoor Center for a week of kayak instruction. This is my graduation present to myself.

I do not have direct internet access, but my phone is working and I can send emails with it.  Hopefully I will have some pictures from each day and Terminal Station may turn into a travel blog for a week. Hey, it's not like I've been writing about real estate anyway, right? 

Above you can see the lovely cabin I'm staying in. It smell like wet dog inside. La Novia asked me if this was summer camp for adults - it probably is, down to the smells.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Downtown scenes

I love this piece of the Federal Court of Appeals in Downtown. It always makes me think of foggy London streets or some such romantic thing.

I took La Novia on a brief walking tour of Downtown this evening, something I never seem to tire of. Unlike many of my friends, she is willing to tolerate my constant history ramblings.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Test mobile phone post

I'm testing out my new Google Nexus One - a graduation gift from El Hermano and La Novia.  I'm watching the Braves play, and they have finally started to play like I thought they would at the beginning of the year. Troy Glaus has really started to come around and Jason Heyward is as advertised. 

I didn't expect much from Melky, so I haven't been very disappointed.  I'm not as concerned about Yunel as some folks - injuries take a while to come back.  from in baseball and he is 3 for 3 today as I write this.

Hopefully I'll get back into writing again. I stopped around finals, and just got lazy about it. I'll try and have some posts up his week before I go on vacation next week.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Peachtree-Pine foreclosed, finally

It appears that the Peachtree and Pine shelter has finally gone through foreclosure.  I think this is really just the end of round 1 - the shelter is suing the city and downtown booster organization CAP for conspiring against the shelter.  On top of that, the Task Force for the Homeless is suggesting that they aren't moving, despite having lost ownership and control of the building.  Now, the new owners haven't told the shelter they have to leave, or put a timeline of it if that is the plan, but it appears the Task Force is anticipating more conflict:

Beaty says she hasn’t yet heard from Fialkow, but would resist any effort to oust the shelter and its residents — which she says averages 700 men a night — from the building.
“We’re here and we’re going to be here,” she says. “These men have nowhere else to go.”
That is a threat, right?  Is the Task Force hoping that the new owners will try to force them to leave, and we'll all have to watch the performance theater of police officers kicking homeless people out of the shelter?  Is there another way to interpret this statement?

I'd feel a lot more sympathy for the Task Force if they, like, paid their bills.  I understand that the city and the federal government stopped funding the Task Force a few years ago.  It is their prerogative not to fund the organization.  I suggest you read this 2008 Creative Loafing article that helps put the situation in some perspective.  The Task Force has not evolved over the years, and has slowly alienated everyone that should be on their side.  

Also, the article notes that the Task Force got the Peachtree-Pine building as a donation originally - when did they take out a mortgage on it, and how exactly did they intend to pay that mortgage down?  How else did they see this ending?

Selling Underground a great idea in theory

Stephanie Ramage reports that the idea of selling Underground Atlanta was floated at the city's budget hearings. Councilwoman Yolanda Adrean suggested it, which prompted an interesting reaction from Councilman Ivory Young:
Councilman Ivory Lee Young Jr. expressed concern about what would be at the site if Underground wasn’t there. He said he was puzzled as to why so many people—Georgia State students, state employees, tourists—go through near by Five Points MARTA station each day, but fail to leave spend any money at Undergound, which has lost money for years.
Really?  How can this confuse you?  Presumably Councilman Young has been to Five Points recently, but every time I've been one of those 'many people' going through Five Points, it has been for the sole purpose of, well, going through Five Points.  When you are commuting you don't just decide to stop and see Underground - you are trying to get to work on time, etc.  It also isn't like Underground catches your eye from Five Points, either, assuming you even leave the station.  The number of commuters at Five Points doesn't really translate into traffic counts like on a main arterial road.  As one of the many GSU students who works a block from Five Points many days, I rarely cross the street even to Five Points Plaza, much less Underground.  Why would I?  There is nothing there to do.  It fails as a destination in its own right.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Viewing city government as a services firm

Via Marginal Revolution comes this interesting news item on improving municipal customer service:

Potholes, stray garbage, broken street lamps? Citizens of Eindhoven can now report local issues by iPhone, using the BuitenBeter app that was launched today. After spotting something that needs to be fixed, residents can use the app to take a picture, select an appropriate category and send their complaint directly through to the city council. A combination of GPS and maps lets users pinpoint the exact location of the problem, providing city workers with all the information they need to identify and resolve the problem.
...Developed by mobile solutions provider Yucat, the BuitenBeter app will soon be available for Android and Windows Mobile phones, too. Eindhoven has signed on for a twelve-month trial, and Yucat hopes to roll out the system to other cities in the near future.
San Francisco has allowed folks to send in complaints via Twitter for almost a year now.  Looks like they are still active.  

This seems like the sort of thing that Kwanza Hall would get on board with.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

New urbanism and public health

I'm quite positive that Decatur Metro gets more traffic than I do and doesn't need the help, but you should all check out the recent post by Andisheh (subbing) about public health, new urbanism, and Decatur.  The funny thing about the post is that I was reading it in my RSS reader, and thought I was reading Creative Loafing until I clicked over to DM.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Transportation funding: I continue to see the glass as half empty

So the legislature finally passed a transportation funding bill.  You can get the details here, here, or here.  A map of the various regions is here (PDF).  Overall, I'm just glad that something passed, and I'm glad all the money stays in the region instead of going to build a highway to some rural politician's alpaca farm or something.

While probably not the most important aspect of the bill, the fact that MARTA got a three year reprieve on its 50% sales tax/capex spending limit is important.  Unless there is some reason that MARTA cannot use its reserves (or I am blatantly misreading their financial documents), the system should be able to fund services for the next year.  MARTA has enough weird rules and legislative stipulations that it is very possible there is some reason its reserves can't be dipped into, but I haven't heard of any reason why not.  MARTA still has a long way to go before it is out of the woods, but this is good news.

I also want to make the point that a regional 1% sales tax is really only enough for metro Atlanta to just keep up.  We are so far behind many of our competitors that this bill only brings us up to par.

Consider also that the sales tax only lasts for 10 year before it has to be renewed - will this qualify us for  dedicated funding for federal transit grants?  Forget transit grants - could a region feel confident in establishing a transit service if funding has to go for a vote ever 10 years, not to mention pass a regional political gauntlet to make it on the list?  How many transit projects will we get passed when our region include Cobb, Gwinnett, Cherokee, and Rockdale?  We might be surprised, of course.

One big plus is that 15% of the sales tax will go to local governments instead of regional projects (this is actually more for non-metro Atlanta regions).  For a bill that is supposed to generate $750 to $790 million a year in the Atlanta region alone, thats no chump change - $112.5 to $118.5 million.  If Atlanta gets 1/10 of that, it'd be $11-12 million/year - on top of whatever Atlanta-related projects the region elects to perform.

