Cobb County | Building Smart from the Start
Focused on placemaking, infrastructure and community, Cobb CIDs gain momentum.
Over 35 years ago, an infrastructure project catalyzed Georgia’s first community improvement district (CID). A Cobb County developer, with the support of Cumberland Galleria property owners, sought to create an access point to Interstate 75 and spoke to Georgia legislators about how that might be done. The result was 1984 legislation incorporated into the state’s constitution allowing for CIDs.
The CIDs are funded through self-levied property taxes, primarily in commercial or industrial districts, and then allocated to finance district infrastructure, beautification and public safety improvements. Cumberland CID was the state’s first, established in 1988. Since then, at least 30 others have followed suit, including two more in Cobb County: Town Center and Gateway Marietta (GMCID). Cobb’s three CIDs provide a snapshot of the benefits of forging deep partnerships, leveraging resources and staying open to new possibilities.
Planting a Winning Flag
The 6.5-square-mile Cumberland CID thrived for 25 years – building local roads, bicycle and walking trails, and cultivating a strong community. Through successful partnerships with local and state entities, the CID was an influencer before influencers were a thing. Then came 2013. The Atlanta Braves announced they would leave Turner Field in downtown Atlanta to build a new stadium on a parcel of land across the street from the Cumberland CID office. In developing the stadium, Truist Park, and The Battery Atlanta, a 2 million-square-foot mixed-use development, the Braves changed the CID landscape. According to its 2021 economic impact analysis, the Cumberland CID had an $18.1 billion annual impact on the county economy and a $23.6 billion impact on Georgia’s economy.
“Once the Braves announced that they were moving to Cumberland, you [could] see investment begin to rise not only in commercial office buildings but residential growth,” says Kim Menefee, executive director of the Cumberland CID. “That’s what led to the 30,000 residents we have. The Braves drive growth in the district in a big way, and every property owner gets the benefit of that.”
It’s a two-way street. Moving to Cobb County got the team closer to its core fan base, but planting the Braves’ flag in the Cumberland CID was essential to successfully developing the property, says Mike Plant, president and CEO of the Braves Development Company, who oversees the team’s real estate and development holdings including The Battery. He also serves on the CID board.
“It was in the part of Cobb County that was very progressive and innovative, and at the core of that is the Cumberland CID,” he says. “The Cumberland CID does a great job leveraging dollars into successful projects that have made this community thrive and prosper. [It] created an environment where people like us said, ‘That’s where we want to be.’”
Other companies have followed the Braves’ lead. Fortune 500 companies TK Elevator, Papa John’s and Comcast all moved corporate or North American headquarters to The Battery within the last six years. And now, Truist Securities is building a $200 million headquarters building in The Battery, adding 1,000 jobs to the Cumberland CID. The new construction includes a state-of-the-art trading floor and a five-level parking garage. In June, Gas South announced the company is relocating its headquarters – and 250-plus employees – to a 31,000-square-foot office at The Battery by August 2024.
Also in June, the Braves Development Company, Goldenrod Companies and SK Commercial Realty broke ground on The Henry, a $500 million luxury housing, hotel and retail project named for Atlanta Braves icon and Baseball Hall of Fame member Henry Aaron.
“Because of the Braves’ investment [in the CID], we have moved from a 9-to-5 business district to a full community,” Menefee says. “We are a business and entertainment destination now.”
Piecing Together the Transit Puzzle
Moving into and around the district is a top priority, and the CID is investing in sustainable transit with the Cumberland Sweep, a three-mile autonomous shuttle that entered a critical phase this summer.
“We are currently in design on the first segment of the Cumberland Sweep that connects Akers Mill Road down through the Galleria office complex around the Cobb Galleria Center to the I-285 [transit and] pedestrian bridge that crosses over to The Battery,” Menefee says. “We’re working in partnership with [planning and engineering firm] Kimley-Horn and Cobb County, as well as with all the stakeholders. We expect to go into construction in 2026.”
In July, the CID launched an eight-month micro-mobility pilot project to gather data and determine public response to an operational autonomous shuttle. The free, 10-passenger shuttle, dubbed The Hopper, runs two routes based on weekly activities in the area: one from the Cobb Galleria, over the I-285 transit and pedestrian bridge to The Battery, and the other around the Galleria. The pilot program will gather data on how well the shuttle interacts with passengers, the environment and other vehicles using QR code survey links and customer interactions.
“From an economic development standpoint, [the shuttle] is going to be very important for companies and residents,” says Menefee. “Our primary residential population are millennials. They’re looking for easy access to transit. And adding transportation access is one of our primary purposes. We know many businesses that choose to locate here, especially international or national firms, want access to transit. We’re proud of the road system; it’s one of the best in Atlanta. But Cumberland needs to be more walkable and connected so people can get around more easily. The shuttle system will be a major part of that.”
