North Fulton County CIDs create exceptional quality-of-life improvements.
“You don’t have to be big to have a big impact,” says Kevin Green, president and CEO of Midtown Alliance, the nonprofit coalition of business and civic leaders that staffs and operates the 1.2-square-mile Midtown Improvement District.
In 2022, Midtown Alliance harnessed the power of the parklet – orphaned parking spaces transformed into mini-parks – along Spring Street, amping up the district’s livability by inviting residents and visitors to linger longer.
It’s one example of how big doors swing on little hinges throughout the North Fulton Community Improvement Districts (CIDs), which are made up of Midtown Alliance, Buckhead CID, Upper Westside CID, Perimeter CIDs and North Fulton CID. These quasi-governmental organizations leverage funding, expertise and partnerships to make infrastructure investments and improvements in their communities. They are self-funded, collecting taxes from commercial property owners who are CID members. And they move quickly, identifying issues and fast-tracking projects. That agility works to their advantage, especially with smaller investment projects like parklets where unused space is quickly animated into lively greenspace.
These five CIDs made exceptional improvements and progress in 2022 and plans for 2023 continue in that same transformational vein.
Midtown: Activating Public Spaces
On the development side, more than 1 million square feet of office space, 1,600 residential units and 230 hotel rooms were completed in Midtown. That’s exciting, but Green was most enthused about a change in the way the infrastructure permitting is now done.
Atlanta’s city council passed a resolution amending the cooperation agreement with the Midtown CID so the CID could independently procure and manage construction for transportation infrastructure projects. This new agreement began unsticking approval and procurement jams that had slowed the process of advancing Midtown’s biggest and most pressing infrastructure projects.
“Midtown Alliance has nine capital projects totaling more than $35 million in construction costs either currently in construction, out for bid, or scheduled to be bid during the first half of 2023,” Green says. “If construction pricing cooperates, we’ll have many projects starting construction in 2023. We’ll also have a lot happening with other projects that are in design and engineering but not yet ready to bid for construction.”
The CID can’t control permitting and pricing, but it can focus its energies on collective experiences that create community.
“That encompasses everything,” Green says, “Transportation projects, parks and plazas, having successful storefronts and street-level retail.”
To that end, Midtown Alliance unveiled impactful projects like Commercial Row Commons, a new $1.2 million public plaza at Peachtree Place between Peachtree Street and Crescent Avenue near the Midtown MARTA Station. The plaza, which opened in August, was created by realigning the intersection of Peachtree Street and Peachtree Road and removing on-street parking spaces on the north and south sides of the block. Widening the sidewalks and burying overhead utilities created even more space, which now includes art installations, plaza furniture and enhanced lighting.
As part of the 10th Street Park renovation, the Alliance opened a new off-leash dog park in November with a well-attended TAILgate party. Providing places for people and their pets – and activities once they’ve gathered – remains a focus for Midtown Alliance. More than 3,900 people – residents and people working in the district – responded to the 2022 Community Survey.
“They continue to underscore the fact that we’re all about happy people on foot here,” Green says. “We can point to changes in the skyline, and the numbers are staggering in terms of the investment, but a building is not success. It’s not about the skyline; it’s about the experience people have as they walk through the district.”
Buckhead: Looking to the Future
Sometimes an end is a beginning, and it looks that way for Buckhead CID. With high-profile projects on tap, the first quarter of 2023 also signals the completion of the CID’s first major infrastructure project.
“We will wrap up all the little items to finish the third phase of the original Peachtree Revitalization Project, which was the impetus for the creation of this CID 23 years ago,” says Jim Durrett, Buckhead CID’s executive director and president and CEO of the Buckhead Coalition. “It’s substantially complete now but we’ll see things we need to address – i’s to dot and t’s to cross – during the first couple of months [this] year.”
The project, meant to create an attractive, walkable corridor along Peachtree Road in the late 1990s, had its desired effect both on Buckhead and the region. Other communities copied Buckhead’s blueprint for urban cores looking to get people out of their cars by connecting to transit and trails and creating new pathways across old divides.
Construction to bridge another such divide begins in the first quarter of 2023 with the start of Phase I of the Lenox Road Complete Street project. Phase I, a boardwalk on the Lenox Square side of Lenox Road from the Lenox MARTA station to Peachtree Road, is the first step to full-scale, safe pedestrian access from the MARTA station crossing over Peachtree Road. Then an elevated pedestrian and bike structure will cross over GA 400.