As long as this thing doesn't end up funding a zombie underground toll road, I'll be pleased.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The environmental cost/benefit of green building

I've said before that I'm not really an environmentalist.  I don't really go out of my way to be very 'green'.  I care a lot about 'sustainable' development, but in my mind that embodies a lot more than just environmentalism and energy consumption.  Still, I know that a lot of my readers care a lot about green buildings and so I thought I'd pass along this little video about green home building:

h/t: Andrew Sullivan

Saturday, April 17, 2010

More MARTA funding b.s. ... I am Jack's complete lack of surprise

I missed this a few days ago, but check out this exchange from House Speaker David Ralston being interviewed by Denis O'Hayer:

Ralston: I’m not sure MARTA has ever had very much support from the state. It was never designed to be state-supported. It’s an important part of a large transportation infrastructure in Georgia. But I think before we have any kind of serious discussion about how we right the ship, we need to find out how we got into the storm.
O’Hayer: Is there time for that?
Ralston: Probably not this session. I mean, that’s going to have to be an extended discussion looking at all the things I’ve mentioned. And I think that would be a discussion that would take a lot of time. More than 40 days.
More time?  You mean more than the two years we've been talking about a regional transportation funding mechanism?  More than the year and a half it has been since MARTA almost went broke and had to be bailed out by the ARC and the stimulus?  

How can you not know??  Surely at least you have an opinion.  Jill Chambers has an opinion.  It is one I don't share, but she has an opinion.  I have an opinion, as a lay-person and not as someone charged with setting public policy for the state, like Ralston.  I believe that MARTA is funded primarily by a sales tax, and so during a major recession it is TO BE EXPECTED that funding would decline.

This is freaking ridiculous.  At this point, it should not take any time to diagnose what is wrong with MARTA, at least if you aren't a state leader.  Someone, anyone, in a position to make things happen, tell me what MARTA needs to do in order to please the GOP enough to get some help.  A list of 10 things.  

Hopefully I'll be able to take a look at MARTA's financials when I am finally done with this semester, so maybe I can help Mr. Ralston out.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Are large development projects set up to fail?

I was reading this article about the Allen Plaza development, and I wondered if projects like Allen Plaza or Atlantic Station can EVER truly succeed.  Now, I think both of these projects have succeeded in many ways, but they are both roughly half-built.  For all the early success of Atlantic Station, the Atlantic condos are sitting empty and there are a lot of unbuilt development pads along 17th Street.  Barry did great with the Southern Company building and the Ernst and Young building.  The W almost went into foreclosure, though, and Barry is barely hanging on to the land for the rest of the project.

These are two projects that started off very hot at the right time - Barry was leasing up the office space in 2004 and 2005, and the Atlantic Station offices started opening in 2004.  Now, who knows when they'll get finished.  Despite how hot things were, there is only so much that you can build and absorb before things begin to cool down.

Frankly, I wonder if you could have EVER expected these not to falter.  The development cycle is simply too short to build as much space as folks were planning.

I actually do agree with Barry that long-term, the pictures still looks good for Allen Plaza.  I admit that I am biased, because I want to see Downtown succeed.  I think one lesson here is that if you want to do something of this magnitude, you have to plan for the long-term and riding out at least one downturn.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

What do you do about Turner Field?

James and I were discussing this on our way to opening day.  Everyone who goes to a Braves game says, "man, there could be so much more here."  And there could be:
There's about 20,000 square feet of retail space within one half-mile of Atlanta's Turner Field, according to researchers from Georgia Tech. By comparison, Tech researchers found an average of 1.5 million square feet of retail space within the same distance of recently built baseball stadiums in Cincinnati, Denver, Pittsburgh, San Diego, St. Louis and Washington, D.C.
The comparison is pretty stark.  There is simply nothing around the stadium.  Part of this has to be the fact that 47 acres is owned by the Atlanta Fulton Recreation Authority, which has built ridiculous stuff like the Fanplex - which has been closed since 2004.  Hey, it costs the city 35,000 a year to hold on to the property, but they aren't selling.

I have no idea if anyone has tried to buy land from the city before.  As far as I know, there is no history of folks with big ideas for this area.  For one thing, it has always been pretty rough - Summerhill rioted in 1966, in part because the area felt neglected by the city.  The stadium was built in the area in the first place to try and revitalize it.  That worked out well...

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Happiness is a short commute

Via Matt Yglesias, I note this piece from a recent David Brooks column.
If the relationship between money and well-being is complicated, the correspondence between personal relationships and happiness is not. The daily activities most associated with happiness are sex, socializing after work and having dinner with others. The daily activity most injurious to happiness is commuting. According to one study, joining a group that meets even just once a month produces the same happiness gain as doubling your income. According to another, being married produces a psychic gain equivalent to more than $100,000 a year.
One reason I fell in love with real estate was that I quickly realized that it tied together so many other disciplines.  I was first exposed to these ideas as a 20-year old History undergrad, when I took a class called History of Suburbia.  We talked about how living in far-flung developments and driving an hour to work every day inevitably leads to isolation.  We talked about the costs of commuting and the effect on our physical health.  We talked about the effect on youth, and how being chaperoned around for 16 years inevitably stunts development.  Big surprise that everyone goes off to college and goes nuts - it's the first time in their life they've ever had any autonomy.  We talked about the decline of communities, and the loss of public life.  We also talked about red-lining and the racial history of suburbia.

The connection between our social, psychological lives and the physical way we live simply made sense to me.  So I'm not surprised to see some quantitative analysis on how much we value the interactions that in-town living makes much easier.  The fact that commuting is negatively correlated with happiness doesn't surprise me - not only does the actual commute suck, but it prohibits all manner of other meaningful activities.  It is a lot harder to find time to socialize after work or have dinner with friends when you spend two or three hours a day commuting.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

So you're telling me there's a chance

In further sports blogging, Michigan and Notre Dame will take a two-year hiatus from their football rivalry in 2018 and 2019.  Perhaps the long-rumored Michigan-UGA game can finally take place.  Michigan beat writer Angelique Chengelis has her own list up.  Her preferred teams:

  1. LSU
  2. Tennessee
  3. Florida
  4. Texas
  5. Oklahoma
  6. Nebraska
  7. Virginia Tech
On a purely selfish note, I would love to see UGA and Michigan play.  For starters, the two tradition and stadiums at the two universities should make any true football fan salivate - who wouldn't love to see Michigan between the hedges, or UGA in the Big House?  Mostly though, I'd get to see Michigan play without having to go to Ann Arbor.  Hopefully by then Michigan will be back in business and we'll put a hurtin' on the Dawgs.  

Friday, March 26, 2010

At least I can do some sports blogging....

