On August 30, 2022, the Council for Quality Growth, in collaboration with the Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. (ABI) and the Atlanta Beltline Partnership (ABP), hosted the 2022 State of the BeltLine. Over 250 members, elected officials, business leaders, community partners, and BeltLine patrons convened at The Gathering Spot over breakfast for an executive discussion and small business equity panel.
The State of the BeltLine began with an executive discussion titled “Celebrating Momentum and Planning for the Future,” and featured Clyde Higgs, President & CEO of the Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. and Rob Brawner, Executive Director of the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership. They spoke about the recent influx of funding that “The People’s Project” has received and what that means for the completion of the 22-mile loop. Higgs was excited to report that 18 miles, or over 80%, of the trail loop will either be completed or under construction in the next 18-24 months. Much of this progress is not only because of the $100 million received from the SSD, but also from the philanthropic community really stepping up to support the BeltLine.
The City of Atlanta’s Chief Operating Officer, Lisa Gordon, also joined them to discuss how the BeltLine and the city are aligned in their goals when it comes to parks and greenspace, transportation, and housing. The park system and public spaces throughout Atlanta and along the BeltLine are a driving force for economic development, and according to Higgs, one of the reasons Microsoft selected a site for its new 92-acre Atlanta campus so close to the Westside Park. The BeltLine is about 30% done with the design to extend transit along the trail with MARTA, and half-way to its goal of creating or preserving 56,000 units of affordable housing by the end of 2030. The amount of land holdings for this kind of housing near the BeltLine has tripled in the last year and a half. “We’re really here to create positive outcomes for our communities, that’s the bottom line,” said Higgs.
The executive session was followed by a small business panel on “Creating Equity and Empowering Small Business.” Clyde Higgs was joined by Terrance Albritton, the Owner of Grady Baby, an apparel company inspired by Atlanta’s culture and inaugural business of the newly opened BeltLine Marketplace, Edrick Harris, Executive VP and Partner at Prestwick Development, a realty company specialized in affordable and mixed-income housing projects in the southeast, and Al Edwards, Founder & CEO of CERM and the 2022 Board Chair of the Council for Quality Growth. Moderated by Anna Roach, Executive Director of the ARC, this panel discussed how the BeltLine is working to create innovative economic opportunities for people and businesses along the trail loop. Higgs said small businesses have been a priority that led to the opening of BeltLine Marketplace earlier this summer, a collaboration creating commercial space for local businesses. “Equity is creating access,” said Edrick Harris. Albritton gave his testimonial to how the BeltLine has given his previously online-only business direct access to over 2 million people per year at a fair and equitable price that allows his business to continue to grow equitably.
Al Edwards and his firm have been involved in the economic impact studies of developing the trail and has been encouraging strong policies to ensure Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (DBEs) are not negatively impacted by the growth. “Small business is an economic mitigation,” Edwards said, urging for initiatives around workforce development and education that allow DBEs access and therefore building equity. Edrick Harris and Prestwick Development have also worked diligently to deliver affordable housing to the communities on the BeltLine, which allows those people and businesses to have more income to devote to building equity. “You have to give resources to communities wherever they’re at. If they need a little more, give them more,” said Higgs.
The session ended with live Q&A from those in attendance. Re-watch the full recording of the event below.
ABI and ABP have collaborated since 2005 to develop a 22-mile multi-use urban trail, transit, and park system connecting Atlanta’s neighborhoods, creating jobs, developing affordable housing, adding greenspace, showcasing arts and culture, and engaging the communities it reaches. The Atlanta BeltLine project has been a significant source of economic development and quality growth for the City of Atlanta and is on track for completion by 2030.
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