Meanwhile, right-of-way acquisitions are wrapping up for the Piedmont Road widening project. Once completed, the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) will advertise the job for construction and the roughly two-year project will commence. When finished, Piedmont Road will be easier to navigate, with three through-lanes in each direction and a center turn lane, and it will be easier on the eyes as well.
“The west side of Piedmont will have a very generous pedestrian- and cycle-way,” Durrett says. “The heavy lift to begin is that the Piedmont corridor has some of Georgia Power’s high-tension transmission lines and Georgia Power has to move four of those poles. Then they’re going to bury distribution lines [the lines on wooden poles]. All this will be done before Christmas 2025.”
Expect HUB404 – the nifty 9-acre greenspace designed to sit atop MARTA’s Buckhead station and a portion of Georgia 400 from Peachtree to Lenox roads – to make substantial progress in 2023. Representative Nikema Williams (D-GA-5) secured $750,000 in federal Community Project Funding in the 2022 federal budget to fund the engineering and final design for the park.
“The CID has obligated north of $1 million as a match for that,” Durrett says. “Those funds will be the first spent on doing preliminary engineering to get us to a point where we can start doing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process.”
Upper Westside: Multimodal Mobility
“The challenge of our area has always been mobility,” says Adeline Collot, planning and capital projects program director for the Upper Westside CID, an area transitioning from predominantly industrial to mixed-use development.
She says CID members strongly support development of multimodal transportation, especially trails.
“One trail in particular, the Woodall Rail Trail, will connect the Silver Comet Trail to the BeltLine and, eventually, fill a gap by connecting the BeltLine Northeast in an area that’s extremely car-dependent.”
Funding for the first .7-mile segment comes from a Department of Natural Resources Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Program (GOSP) grant won by a CID project partner, Groundwork Atlanta. Work could begin as early as the second quarter of 2023 and the CID will partner with the PATH Foundation to secure land for the entire three-mile trail.
“That project will be part of the PATH Foundation’s capital campaign,” says Collot. “We’re excited because this trail will connect to the heart of Bolton [Town Center]. It’ll go to the 70-acre development that is The Works, through the heart of Blandtown and tie into the BeltLine.”
The CID is also helping develop the Westside BeltLine Spur Trail running from Jefferson Street to West Marietta Street, paralleling Joseph E. Lowery Boulevard. The spur, funded as a bond project in the Moving Atlanta Forward infrastructure package the city council passed in 2022, is considered a critical connection point between West Marietta Street and the Brady Avenue cycle track the CID completed in 2022. The CID will provide private development funding for construction documents and any gap funding necessary and is working on an agreement with the City of Atlanta to serve as the project manager.
The CID played a part in two high-profile greenspace projects that opened in 2022. Two acres of The Hill at Waterworks, located at 17th and Howell Mill Road and one of the highest elevations in the city, officially opened in February 2022. The CID and Friends of the Waterworks collaborated with the Atlanta Department of Watershed Management to move chain-link fences closer to the water to create more greenspace access. And later in the year, an interactive art installation – giant letters that swivel, spelling out “THE HILL” – was installed, a collaboration between the CID and Neighborhood Planning Units.
In May, the Waterworks Greenspace Playscape opened, funded in part by a Park Pride grant. The Playscape includes trails, hammock stands and a 360-degree overlook bench enabling views of the Midtown and Downtown. In a nod to the Department of Watershed Management that owns the land, the park features a unique learning landscape explaining the seven-step water-treatment process.
The CID also became expert at creating parklets – approaching landowners to obtain licensing agreements, then sprucing up unused land.
A parklet project is transforming a bus stop at the intersection of Huff Drive and Ellsworth Industrial Boulevard. When finished, the project will include a sidewalk-level deck and overhead canopy frame made from repurposed steel I-beams (guardrails removed from 17th Street). The project includes an acrylic canopy and furnishings – five chairs, a trash can and “Blandtown” lettering on the side. The final cost came to just under $20,000 with funding from several sources: a $5,000 grant from ChangeX, $5,200 from the Blandtown Neighborhood Association and $4,000 from the ARC transit placemaking study implementation grant. The CID kicked in the balance.