I don't mention the alma mater too much - mostly in passing.  I'm a big sports fan, but there hasn't been much to crow about lately.  The Wall Street Journal even has an article about just how crummy it has been as a Michigan fan lately:

Let's not even bother trying to sugarcoat this. The University of Michigan's recent performance in sports has been as pathetic as any in the school's history.
The football team tanked, the basketball team collapsed and NCAA investigators turned their focus on Ann Arbor.
The school's typically brilliant hockey team was hardly a beacon of light in the darkness. It had such a lousy regular season that it was on the verge of missing the NCAA tournament for the first time in 20 years.
Yup, that's about right.  However, the hockey team managed to win the conference tournament and get an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.  What does the WSJ have to say about that?
And with two more wins, the Wolverines would reach the tournament's Frozen Four, which is being held this year in nearby Detroit. It's not the Final Four or the Rose Bowl, for sure, but for a suffering sports school, it would be something.
And who knows? If they win, they might be able to transform Michigan into a hockey school, if only until football season rolls around in September.
Wait a sec.  That's just not right.  (What is a blog for if not the kvetch?)  In my experience, Michigan was ALWAYS a hockey school.  Partly this was because in my tenure the basketball team was atrocious (smack in the middle of a 10-year NCAA tourney drought), but partly this is because everyone in Michigan seems to grow up playing hockey.  Especially the yoopers.  I remember Michigan hockey games being in many ways more fun than football games.  I personally never went to a basketball game in my four years up north, but I went to my share of hockey games.  As far as I'm concerned, Michigan is about as big of a hockey school as a major D-I school can be.  

My apologies

I didn't realize it had been so long since I last posted.  I've been very busy finishing up my degree and with some extra-curricular activities.  I should return to regular posting soon.  There have been a number of recent articles I've flagged to talk about, but just haven't had the time to get my brain around.

Thanks for hanging in there with me, I'll get back up to snuff eventually.  I graduate in May, which means after that I'll have more time than I want to spend blogging.  Have I mentioned I'm super excited about graduating with a degree in real estate and finance in the middle of a recession?  I'm just stoked.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Fallout of urban decline

Economix has an interesting post about what happens when cities shrink.  It dovetails nicely with the discussion we had last night in my Real Estate Finance class about the current dislocation between supply and demand nationally.  My professor mentioned the idea of simply bulldozing houses to help reduce supply.

The third, and most extreme, approach is to bulldoze buildings and turn them over to some alternative use, like parks or agriculture. Razing empty, dilapidated, hazardous structures is fairly uncontroversial, but more questions must be raised if the mayor is going to forcibly move significant amounts of people in order to physically reshape large land areas.
If the residents of largely empty areas aren’t willing to sell and move, then we are back in the same quandary that always faces large public changes in urban land use, like the construction of G.M.’s Poletown plant.  To what extent should a city put perceived citywide interests ahead of the wishes of individual property-owners?
If removing a largely vacant neighborhood really generates significant gains, then some sizable fraction of those gains can be given to the citizens who will have to give up their homes.   If generous payments, rather than eminent domain, are used to move the remaining residents, then right-sizing can be win-win.
In Atlanta, the areas that have been in decline still have people - they are just extremely poor and neglected.  Think English Avenue.  In Detroit, these areas are just empty. This is a fairly random Google Streetview image of Detroit - I went to Google Maps and zoomed in on residential neighborhood sort of near Downtown.  This is what you get:

There has been a ton written on the decline of Detroit, but I'm not sure we in Atlanta can appreciate what is going on there.  Go on Google Maps and just scroll around the satellite images - you'll see areas with half the lots just empty.  This is what happens when the economic base of a region collapses in slow motion for thirty years.  

So, as negative as I've been about the economic prospects for Atlanta - hey, at least we aren't Detroit!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

ULI boards and feedback

We have finally received the feedback for the ULI competition that I mentioned previously.  This means the main part of the competition is over and I can finally post our team's boards.  See high res version here.

You can also view the pro forma here.

Our group made it to the short list (the top 29 out of 117 submissions), and many of my financial assumptions got high marks.  Among the concerns were proposing too much new office space for a submarket with historically low levels of new office construction, as well as an over-valuation of the present land value.   My market research seemed spot-on, but I think the proposed level of office space limited the financial portion to being slightly above average.  I would have preferred more commentary, but I presume that our proposed uses of public funds, equity sources, etc., were all realistic or they would have had a problem with them.

The design scorecard was decent, as well - apparently many of the judges were skewed to 1's and 2's for what was considered average, but not terribly interesting, work.  So our 3's and 4 were better than they look.  The judges seemed to like many of our big-picture decisions such as relocating the city's proposed new central library.  We also were painstaking about our parking plans, which paid dividends.

I should also congratulate the other local team, composed of Tech planners/designers and Emory b-school students, that got an honorable mention for "demonstrating excellent sensitivity to current market conditions."

While obviously we would have liked to have done better, landing in the top 25% isn't embarrassing, either.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Entrepreneurial cities

Sorry for the lack of posting... real life has been very busy.  I've been meaning to post something about City Hall East getting a new buyer, but can't seem to find the words.  Jamestown has been involved with the White Provisions project, among the other major projects mentioned in the AJC.  Hopefully they'll be able to get something done with the building.  I'm not sure what else there is to say about the decline of Emory Morsberger's dream, other than I'm a bit surprised it took this long.

In other news, I'm much more interested in this post on CEOs for Cities and the accompanying PDF about entrepreneurial cities.  The policy brief is from the same Edward Glaeser I linked in my last post, and makes some interesting points:

(1) Investing too much in attracting large, mature firms may not be good policy.
(2) There is little reason to have much faith in the ability of local governments to play venture capitalist. The best role for government is simply to encourage competition among local banks and financiers.
(3) There is much to be said for the strategy of focusing on the quality of life policies that can attract smart, entrepreneurial people.  The best economic development strategy may be to attract smart people and get out of their way.
(4) Good universities have faculty members who are involved in local start-ups and train students who may become entrepreneurs and the employees of entrepreneurs.  Imposing costs that restrict the growth of such institutions can be cost
My opinion generally is that cities and metro regions should focus on providing quality core services.  I'm not ideologically opposed to government doing other things, but the fundamental job of city government is to keep people safe and to ensure that the city's physical infrastructure meets its population's needs.  I would include education in the "infrastructure" category along with the traditional sewers, water supply, streets, etc.

So I'm basically reiterating my skepticism of pursuing tourist attractions and big businesses.  Atlanta is already good at attracting young, educated folks.  If we can focus on quality of life, basic services, and education.  Create real communities that can attract and encourage entrepreneurs.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

How will Atlanta recover?

Via Rusty comes a NYT blog post about Atlanta and the potential for future growth.  I've written before about the stagnant state of our economy, and complained about the lack of vision from our political and business leaders.  What does Harvard economist Edward Glaesar have to say?

