A photo of “The Gulch” that stretches from the Five Points MARTA station to Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on Monday October 8th, 2018. (Photo by Phil Skinner)
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Opinion: Redevelop Gulch today to benefit Atlanta’s future

For 159 years, the Metro Atlanta Chamber has engaged in civic, community and economic initiatives to help improve the city of Atlanta and our broader region. We have been intimately involved in projects from the 1996 Olympics and Grady Hospital Task Force to increasing transit funding and changing our state flag – each one having significant long-term impact on our region. Today, our experience gives us a unique view into countless initiatives underway, a well-informed perspective on the business community’s role in each of them and an intense focus on efforts that can drive significant long-term benefits. The redevelopment of the Gulch is one such effort.

We have followed this project over recent weeks and understand City Council’s concern with the current time constraints as it works to fully digest the commitments and requirements that come with the project. We recognize the complexity of the project and the documents and third-party reviews that must be reconciled before a vote can occur. We applaud the Council for requesting additional time to work with the Mayor’s office, citizens, developer and businesses to vet this important project.

At the same time, we are watching many in our community misinterpret the facts and second-guess the urgency surrounding a City Council vote for this project now. As we work toward our mission of making metro Atlanta more vibrant and prosperous, in times like these, setting the record straight is our commitment:

For more than 70 years, the Gulch has been an undeveloped network of parking lots, viaducts and geographical dead space. And while the city has welcomed nearby developments like Mercedes-Benz Stadium and State Farm Arena, the Gulch has remained an eyesore. With each passing day, the Gulch in its current state detracts from our economic potential – tax dollars, jobs and more – given the millions who visit the CNN Center, Georgia Aquarium, Georgia World Congress Center and other nearby assets each year.

To describe attempts to attract a developer for this area of our city as “difficult” would be a gross understatement. The complexity that comes with multiple public and private landholders requires a developer with extensive experience in urban development, and our collective focus on inclusive economic development calls for a developer with a deep understanding of how to infuse energy into cities while also driving social impact. CIM Group stands out as the only developer that fits this bill with a track record across the country to prove it. For three years, they have played an important role in a remarkable partnership between the State of Georgia, City of Atlanta and private sector that, simply put, is our once-in-a-generation opportunity to redevelop the Gulch.

Upon approval of the project, CIM Group will fund approximately $700 million to build a platform that will serve as the foundation for the future of the project. Additionally, CIM Group at this point is providing a series of community benefits, including: $12 million for a community development fund, $2 million in job training and $28 million for an affordable housing trust fund. In fact, at least 20 percent of housing units in the redevelopment plan will be affordable housing permanently.

The best part? We build a more affordable, more equitable, more sustainable and more transit-friendly downtown, all with no risk to the City of Atlanta. The city does not guarantee any bonds and has not pledged any existing tax dollars to the bonds. Responsibility will fall on CIM Group, not the City of Atlanta. And the capacity space for passenger rail is being preserved with no limits placed on future rail activities.

Ultimately, the new Gulch will be the largest city center, mixed-use development project in the Southeast. It will link two MARTA stations, offer new affordable housing options and generate jobs in construction, retail, hospitality, tech and more. Most importantly, it will be a lasting project in Atlanta that connects a historically underserved part of our city to bright, new opportunities.

Delaying or dismissing this redevelopment opportunity is not optional. It may be decades before another developer puts forth the time and resources to solve one of our city’s greatest economic development challenges. An October vote is an important step in an extensive process that will likely require multiple pieces of legislation, ongoing planning and true partnership among civic, community and business leaders for many years to come.

So, let’s use our heads – and our hearts – and say “Yes” to redeveloping the Gulch now.

Hala Moddelmog is president and CEO, Metro Atlanta Chamber.