On Wednesday, September 23rd 2015, over a hundred individuals attended the North Fulton Opportunity Outlook, co-hosted by the Council for Quality Growth and Progress Partners. Stakeholders, developers, and leadership from state and local agencies gathered at Avalon in Alpharetta for two panel discussions on the future of transportation and economic development in North Fulton. All who attended also heard from Keynote Speaker, Russell Stall, founder of Greenville Forward.
The first panel, moderated by State Senator and Council for Quality Growth Board Member Brandon Beach, featured Keith Parker (MARTA CEO), Ann Hanlon (Executive Director at North Fulton CID), Mark Burkhalter (GDOT Board Member) and Jeff Dils (Vice President at Cousins Properties). The panelists answered questions about the role of CIDs play in the greater infrastructure picture; the structural and operational changes which MARTA has undergone in the past three years; MARTA’s impact on the number and type of proposed developments; and MARTA’s role in local and regional economic growth.
Ms. Hanlon detailed the virtuous cycle of investment which CID’s help sustain – citing the Encore Parkway Corridor as an example of how public-private partnerships are effective vehicles in improving walkability and raising property values. She shared that since its inception 12 years ago, North Fulton CID has leveraged an original investment of $18 million in landscaping and other improvements, into $90 Million for other key projects, such as the Encore Corridor plan. Mr. Parker described that today’s MARTA as a fiscally efficient machine which transfers services better done out of house to the private sector, and which demands greater accountability from its employees. He also detailed how public perception, rider safety, and last mile connectivity served as key focal points for reform – detailing the successes of the Ride with Respect Initiative and Partnership with Uber in attracting new ridership. Finally, Mr. Dils and Mr. Burkhalter explained how transit accessibility is increasingly a must-have in new developments, as employers seek to attract and retain the best talent, who tend to prefer being less car dependent and living where they work. According to Mr. Burkhalter, great cities around the world have great transit systems, but it requires great minds and strong public-private relationships to make those systems possible.
The second panel, moderated by Council for Quality Growth President and CEO Michael Paris, featured Mr. Rob Meyers (General Manager at Alcon), Mark Toro (Partner at North American Properties), Karen Thurman (Partner at Frazier and Deeter) and Pat Rains (Co-founder of Gate City Brewing). The focus of the second panel was investing and economic development. Panelists were asked to explain what that drove their decision to invest in North Fulton and what they would say to someone asking why they should invest in the area. Despite their different origins and services, all panelists said they were impressed with the special care taken by local governments made to accommodate their unique business needs; the presence of high net worth clients and talent for recruitment; and by the presence of similarly minded, forward thinking business owners who do not fear competition, but instead welcome newcomers to the fold. In the words of Mark Toro, “[The area] just sells itself.” In response to the feature they’d promote to others, the panelists responded that access to strong quality of life and lifestyle amenities such as parks and trails is definitely something which helps retain businesses.
Following the panelists, the Keynote Speaker, Mr. Russell Stall, founder of Greenville Forward told the story of the revival of Greenville, South Carolina from his point of view as a local. In 1978, Greenville was a patchwork quilt of blighted areas with little to no sense of belonging and high levels of crime. Its downtown was a desolate place, suffering from the wave of suburbanization that elevated malls as centers of community life. In recent years, however, Greenville has accumulated a slew of accolades celebrating its transformation into a quirky, young, innovative place with a strong sense of community and great restaurants. Mr. Stall acknowledged that this revitalization would have not been possible without the combination of strong leadership willing to challenge those who resisted change, effective public-private partnerships, and visionary planning. He stressed that Greenville’s continued success, and the success towns like it, rely on not resting on one’s laurels and planning for the generation which follows one’s own.
The Council for Quality Growth thanks Mr. Russell Stall and all panelists for participating in the first annual North Fulton Opportunity Outlook.
To view a highlight video of North Fulton presented at the Outlook, CLICK HERE.