Yet there are three key reasons to think that Atlanta will weather this storm and continue to thrive.
First, Atlanta benefits from the fact that it is the dominant agglomeration in the region. The continuing vitality of large cities is a remarkable feature of our age and Atlanta benefits from that fact.
Atlanta also benefits from its business-friendly politics, which will continue to attract plenty of companies.
Finally, Atlanta also benefits from being highly skilled — something that outsiders too often forget.
Nearly 43 percent of adults in the city of Atlanta have college degrees, as opposed to 27 percent in the nation as a whole, and 41 percent in Boston. The figure is even higher in surrounding Fulton County.
Skills have long led to urban success, especially when mixed with large urban size.
Smart money never bets against the ability of a huge concentration of smart people to weather an economic storm. Don’t count Atlanta out.
Fairly encouraging, I'd say.  It also relates to some stuff I've read recently about the relationship between an area's college population and economic prosperity.
Nearly 60% of a city's success, as measured by per capita income, is explained by the percentage of college graduates in a city's population. An increase in college attainment rates by one percentage point in the largest 51 metro areas yields $124 billion in additional personal income each year for the nation. 

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Scary ole Downtown

This is pretty much a residential property's worst nightmare - a resident gets shot on the property, followed by the media talking about how scary and dangerous the place is.  A lot of the quotes in the article are actually very positive about the property, which is the Pencil Factory Lofts just east of GSU on Decatur St. Residents call it "fairly quiet," say they never felt unsafe before, and that the incident is shocking.  Still, one guy has to pull the "hey, this is downtown" card, which is annoying, like you just sign up for this stuff, y'know?

My problem is that the article indicates the victim was a GSU student who was apparently shot by someone he knew.  The police think it might have involved selling drugs.  It isn't like this is some random drive by in the sketchy part of town, and "you better watch out, because you never know what could happen in this scary part of town."  The lesson is more, "don't hang out with drug dealers."

Maybe the AJC can focus less on what a scary place Downtown can be, and more on wtf a GSU student is doing selling drugs and hanging out with dudes that want to shoot him?  I'm not naive - this stuff goes on all the time at every college campus in the nation.  It went on at Michigan, and I'm sure it goes on at UGA.  I don't remember anyone getting shot, but there were plenty of drugs in Ann Arbor and plenty of drug dealers who were crazy enough to carry guns around.  But if the media is going to cover the story, maybe that's a better angle?

I suspect that GSU's location in a major metropolitan area (rather than simply in scary ole Downtown) means the professionalism of campus drug dealers is higher than at Michigan or UGA, and so guys with guns are more likely.  Either way, I'm not sure the emphasis on the perceived danger of the location is fair.

Handel surpsingly sane on zombie toll road

I don't really care about the Northern Arc.  I personally don't care about traffic on 316, or in Sandy Springs, or any of that other stuff.  What I do care about is the economic viability of the metro Atlanta region, because it affects the economic viability of Atlanta itself.  So unfortunately this means I probably should pay more attention or give two figs about suburban traffic issues. 

In my dream world, the city itself would have the resources to build a world class transit system within the city limits, clean up many parts of the city, and attract business Downtown on its own.  That ain't gonna happen, so the best thing to hope for is some sort of regional transit solution and some refocusing on economic development for the region to try and catch up once the recession ends. 

All of that is a long way to introduce this article about Karen Handel doing some posturing about the Northern Arc and some GDOT proposals for new highways up that way.  It strikes me all as a bunch of B.S. campaign rhetoric, but one piece did catch my eye:
Handel said “we need to look at” some sort of connection between I-75 and I-85.  As to another possible major toll project under debate, a north-south tunnel through east Atlanta linking Ga. 400 to the southern Perimeter, Handel said, “It’s absurd.”
At least one GOP candidate isn't completely insane.  If I were handicapping the 2010 Governor's race, I'd have to give Handel pretty good odds. 
  • She's politically savvy, and I can't think that she's ever lost a race she's been involved with (Perdue 2002, Fulton County Commission, Secretary of State).  
  • She somehow navigated the insanity of the Fulton County Commission and came out looking relatively mature - no small feat!  
  • She's managed to avoid all the mess at the Capitol, and has a much higher profile than someone like Eric Johnson who has been down there in the muck for years.  
  • She doesn't have the ethical issues that Nathan Deal has.   
  • Finally, she has an advantage over the Ox simply because she isn't a raving moron.  
FWIW, this was my early take on the Atlanta mayor's race (about a year and a half out):
My thoughts on the race at present, subject to change: right now I think Lisa Borders has the inside position, and Kasim Reed will have the best machine. Mary Norwood could do surprisingly well - she is particularly attentive to the white middle class in-town demographic. If white females go for Norwood instead of Borders, Kasim wins.
A lot changed between then and the election, but I think I was in the ball park.  So in that vein, my fearless take on the Gubernatorial election:
  • Handel is the GOP nominee.  Eric Johnson does very well, but not well enough.  Deal and Ox falter at the end.  Handel beats one of those three in a runoff. 
  • DuBose tanks.  Barnes gets the Dem nomination, but Baker might make a strong run for it.
  • Barnes can't beat Handel - there simply isn't enough juice left in the old Democratic brand he represents.  Dems are totally depressed about everything right now, turnout will suck.  Handel wins 55-45. 

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Peachtree-Pine still alive

Last month I wondered if the Peachtree and Pine shelter would manage to avoid foreclosure once again.
The shelter has been on the brink so many times in the past though, it is hard to believe they won't have some way to pull this out of the fire.
To no one's surprise, the foreclosure has been delayed.  Among the items I find I found interesting from Maria Saporta's article:

“We have an existing offer on the property for $4.2 million,” Hall said. “We have paid down principal and we’re current on all the interest that’s due.”
I'm skeptical about that, of course, but the $4.2 million is about half the $10.5 million they were asking for originally.  At the time (a year ago), I noted that the $10.5 million seemed to indicate the shelter was serious about selling the building - although I said I wasn't sure if the price was "good," I thought it indicated a real intention to sell.  

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Finance and Football

It has been a busy week - I've started another student competition, and I've had some mid-terms.  Blogging has suffered.

I'll have to make do with a link to an interesting post from Smart Football about the financial elements of sports teams.    The post deals with leveraged buyouts and how its relation to sports teams.  I'm not sure how many of my readers share my love of sports and finance, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading about both at once.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The gang that couldn't shoot straight

Can we do anything right?  Atlanta has lost out on federal stimulus funding for the Peachtree streetcar line. This despite Kasim Reed going to Washington to personally lobby for funds.  Oh, not to mention our massively influential senior Congressman who was surely doing everything in his power to further the cause of alternative transportation.  Right?  He must have helped out, right?