Perimeter: Pardon our Progress
Drivers slowly making their way through the I-285/Georgia 400 interchange have just one question: When will the construction end?
“The official target completion date is the fourth quarter of 2023,” says Ann Hanlon, executive director of the Perimeter CIDs, made up of the Central (DeKalb) Perimeter and Fulton Perimeter CIDs. “We’re at the point where there are a lot of lane closures, literally the final stages of the project.”
The greatest disturbance to commuters and travelers was the closures of two lanes, eastbound and westbound on I-285, roughly between Ashford-Dunwoody and Roswell roads. The GDOT schedule calls for that area to remain tight for months. The CIDs take responsibility for ensuring the public knows what’s happening, using social media, podcasts, daily updates to its website and a weekly newsletter to ensure transparency with their constituencies.
“We’re trying to overcommunicate when it comes to the project and lane closures as people try to decide whether to come into the office on a daily basis,” Hanlon says. “We want them to have the information they need to make those decisions.”
A marketing and branding effort launched by the CIDs will coincide with the completion of the GDOT project.
“Perimeter will have four new access points and things will flow better,” says Hanlon. “We’re working internally so we’ll be able to communicate that [message] to people. We want them to know why it’s going to be better and how it’s going to function when it’s all finished. We want to provide visualization tools, videos and things you can just click on your phone to see how it will work.”
Other priorities include bolstering the trail system, looking to make connections to the AlphaLoop to the north and PATH400 in Buckhead. In the meantime, a 14-foot-wide trail with a barrier-separated bike path is being constructed on the Perimeter Mall side of Ashford Dunwoody Road between Hammond Drive and Perimeter Center West. The project will cost about $4 million, to be split between the CIDs and the City of Dunwoody.
Perimeter CIDs kicked off 2023 with a Request for Proposals for a Transit Oriented Development study of the Dunwoody MARTA station, done in partnership with MARTA.
“That station was built in the ’90s prior to the Olympics and was intended as an end-of-the-line suburban station,” says Hanlon. “That’s not what the community is anymore. This is an urban, densely walkable area. As all these other large suburban counties – Cobb, Gwinnett – talk about whether to build out their transit, we think the Dunwoody MARTA Station should be the Grand Central Station for the top half of Metro Atlanta. There’s a ton of opportunity here and we’re casting a big vision for that redevelopment.”
North Atlanta: Live, Play, Stay
In 2022, the North Fulton CID undertook a thorough review to gauge the organization’s impact since its inception in 2003. It turns out that the value of the CID might’ve been more than they imagined.
“We were blown away by the rental rates, property values and hotel occupancy rates,” says Brandon Beach, executive director of the CID. “Properties in the district had a 26.7% value premium over the area immediately surrounding the district. Infrastructure investment, those nice, landscaped interchanges and road improvements paid off.”
Beach concedes the data is somewhat skewed by the $1 billion development of mixed-use community Avalon but adds the CID got the ball rolling by first spending $1.8 million to build out Westside Parkway between Alpharetta and Avalon.
“That infrastructure investment was critical to Avalon’s success and the CID led the effort,” he says.
The CID is still making road improvements. The Davis Drive extension will be completed in 2023, with development already occurring on previously landlocked properties in the area.
In early 2023, the CID will partner with the cities of Milton and Alpharetta to update the Livable Centers Initiative (LCI) area plan completed in 2012. They’re eyeing the Windward Parkway-Highway 9 corridor, studying how to maximize development while maintaining livability.
And the CID is examining safe ways to move pedestrians around the district, specifically via the popular Alpha Loop trail. Together with the City of Alpharetta, the CID wants to find a way for the trail to cross Haynes Bridge Road to eventually connect with the Big Creek Greenway. The crossing is vital to create a full trail connection. At issue is whether a tunnel or an at-grade crossing is most feasible, and a decision has not yet been made. The CID prefers the tunnel option and has approved up to $800,000 for the concept and design of the crossing. The city, which has the final design decision, agreed to fund construction.
Beach, who also serves as a state senator (R-District 21), admits he’s a convert to the walkability concept but notes it’s paid off locally, in his CID and statewide.
“There is a direct correlation between infrastructure investment, job creation and economic development,” he says. “If you look at some of the things we have built and some of the jobs that have come here it’s pretty phenomenal. If you build the roads, parks and trails, they will come.”