Atlanta Council Prepares to Throw Away Civic Center, despite Thousands Displaced
(APN) ATLANTA — In what is likely to be another near-giveaway of taxpayer-owned property to developers, with no conditions attached, the City Council of Atlanta is set to vote on ordinance 14-O-1191, presented by Councilman Kwanza Hall (District 2), that will allow the Atlanta Development Authority (ADA, nicknamed Invest Atlanta) to preside over the future of the Boisfeuillet Jones Atlanta Civic Center.
The ordinance, to be voted on Monday, June 02, 2014 by City Council, simply states that the City will “grant an option to Invest Atlanta to sell that real property containing the Atlanta Civic Center through the exercise of its development authority powers…”
After speaking with City Council members, Atlanta Progressive News has learned that there is no plan to ensure that the redeveloped site, where the Civic Center now stands, will include any affordable housing, which are so desperately needed by Atlanta’s working families.
According to City Hall sources, the ADA would put out a request for proposals (RFP) and affirm whatever project they choose, with no accountability or approval from any city governing body. The process for requesting RFP’s and the closing date could be as brief as thirty days.
The Council has not insisted on any actual say over the future of the behemoth property, much like a repeat of the Council’s 2010 sale of City Hall East. During that debacle, the Council transferred the property to the ADA, for sale to Jamestown Properties for some 20 million dollars when it was worth 240 million dollars to Jamestown.
This time the Council’s Finance/Executive Committee has added an amendment requiring “input” by the Council; however, as the amendment is written, this input can be ignored by the ADA.
“That Invest Atlanta will present the Request for Proposals (RFP) to the Atlanta City Council for Council input before Invest Atlanta issues the RFP,” the amendment states. “In addition, Invest Atlanta will report to the Atlanta City Council on the selected proponent prior to the awarding of the project and transfer of property to Invest Atlanta.” Input and reporting, that is all.
As previously reported by APN, a vast area of working class, predominantly Black neighborhoods, known as Buttermilk Bottoms, were destroyed in order to bring Civic Center online in 1965, for the promise of creating a grand venue for civic events in Atlanta.
It is not clear, nor has the Council offered any explanation, for the City’s failure to utilize this venue that was once promised to promote and enhance civic life in Atlanta.
If Atlanta officials wanted to have a civic center so badly that they were willing to displace thousands of its citizens, then why is the City now abandoning this once-deemed worthy project? If Atlanta officials never really wanted a space for civic events, why did it destroy so many people’s lives, homes, communities, and social networks? Perhaps it was just grand scheme of bait and switch all along, with the ultimate goals of Black removal and developer profits.
Mayor Ivan Allen probably could not have displaced all those families for an RFP; only for a Civic Center.
Meanwhile, Atlanta Progressive News has learned that over the last five years, the ADA has been giving handouts to big developers in the form of tax abatements, basically a ten year tax break, for building high-rises and super-luxury condos in areas like Buckhead and Midtown that have a plethora of empty buildings, while employing few. (Editor’s note: Stay tuned for more on this.)
There is no expectation that with the selling of the Civic Center and its acres upon acres of parking lot, that Atlanta will see any affordable housing.
“The housing around the Beltline is not going to be all affordable. It’s just not,” Mary Norwood (Post 2-at-large) told Atlanta Progressive News.
“There could be anything that goes in there. We’ve got interests from many places… entertainment, schools, restaurants, mixed use. It’s gonna be exciting to see what kind of proposals we get,” Councilman Hall told APN.
“I didn’t vote for the Ponce project,” Councilwoman Natalyn Archibong (District 5) recalled.
“The affordable housing component wasn’t as fleshed out as it needed to be. I’m interested in the mixed use option for the Civic Center, but one has to ask, do we need a Civic Center?” Archibong said.
“We have to look at whether the cost of renovation equals a value to the city. We need to look at all the parts, like green space for instance, to make sure the site is being used to best suit the city,” she said.
Councilwoman Felicia Moore (District 9) had no comment on the proposal, referring all questions to the Finance/Executive Committee.
But the Committee has not been very active in bringing oversight to this massive transfer of City assets.
In fact, during Wednesday’s Committee meeting, May 28, 2014, a whole three minutes was spent discussing Civic Center, before the Committee approved the sale, with Chairman Alex Wan (District 6) abstaining, and Archibong voting nay.
“Everyone’s really quiet today,” Wan noted, when the Committee room sounded like so many chirping crickets following a brief presentation by the Reed Administration, who along with Hall and the ADA, is pushing this deal.
APN previously reported this March 2014 on the affordable housing crisis in Atlanta.
In Fulton County, the numbers are not encouraging. For every one hundred ELI [extremely low-income] households, there are only 29 affordable units available. An ELI household includes four people with an annual income of less than 20,800 dollars.
There are 49,996 total ELI households in Fulton County; 14,305 available and affordable rental units; the gap between households and available units is 35,691; there are 17,148 ELI households in affordable units with HUD assistance.
While forty-plus year-old venues are being sold and possibly demolished, 35,691 families cannot afford to pay for a market-rate rental unit. This equates to approximately 142,000 Fulton County residents who are either homeless, living in transitional housing, or are unable to eat and pay bills because they cannot afford where they are living now. At least half that number, approximately 70,000, are children.
For Atlanta Council Members to not consider an affordable housing option for the Civic Center is unconscionable. Rest assured, the ADA has no use for affordable housing or the families who need it. Development means money for all involved; the lower profit margin for affordable housing denotes disinterest by the powers that be.
And if the City’s 2010 sale of the old City Hall East complex–now known as Ponce City Market (PCM)–is to serve as a model of things to come, the prices that Jamestown is charging for rental units should serve as a warning. People seem to be complaining about the astronomical rental rates at PCM, but not much opposition has coalesced around the Civic Center sale.
No affordable housing was ever made available at Ponce City Market, not a single unit, even after the ADA offered Beltline Affordable Housing Trust Fund money to the developer, and the Council voted to water down its already-pathetic affordability requirements. The developer simply rejected the money.
“Rent prices at The Flats at Ponce City Market have put social media in a dither, especially after several Intown residents went to look at the model units and found that rent prices being quoted to potential residents are actually higher than those listed on the PCM website,” the Atlanta Intown newspaper reported.
“We received an email from another Intown resident, Ryan O., who went to look at an apartment advertised for $1,925 to $1,945 on the website, but was quoted a rental price of $2,600. Ryan said there were additional fees for trash, Internet, and parking that aren’t mentioned on the website,” Atlanta Intown wrote.
“According to the current pricing on The Flats website, there are 259 apartments ranging in square footage from a 560-square-foot studio ($1,230 per month) to a 1,790-square-foot three bedroom loft ($3,395 per month),” Atlanta Intown wrote.
If approved, the Civic Center would be one of at least three major properties set for demolition in the City in the near future, within just a few square miles of each other, when counting Turner Field and the Falcons stadium [and the surrounding area, including two historic Black churches].
Atlanta City Council appears to continue its complicity in tearing up the City in the name of development, even when the development fails to benefit those who need it the most.