I mean, this is the guy who said of commuter rail funding, "I have done my part and will continue to bring federal money home to the people of Atlanta."  That guy surely did everything possible to get the administration to fund this ready-to-go project, right?  Anyway, I'm really glad we keep sending him back to Washington to fight for the things that are important to Atlanta, since that is working out so well for us.

Requisite sad panda at right.  There really isn't a whole lot to say.  Who did get funding?  Cities who could contribute their own funds to the projects.  From regional transportation sales taxes.
A transportation official in Atlanta noted that one of the likely winners that leaked out early, Tucson, Ariz., was paying more local money for its project's capital costs than Atlanta. Where Atlanta's application would put no local money toward the streetcar's construction, Tucson planned to pay a large portion of the building costs of its streetcar project itself, from a half-cent regional transportation tax.
Last weekend I ran into an old friend who lobbies the state for transportation and infrastructure issues - he told me I was to young to feel like it was too late for Atlanta to catch up with other metro areas when it comes to infrastructure and transportation.  I'd LOVE to feel hopeful about things, but lately it is really, really hard.

Can anybody disabuse me of this notion?

Bueller?  Bueller?

Friday, February 12, 2010

The difficult economics of urban revitalization

A week or so ago, I got an email about the banners wrapping the Medical Arts Building, where Peachtree Street crosses the interstate Downtown.  Thomas Wheatley and Maria Saporta tackled the issue, but I thought it would be more illuminative for my readers if I tackled the underlying problem.  Namely, why the heck is this building still sitting empty downtown?

So I've been playing with some spreadsheets in my spare time over the last week.  The basic question I'm trying to answer is, "What could you afford to pay for the building in order to renovate it as office space and make an acceptable profit?"  The owners have suggested this is one option they are looking at, so it is what I've focused on since it is the most straight-forward option.

The building is for sale at an asking price of $11 million - it was bought in 2004 for about $5 million.  For a starting place, consider that the already renovated and income producing Imperial Hotel nearby is valued by Fulton County presently at $5 million, and the Medical Arts Building is valued by the County at $3 million.  So we have quite a discrepancy already.

You can see the details after the jump, but I've used a residual analysis to come up with an idea for the value of the building.  Basically, you say, "It costs me X to renovate, I can sell it for Y, and I need to make Z profit.  So I can afford to pay up to the amount that my profit drops to Z."  (Feel free to download the spreadsheet and follow along.  See below for important notes.) 

  • The main findings are that a reasonable price that could be paid in order to redevelop the building for office use would be about $2 million.  A reasonable top-line, in my estimate, would be about $3 million with a number of favorable assumptions.
  • Under absolutely optimum (read: completely insane and impossible) conditions, you could justify paying up to $7 million dollars for building, but this assumes minimal construction costs, maximum rent levels, very low cap rates, minimal T.I. allowances, adding the building to the National Register to qualify for maximum historic tax credits... a perfect storm of events no one in their right mind would bet on, which is what you'd be doing if you paid $7 million for this building.
  • It is much easier to see a scenario where construction costs are at their highest, rent levels stay very low, tenants continue to demand high T.I. allowances, it takes forever to lease things up, and cap rates move up.  In that case, you wouldn't pay anything at all for the building because you'd never actually develop it.  In case you were interested, this is basically where the market is now, although I think construction costs might have come down a bit from a few years ago.  It isn't that the building is worth nothing, it is just that you can't do anything with it given present conditions.  
The point of the analysis is to make this basic point - many, many property owners in Atlanta have completely unrealistic conceptions about what their property is worth.  This fact makes is very, very difficult for areas like Downtown to have the type of turn-around we all want to see.  Here, you have owners asking $11 million for a building, and the absolute maximum amount possibly justified that someone could pay for the building is $4 million less than that.

Now, it is possible that you can do some other analyses with a different use than commercial office space - you could run a boutique hotel scenario, or convert it to condos, etc.  Perhaps a different scenario would be more profitable and push the value of the building higher, but I don't see any reasonable way you could justify paying more than about $4 million for that building, and even then I'd suggest you overpaid.  It is probably worth analyzing the value of the property if you just tore the building down, as sad as that would be.  [Ed. update: Some back-of-the-envelope calculations suggests that tearing it down would be more profitable.  Assuming it costs around $900,000 to demolish it and the associated parking decks, you'd only have to get about $100/sf to exceed the $3 million mark.]

Realistically, the owners of this building overpaid when they bought it six years ago.  They haven't done anything with it since then.  Somehow they have held on to the property and not given it up in foreclosure, despite the fact that it doesn't produce any income [correction: it does produce some income in parking and with these billboards].  If they can keep holding on, I would be very surprised if anything happened to the Medical Arts Building any time soon.

If you want to see this building redeveloped any time soon, you are hoping it goes into foreclosure and a bank sells it for a realistic value to get it off their books.

If that wasn't a long enough post, you can see the details of my analysis after the jump.  Be warned: full-on geek mode follows.  I'm not sure how much will make sense if you don't know some level of real estate finance.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Thanks for nothing, Sonny

So MARTA met with Governor Perdue recently, and the word on the street is that Perdue is receptive to helping MARTA out with its finances.

Sometime next week, Perdue is expected to release the details of his first stab at a statewide plan to increase transportation funding. We’re told that the governor will recommend that MARTA be allowed to use a greater share of the Fulton-DeKalb sales tax to prop up its operations.
Perhaps as much as 60 percent, word around the Capitol says — with a sunset clause and other restrictions. 
Based on 2009 sales tax collections of $327 million, the new leeway would permit MARTA to shift an extra $33 million toward payroll and other expenses.
Not enough to close what the transit agency says is a $120 million gap this year. But it’s something.
Are you kidding me?!  Wow, how very generous!  Apparently MARTA is going to get held hostage in regional transportation funding talks, as well.  If Fulton and Dekalb legislators balk about adding an extra penny tax for regional transit funding, well, no help for MARTA. 

First, I think Fulton and Dekalb legislators would be stupid if they opposed the regional sales tax.  Yes, we already pay an extra penny that other counties don't because of MARTA - but sinking the regional transportation funding because of this would be cutting off our nose to spit our face.  

(In make-believe world, I'd love to see MARTA get wrapped into a regional transit system that gets funding from all the metro counties and/or the state.  I have no illusion that will happen, of course.)

So let me get this right..... the best we can get out of the state is letting MARTA use an extra 10% of the sales tax revenue, which will cover all of a 27.5% of the budget deficit.  We could cover the entire budget deficit if they let us use about 87% of the sales tax, instead of the current 50%.  Thats great.  So MARTA is still screwed.  I really don't see how this helps, and its fairly insulting to think that this is what it means when the Governor and the Legislature decide to "make nice" with MARTA.  

With friends like these, right?

