John Williams, prolific real estate developer and visionary passed away on Monday, April 15th at the age of 75.
Williams has left an indelible imprint on the entire Metro region that has been illustrated in many ways. In 2007, the Council honored Williams with its Four Pillar Award with the theme of “First to Commit”.
He was always the first to commit – to our community, our region and to our quality of life, with innovation, extraordinary vision and a true desire to give back. John was always the first person at the table to commit to support a worthwhile endeavor and others then followed. At the Four Pillar Tribute, U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, Arthur Blank, Governor Roy Barnes, Dr. Vic Pentz, and Kessel Stelling honored Williams with this message being throughout.
Video: 2007 Four Pillar Tribute Honoring John Williams
“The entire Metro Atlanta region is better off for having been home to John Williams. We have lost a legendary philanthropist, developer, friend, fundraiser, and icon,” remembers Steve Labovitz, 2018 Council for Quality Growth Board Chairman and Dentons LLP Partner.
Williams was a lifelong Atlantan: Growing up in Cascade Heights, west of downtown Atlanta, he graduated from Atlanta Public Schools and worked his way through Georgia Tech, where he obtained a degree in industrial management. Then, following a stint with Georgia Power selling electricity to apartment complexes in Metro Atlanta, at age 26 Williams founded the Atlanta icon Post Properties in 1970 – rethinking multifamily development in Atlanta with unmatched attention to design and landscaping detail (at one point, Post Properties was the largest importer of tulips bulbs in the United States). Williams took Post public as a REIT in 1993, with more than 30,000 apartment units in its portfolio. After Post, Williams formed a number of real estate investment trusts, managing companies, and development and construction operations. Most recently, Williams launched and served as Chairman & CEO of Preferred Apartment Communities, now one of the nation’s fastest growing real estate companies.
But friends of Williams describe his business ventures as mechanisms to support his boundless charity. Williams spearheaded efforts in Cobb County to build the Cobb Energy Centre and the Cobb Galleria Centre, remarking that being remembered for “the countless hours of planning, management time, financing plans, and the dedication” that he gave would be a far better reward than the money that he donated to these projects. Williams made many generous gifts to Georgia Tech, was instrumental in the revitalization of Marietta Square, and helped fund the Wellstar Women’s Center, and Piedmont Hospital to name a just a few of his charitable endeavors.
Williams was also ubiquitous with public service in his community. He served as the first chairman of the Cobb Galleria Authority, was a two-term chairman of the Cobb Chamber of Commerce, and was the first chairman of the Cumberland Community Improvement District – Georgia’s first CID.
He was a leader in the formation of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority and served on the Boards of the Atlanta Regional Commission, chaired the Metro Atlanta Chamber and the Cobb Chamber (twice) and a was a minority owner of the Atlanta Falcons
Perhaps Williams’s most enduring legacy in the Metro Atlanta region will be his contribution to the world of Community Improvement Districts. In 1984, Williams led the charge to amend the Georgia constitution to allow commercial property owners within designated geographical boundaries to tax themselves to fund transportation, beautification, public safety, and other related projects within their respective areas. This effort culminated in the creation of the Cumberland CID in 1988 – the state’s first CID – and upon which every CID formed since owes its gratitude. Williams’s vision for CIDs has led to over $5 billion in infrastructure investment, new parks and greenspace, public safety, traffic mitigation projects, and landscape enhancements. Without Williams’s leadership, none of the 27 active CIDs today would be possible.
In recognition of Williams’s integral role in the formation of every CID in Georgia, two years ago the Council for Quality Growth named its annual CID Leadership Award in his honor. The John Williams CID Leadership Award is presented annually to a leader in the CID community for their contribution to the development of CIDs throughout the State and region.
Former Governor Roy Barnes and U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson received the first annual John Williams Award in 2016 for their vision and leadership in passing legislation to support CID development more than 30 years ago; Cumberland CID Chairman and Interim Executive Director Tad Leithead received the John Williams Award in 2017 for his outstanding contribution to the formation and leadership of the Cumberland CID.
“The contributions that John made to Cobb, our region, and our state will never be fully expressed,” Leithead said. “He was an extraordinary business person who was totally committed to giving back to his community. He was a loyal friend, mentor and leader to untold numbers of people, including me.”
The Council for Quality Growth offers its sincerest sympathies to the Williams family and all those that he called his friend.
Memorial services for John Williams will be held at 2:00 p.m., Monday, April 23 at Peachtree Presbyterian Church, 3434 Roswell Road, NW, Atlanta, 30305. The family has requested that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to Piedmont Heart Institute or a charity of your choice.