Kasim Reed began the last press conference of his eight-year mayoral reign with a joke.
“I’m so glad that you all have decided to join me,” he said Friday. “And I’m thrilled to announce my candidacy...”
Before Reed could pause, the gaggle of reporters and city hall staff who had crammed into the mayor’s ceremonial office burst out laughing. Then for nearly an hour, Reed reflected on his tenure. He mentioned a few regrets and points of pride. He teared up at times. And he also broke news — a $100 million expansion of Piedmont Park.
The city has entered into agreements to purchase about five acres at the intersection of Piedmont Avenue and Monroe Drive for $20 million. That area is now home to a gas station and older strip malls with restaurants, a cleaners and a hair salon.
To complete the expansion, the city still needs to assemble a few more parcels. Reed said Home Depot Chief Financial Officer Carol B. Tome has agreed to chair a committee to raise the remaining $80 million from Atlanta’s philanthropic community.
Reed said the rapidly rising cost of real estate and development pressure forced the city to act quickly.
The announcement caps eight years of ups and downs for the city, but mostly ups, his supporters say.
Reed gave up his state Senate seat and his partnership at Holland and Knight law firm to run for mayor in 2009, stressing the importance of public safety in his campaign and his record of consensus building in the state Senate.
He took office during the worst economies in 80 years. And as the nation rebounded, so did Atlanta, only at a faster clip.
Reed’s staff credits him with the city’s eight consecutive credit ratings increases, record reserves of $200 million and 18 regional or national headquarters relocations to Atlanta.
Although Reed is known as a development mayor, he also made green space a priority.
An hour earlier at another press conference, Reed announced that the city had identified $26.5 million in funds to construct the first phase of the Westside Park at Bellwood Quarry. At 280 acres, Westside would surpass the 185-acre Piedmont Park in size.
The old quarry will eventually hold a 30-day supply of emergency drinking water for the city. And it will provide much needed green space for Atlanta’s westside, Reed said.
The two announcements allowed to leave office on a high note.
As for his regrets, Reed said he wished he had done more to secure affordable housing. The recession provided him a good opportunity.
“I had bankers coming into my office ready to turn over their portfolios,” Reed said.
But he was cautious because he wanted to improve the city’s credit rating.
“Any score I had to settle was settled on Keisha Lance Bottoms’ election night,” Reed said. “All my business is done.”
Bottoms attended both press conferences and often stood by Reed’s side. She did little to squelch criticism that her tenure would be an extensions of Reeds’.
Bottoms said she had asked Reed’s senior staff to join her administration.
“This is not a hostile takeover,” Bottoms said. “They have done such an incredible job over the past few years that I want us to get to know each other better.”
No one at the press conference asked Reed about the one obvious cloud on the horizon — the federal bribery investigation at City Hall, which three months ago resulted in a guilty plea from Adam Smith, Atlanta’s chief procurement officer.
If Reed knew what he was doing next, he didn’t say. He said he just wanted to sit down. From the time he was 13, he had wanted to become mayor. The position had never been his second choice.
“I am in an unusual place,” he said, “because I got what I wanted.”