UPDATE: Political Insider's latest suggests that Perdue's MARTA plan may be to simply lift the 50/50 capex limit.  It is a bit unclear, but they've posted a document outlining Perdue's "Transportation Resource Legislation" that simply calls for lifting the cap for three years.  I'd still rather not see MARTA funding get tied up with something as messy as the regional transportation sales tax, but it is better than nothing.  Hopefully state legislators (ahem, Jill Chambers) aren't feeling vindictive or petty, and the 50/50 cap is simply suspended instead of adjusted as first reported.  So credit is due to Sonny Perdue if I'm reading the document correctly.  

BeltLine picks lead design team

The BeltLine has picked a great lead design team.  Perkins + Will has some fantastic folks, and James Corner Field Operations was in charge of NYC's High Line (right), a model urban adaptive reuse parkspace.  I know a few folks over at P+W, both personally and by reputation, and I hear nothing but great things.

Most importantly, for those of us frustrated with the pace of the project:
Project officials say the firms’ work will help make the endeavor more competitive for federal funding — which many say is vital should the Beltline become a reality much sooner than 2032, as Reed has said he’d like to see.
Fan-fucking-tastic.  Now if we can only speed up the transit component...

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Is it worth keeping the Falcons Downtown?

My knee-jerk reaction to articles about building a new Falcons stadium Downtown are that, heck yeah, the Atlanta Falcons should be in Atlanta, for crying out loud.  How would the Doraville Falcons sound?  Maybe we can call it the Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta MSA Falcons?

Then I remember that there is a reason I'm a finance major.  Making decisions like whether to spend gobs of public money on a new stadium should be made on stronger rationale than civic pride.  Rather, there are tools we can use to make rational decision.  One is calculating the net present value of the investment.  I found a frustratingly opaque report on the new Yankees Stadium, suggesting the stadium has a positive NPV.  One must assume the cost of bond financing is the discount rate?

There is also a ton of work out there suggesting that stadiums aren't really worth the investment, but in my brief research yesterday I couldn't find anything with actual analysis.  Sure, these stadiums cost a lot, but if they generate comparably large returns to the city, they can be worth it.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Is Peachtree-Pine foreclosure for real this time?

The original loan for the Peachtree and Pine shelter has been sold to Ichthus Community Trust, who has issued a notice of foreclosure.  The shelter has a month to pay off the $500,000 loan.  The shelter has been on the brink so many times in the past though, it is hard to believe they won't have some way to pull this out of the fire.

Playing the blame game with GA rail woes

I'm now done with the ULI competition, but have been hit with some sort of sinus infections/cold.  I'm fairly useless right now to be honest.  I woke up around 8, ate some breakfast, and fell back asleep until 1.

I flagged some articles that came out during the competition, and so right now I'm getting a chance to address them.  First up is the dust-up between John Lewis and Sonny Perdue.  John Lewis said the reason Georgia didn't get any rail money is because of failure from the state leadership, i.e. Perdue.  Perdue responded by saying, basically, "hey, you guys sure got a lot done with all your seniority and influence.  way to go guys.  I'm totally committed to rail, btw."  Lewis responded by basically saying, "yo, I've brought home the bacon plenty, stfu."

“I have said for years that Georgia needs a comprehensive, regional transportation plan to solve our problems. That is not the responsibility of any federal authority, but it rests squarely on the shoulders of the governor.... 
“I have done my part and will continue to bring federal money home to the people of Atlanta. Now it is time for other responsible officials to do theirs.”
So.  Who to blame?

Monday, February 1, 2010

ULI Madness, 2010 version

So we have shipped our submission for the 2010 ULI Urban Design Competition.  The architecture, landscape architecture, and urban design folks have pulled an all-nighter.  We've tweaked and fixed and gone over everything a million times, and finally had to just stop and mail the damn thing.  Like last year, I had the opportunity to work with some fantastic folks at Georgia Tech and I had a great time on the project.  The team this year was Luke Wilkinson, Claire Thompson, Louis Johnson, Jason Combs, and myself.

Last year I just posted the pretty pictures from the submission, but this year I'm putting up the entire submission and my pro forma summary board.  This year's site was in the East Village in San Diego.  You can see photos of the site here.  The challenge was to come up with a new catalyst for a distressed urban area given current market conditions.  The site seemed to have every active fault line in San Diego, as well.

As far as our submission goes, I'll just let the boards speak for themselves.  Click the pic below for a full-scale version of our submission.

[UPDATE:  The submissions that go to the ULI are judged blind.  While we are all very proud of the work we did, we decided it'd be best to take down the images in the rare case that someone at ULI is on the interwebs reading this little blog.  I'll put the images up later on in the year after judging is done.]

A few notes on the pro forma board - the ULI competition tries to use current market conditions, but it is very difficult to be realistic about things like rental rates, absorption rates, and constructions costs and still be able to present anything to actually develop.  It is fundamentally and Urban Design competition, not a real estate development competition.  The plans need to be relatively feasible, but the financial analysis portion is used to support the design/planning component.

Additionally, the ULI competition uses a heavily simplified pro forma that does not include most of the details and costs that I would normally include in a development pro forma.  Past winners have used what I considered unrealistic assumptions. So, the pro forma below is designed for what I refer to as "ULI world," and is not representative of types of assumptions or the level of detail I would typically go into for an analysis.

[UPDATE: Like with the design boards, the pro forma has been taken down for the time being.]

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Ho hum, more bad news for rail advocates

Via reader AM, I see that Georgia will keep falling behind when it comes to transit.  This time it is high speed commuter rail.

Georgia appears to have won as little as $750,000 from the $8 billion pool of high-speed rail grants that President Obama was scheduled to announce this week...
The money to be announced Thursday would pay for three feasibility studies, at $250,000 each...
Last fall, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told a number of states, including Georgia and Florida, that they had better get their act together on rail transit or risk losing out on the high-speed rail grants.  In a special session weeks later, Florida voted additional annual funding for one rail transit line and expedited buying track for another.
Folks, just because Atlanta is a transportation hub doesn't mean that we automatically qualify for stuff.  We simply aren't doing the hard work required to move the state forwards.  This shouldn't surprise anyone - certain I'm not surprised.  

Monday, January 25, 2010

Requisit streetcar linkage

Related to streetcars, Maria Saporta has an article up that takes the Siemens event and uses it as a jumping off point to slam Atlanta's inaction on transit.  I personally am exhausted thinking about all that stuff, and I'm amazed she has the fortitude to keep on following this stuff and writing about it.  If we ever get a viable transportation system in this city, Maria Saporta will be a huge reason why. 

All things streetcar

I know posting has been light.  I'm busy playing with spreadsheets and what have you for the ULI project.  I did manage to squeeze in an interview last Friday for the Metblog, though.  Some folks at Siemens were having an event Downtown promoting a streetcar they were shipping from California to Charlotte, and asked the Metblog folks if we wanted to do an interview. 

