Many families living in the western portion of downtown and the historic neighborhoods of Vine City and English Avenue have faced difficult economic and social challenges. Struggling schools, high unemployment, persistent crime, poor housing and other challenges feed into and perpetuate one another.
On top of that, the Great Recession hit particularly hard communities that were already struggling. Despite previous investments and proximity to the Atlanta University Center, Georgia Tech and Centennial Olympic Park, these communities have continued to experience decline. We now have a historic opportunity to sustain and support a strategy for revitalization.
Revitalization efforts in the past, though well-intentioned, failed to produce long-term results. They were disconnected and focused narrowly on single issues, such as housing. In addition, a massive effort was not reached because limited resources were spread too thinly. Over the last two decades, we have learned that success will require a multi-disciplinary approach that addresses housing, job training, public safety, physical infrastructure, health and human services and k-12 education. The challenges faced by these neighborhoods will require solutions to reverse this downward trend.
Last fall, Invest Atlanta took on that challenge and began work on a bottom-up plan that empowers local action and encourages public-private partnerships. Projects and initiatives suggested by the community over the years are being evaluated in light of the area’s current economic, social and environmental conditions. Our goal: Identify and consolidate community priorities into a targeted plan that weaves all the elements necessary for comprehensive revitalization.
The proposed new Falcons stadium creates an opportunity to align resources for Vine City, English Avenue and Castleberry Hill. Invest Atlanta has committed $15 million from the Westside Tax Allocation District (TAD) Community Improvement Fund for economic development projects that would attract private and philanthropic investment.
In addition, the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation has committed $15 million to the neighborhoods contiguous to the new stadium. We are grateful for the foundation’s partnership and expertise as we undertake this important work.
The focus this new stadium will bring, combined with signs of economic recovery, create a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to end the cycle of poverty that has paralyzed these communities for too long. The desired outcome is a community dynamic that creates jobs, empowers current residents and attracts new families.
Stakeholders must be willing to put aside parochial interests and work together. This does not mean that there won’t be differences in opinion or feelings of distrust and skepticism. It does, however, require that people move beyond those issues and focus on the work at hand. If we can do that, these communities will see a renaissance that does justice to their historic past and ensures a stronger future.
Brian McGowan is the CEO of Invest Atlanta, Atlanta’s economic development agency.