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.