I jumped at the chance, since the local streetcar initiative is something I've been following for about the last six years.  I even worked on some legislation in 2004/2005 when I worked at the Capitol.  The interview was a lot of fun, and I think you guys will really enjoy it.  The first thing I asked was about the technology behind overhead lines vs. the alternatives

My favorite line was a bit later from Ken Cornelius, the CEO of Siemens One.  He was talking about all the things we use to pitch Atlanta - the climate, the universities, the culture, etc.  He wrapped it up with a case for transit: "This would be paradise if it weren't for the traffic."

Anyway, go check out the interview at the Metblog.  I broke the audio up into 2 to 3 minute sections so they are easy to digest.  You'll also get to hear yours truly saying, "uh... um," a lot.  Let's just say there is a reason I only did one semester as a college radio dj, and a reason I chose to do a blog and not a regular podcast or something.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Linkage - A is for Atlanta

Local blog A is for Atlanta has moved - check out the new digs.  Don't forget their ground-breaking work interviewing yours truly.  The new site also has lots of new content if you are looking for a home and whatnot. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

I may be detained

Posting might be sporadic this week and next - I've entered the ULI Urban Design Competition this year, which started yesterday.  I'm working with some great folks over at Georgia Tech, and hopefully we'll do well.

You can see excerpts from my entry from last year if you want.  This year's site is an area in the East Village in downtown San Diego.  The general issue at hand is what the recession and new realities about development will mean for cities - especially cities that had been using the condo/real estate boom as a revitalization plan.  So I'm sure I'll have some commentary about how this all applies to Atlanta when it is all over.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

This is getting a little ridiculous

So Perdue has finally stepped into the transportation funding issue.  I'm unimpressed: 
The governor announced $300 million in bonded spending for road and rail projects selected by the Legislature. More importantly, he endorsed a statewide referendum that would allow regions of the state to levy a 1-cent sales tax on themselves for road and rail projects...

Perdue and Republican lawmakers now want the issue on a 2012 ballot – well after the governor leaves office. Perdue said the two-year delay was necessary to allow voters time to regain a sense of economic security, and to permit transportation authorities to draw up the lists of projects for voter inspection.
Galloway at the AJC attributes the delay to the rise of local tea party activists, which is quite possible.  Any way you look at it though, it reeks of political cowardice. 

I'm not really sure what else there is to say about it.  If Perdue and the rest of the GOP fully realized how important a functional transportation system was to metro Atlanta (and thus the state's) economic future, we'd have had a solution several years ago.  So it's really not surprising that Perdue, of all people, would want to push something into the future.  God forbid he ever actually accomplish something as Governor. 

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Actual reporting from the GSU breakfast

If you wanted to know more about what Ethan Penner had to say at the GSU breakfast earlier this week, there were apparently actual reporters at the event.

 On  requiring loan originators keep some of their investment instead of selling it all off:
“If I make a 10-year loan and there is no profit upfront, I had better make a good loan,” says Penner. “And I better hang out for most of the next 10 years, so that I can get paid for doing my job well. Then you will see discipline in lending.”
On unrealistic returns for real estate:
“The desire to get a real estate return in the high teens or 20% is piggish. It’s unrealistic,” insists Penner. “For investment managers to reach that kind of yield, they have to take undue risks, mostly in the form of extraordinarily high leverage, or development with crazy pro forma numbers.”
The whole article is good, I suggest you read it if you are into that sort of stuff (economics, capital markets, devastating financial collapses).  A lot of it is stuff that was in the news more a year or two, but that doesn't make it uninteresting or mean the issue aren't still in need of attention.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Update on transportation funding

Some sort of good news from Jim Galloway this morning - statewide transportation sales tax is dead, and folks are trying to get a local funding mechanism through:

House Majority Leader Jerry Keen said that, while road and rail projects in Georgia remain in desperate need of additional and permanent funding, a statewide sales tax isn’t the answer. Nor did Keen think the measure would pass his chamber – as it did last year, when pushed by Speaker Glenn Richardson...

As an alternative, Republican lawmakers think they may be able to find a way – through statute – to permit counties (read “metro Atlanta”) to band together to create tax districts and hold separate referendums to levy taxes.
This tax district idea may not turn out to be feasible/constitutional, of course, and as I've always maintained, the devil is in the details (especially with legislation).  But at least the statewide idea is dead.  Yet another reason I'm glad Glenn Richardson is gone.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Transportation funding: Are there any adults in the room?

Check out Maria Saporta's latest on the transportation funding stuff working its way though the capitol:
We probably have only one opportunity to pass a new transportation funding tool for our region. So it is critically important that we make the right choices for our future transportation needs.

Here is the problem. A possible bill to allow the region to vote on a one-cent sales tax is in the works, but an integral element of that bill is a project list of what transportation improvements the region could fund.

And it’s the project list that worries me. Will it include the kind of transportation improvements that metro Atlanta will need for decades to come?

Given the agencies and people involved in putting together the project list, my fear is that it will include the same-old, same-old — roads and more roads with some limited transit projects thrown in.
I don't want to comment just yet on whether it is a good idea to support a bill with a list in it - the devil is in the details, and we don't yet know what will get through the legislature.  However, I can't help but feel like this is indicative of a fundamental problem with how the state and region is governed.

Depressing economic forecasting news

I went to the GSU Real Estate Alumni Group's View From the Top breakfast this morning, where Dr. Rajeev Dhawan talked about his economic forecast.  Short version: bad.  No jobs until the end of the year.  No new construction until 2012.  Zombie banks, illiquid financial markets dominated by GSE.  Requisite sad panda at right. 

Some of his other points:

Monday, January 11, 2010

Not-so-serious GIS maps!

Via Decatur Metro, check out the NY Times Netflix GIS map of Atlanta.  It is a great visual representation of Atlanta's different demographics.  You can see the the racial boundaries in the Tyler Perry maps - The Family That Preys:

as well as the ITP/OTP division in Vicky Christina Barcelona:

Surprising, to me at least, is that the Dunwoody/Sandy Springs areas seem more culturally similar to intown Atlanta than I would have expected.  Although, I do remember folks at the DPG joking about when it incorporated how Sandy Springs would have a Democratic mayor within ten years...

Required reading on Atlanta History

Go over to Pecanne Log and read the excerpts from the American Life Histories project.  Christa T routinely finds the best historical Atlanta stuff online, and this is no exception.  Required reading.  Go now.

When you are done, check out her hilarious preview of 2010.  This line might be my fave:
His jet-black hair, babyfat cheeks, and youthful energy will only make the unavoidable aging of being Atlanta’s chief executive right now that more dramatic.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Commercial fallout ramping up

In this week's Atlanta Business Chronicle, there are articles about potential foreclosure on an Allen Plaza land parcel, the Campanile building in Midtown, and a loan renegotiation effort by Dewberry for One Peachtree Pointe.  (As usual, some of the ABC's articles are un-linkable and/or need subscriptions to read).  While this sort of news was pretty much expected among the real estate community, it doesn't mean it isn't still bad news.

UPDATE: Via Atlanta Unsheltered, I also see that the Flatiron Building is for sale.  Again.  I had noticed recently that it was being offered as office condos per floor, or something like that - it had signs saying "buy this floor" or something.   It was bought under contract recently and was going to be converted into a boutique hotel.  Guess that didn't work out. 

Really, though, this post is a chance to talk about Dewberry's continued use of the phrase "Uptown" to discuss his projects on the northern side of Midtown.  Uptown was actually the name of the Midtown area at some point, although finding a reliable link for that is difficult.  I think I've seen it on an old map somewhere.

At this point, though, it seems silly to keep insisting that a few parcels you own within a submarket deserve to be redefined as a separate area of the city.  The company just keeps insisting on the using the term, though.  Sometimes I get the impression they are using it just as the name of a series of development projects in the area, but mostly I get the impression that they want to call the entire area basically between Pershing Point and 26th street the Brookwood interchange "Uptown".  Dude, get over it, you are in Midtown.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Sanity from Atlanta's leaders, but not from the state

Finally, sanity from someone in position to affect the zombie tunnel under eastside ATL:
Another Atlanta-area official, Atlanta Regional Commission Chairman Tad Leithead, said the ARC has no opinion on the project yet, and would have to study it extensively if it were to advance in the planning process. However, he added, very preliminary data show a funding gap, a possible $8 toll and not enough lanes, adding up to a project that "doesn't make any sense."
These issues, of course, don't even get into the neighborhood disruption issues. It simply doesn't make sense as a transportation project of any kind, much less one that could have a negative impact on long-established communities in intown Atlanta. 

Still, the tunnel isn't going away any time soon.  They seem determined to make this work somehow:
DOT is planning a forum to discuss the tunnel idea with tunnel company representatives in the spring. The forum is intended only for the most basic information-gathering on the project's possibilities and pitfalls, the director of DOT's toll program, Earl Mahfuz, said last month.
I should note that Kasim Reed voiced vociferous opposition to this tunnel idea, but Tad Leithead is the chairman of an organization that would to approve this damn thing so I think his statement is more newsworthy.  I'm also pretty sure he is a Republican - he's given money to Tom Price over the years, at least.  His skepticism is important in a way that Kasim Reed's is not, given his position and the political make-up of state government and the DOT. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Dogs and urban neighborhoods

Friends of mine will know that I'm very much a dog person.  I'm even a bit of an anti-cat person, and this is in no small part a result of my asthma-inducing allergy of cats.  I especially hate kittens, because I am irresistibly drawn to pet them and initiate half a days worth of wheezing and sneezing.  I am powerless over the cute, it seems.

But I digress.  I'm talking about dogs here, people, and their positive impact on cities.  This is a real estate blog, right?  I thought so.  Anyway, a number of blogs have picked up on the idea that dogs are good for cities because they equal pedestrians.  This, in turn, helps makes neighborhoods safer.  I'm supportive of this idea.

This also reminds me of a friend of mine who lives in Capitol View recently got a Great Dane/German Shepherd mix that comes up to my knees and is as tall as I am when stands on two feet. 

Sunday, January 3, 2010

You get what you measure - APD version

Stephanie Ramage has a post up dealing with the APD and her accusation of data manipulation:
    As Rafael Goyeneche, president of the New Orleans Metropolitan Crime Commission, told me in November, Pennington was besotted with COMSTAT, a crime data mapping system that he later brought to Atlanta. Basically, it’s a numbers tracker. By focusing on the numbers of crime, rather than crime itself, Pennington set a tone in the NOPD that encouraged district majors (what we call zone majors in Atlanta) to compete with each other for low crime stats. The result was cops underreporting crime. Unwittingly or not, employees in any institution tend to pick up on what matters to their boss, and they act accordingly.
I certainly think Ramage has a point about underreporting, but I don't think it may be as malicious intentional as she suggests. I want to stress 'may,' because I can't know how intentional these things are inside the APD.

In b-school, one phrase that has come up a few times is "you get what you measure."  When you make someone's performance evaluation dependent on a measurement, that measurement will likely improve.  What WON'T improve is anything else.  You are, in essence, telling them that all you care about is the measurement.  If a low reporting of crime numbers is what you want, that is what you will get - never mind if it impacts customer satisfaction, or if response times stay high, or other aspects of the job that officers aren't spending their time on.  You will get what you measure, and that is all.

This is why I've been calling for more than "more cops," but an organizational overhaul of the Police Department and an audit of their management practices.  Are the police using a  holistic scorecard, or is there too much focusing on the reported crime numbers?  I think you can still use metrics to asses performance, but lets use more than just the number of reported crimes.

My first thought at some metrics I'd love to see published every month or at least quarter, in simple CSV files so that anyone with excel can do their own analysis if they want to:
  • Reported crimes, by type, zone, beat, etc.
  • Crimes solved, and whether that person was convicted (do they even keep track of this?)
  • Number of calls responded to, location, and how many were reported as crimes (this would help measure Ramage's accusation)
  • Response times, by zone, beat, etc. 
  • Call center wait times, blackout times
  • Some sort of customer satisfaction measure - something like a quarterly poll of city residents, or some other regular
The city has some of this stuff, but they happen in irregular audits.  I'd love to see the APD set up to record this stuff regularly.

Friday, January 1, 2010

My own version of a decade retrospective

Cousins CEO Larry Gellerstedt had some interesting things to say when he spoke earlier in December at an Atlanta Commercial Board of Realtors event.  The article is in the latest ABC, which has gone to a digital edition so I can't link to it, but some excerpts:
When we look at job loss [as a factor in the commercial real estate downtown] don't delude yourself that it's purely recession-induced," ...

..."if the only thing we have is a bunch of empty space that you can get cheap, and our unemployment rate is higher than the national average, which it is... folks, that is a road to nowhere."

"We have to have a governor that embraces Atlanta and tells the legislature to get off this 'two Georgia' stuff.  It's old."

All pretty accurate, I'd say.  I think a lot of folks in the metro region still have this image of Atlanta from the 90's, and the truth is that we aren't growing employment like we were then.    We've only slightly outpaced the nation recently, and if you look at right, we have no where near the type of employment growth we did in the 1990s.  If we had continued post 2000 like we did from 1991-2000, we would be off the graph.

The simply fact is that we aren't as competitive as we used to be, and we need leaders who can get things back on track.  Our national reputation has suffered this last decade, and it isn't just your typical City of Atlanta/Bill Campbell stuff.  It is the metro region as a whole.