Cumberland’s Great Outdoors
Cumberland CID’s outstanding infrastructure is surpassed only by its 840 acres of the National Park Service’s Chattahoochee River National Park Recreation Area and the park’s most visited segment, the Paces Mill/Palisades Unit, built in the 1970s. That said, it needs more than love. It needs repair.
“It wasn’t built with the population growth we’ve experienced in mind,” Menefee says.
A visitor’s center, trail upgrades and improved vehicle circulation are among the items included in the $11.8 million total project cost. The CID thought outside the box when considering how to fund the project, creating a 501c3, One Cumberland, capable of accepting donations from public and private donors or organizing capital campaigns for special projects that could generate synergy with the work of the CID.
“We have $1 million of funding for the project through the generosity of our congressional delegation,” Menefee says. “But we feel One Cumberland will be able to partner with the CID in helping us assemble the funding needed to build the project.”
Going with the Vehicular Flow
Similarly, the 6.25-square-mile Town Center CID in North Cobb County is engaging in strategic planning with its nonprofit, the Town Center Community Alliance, with the goal of organizational alignment, guiding everything from budgeting to master planning to project prioritization.
“The CID will always have its roots in infrastructure; more than three-quarters of our budget continues to be in infrastructure-based projects,” says Tracy Styf, Town Center CID executive director. “But every infrastructure-based project has a placemaking component, whether a separated bike/pedestrian path, pedestrian lighting, signage, landscaping or a pocket park component. We don’t look at these things as just ‘nice to have’ but as key economic development drivers.”
The CID has 18 current projects in progress. Styf quickly cites the top three priorities.
First, the South Barrett Reliever, which is in its third and final phase. It is the largest infrastructure project in the history of the CID and realigns the road while substantially reducing congestion along Barrett Parkway. Second, Phase IV of the Big Shanty Connector, the last 0.4-mile portion of Big Shanty Road between Chastain Meadows and Bells Ferry Road. This portion of the project closes trail gaps and provides connectivity to trail networks including the Noonday Creek Trail, while offering safer access to jobs. Third, obtaining the preliminary engineering survey for the Noonday Creek Trailhead Bridge over U.S. 41.
The prioritization of the South Barrett Reliever and the progress that’s been made over the years is especially welcome as the project realigns the road and traffic off Barrett Parkway with a new bridge that crosses over the I-75 managed lanes and leads to a roundabout south of Home Depot at Roberts Court. The anticipated completion is fall 2024, according to the CID.
Because traffic movement of all types is a topic of interest to the CID, it commissioned a comprehensive freight cluster plan to understand the region’s complex freight-related challenges and possibilities in January. The estimated cost of the study is $312,000, with 20% ($62,500) coming from the CID. The rest came from the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC). Styf expects the study to take at least 18 to 24 months.
“The Town Center CID is a major commercial hub and a fast-growing industrial job center,” says Daniel Studdard, planning administrator at the ARC. “The freight planning process that is underway is critically important to Town Center’s future. We want to ensure the area is able to grow while improving safety, easing congestion, boosting access to jobs and facilitating efficient movement of freight at a time of great change in the logistics industry.”
“It will help us determine the needed roadway improvements such as turning radiuses, curb and gutter adjustments, and traffic light timing,” Styf says. “But it will also be instrumental in helping us determine the conflict points between heavy freight and pedestrian and trail users and basic traffic.”
With regional trail connectivity and 43,000 Kennesaw State University (KSU) students moving through the district, Styf says understanding the critical intersections is essential. The freight cluster plan will help the CID make better decisions about roadway enhancements to improve traffic flow and safety for everyone in the area.
Charging the Future
Launched in parallel with the freight plan, the Town Center CID recently concluded an Electrification Livable Cities Initiative Study promoting the installation of electric vehicle charging infrastructure (EVCI). It makes sense. Cobb County has the second-highest registered EV concentration in the Metro Atlanta region, and the CID is home to a Tesla dealership and service center.
As part of the study, the CID conducted stakeholder meetings and outreach initiatives to learn more about the type of EV infrastructure the public needs and wants. Ultimately, the CID wants to provide property owners with information about the infrastructure, then create a toolkit to help them navigate what they need to know about investing in the amenity.
The CID is working with the county as it updates its Unified Development Code (a regulatory document guiding jurisdictional development) with regard to EVCI in development and planning.
“I think we’re all in this place of learning and identifying the priorities and how these types of products should be installed, implemented and paid for. More importantly, it’s a huge priority for Town Center and others not to put things on the ground that will become quickly outdated,” Styf says.
Like other CIDs, Town Center CID focuses on creating unique amenities for residents and visitors of the district. In late June, the community celebrated the final installation of outdoor educational exhibits at Aviation Park, located adjacent to Cobb County International Airport and alongside Noonday Creek Trail.
“The park not only serves as a beautiful gathering and greenspace for residents and visitors but also as a free outdoor field trip and homeschooling location,” says Styf. “We partnered with the KSU [Department of Museums, Archives and Rare Books] to curate an exhibit themed on the history of aviation in Cobb County and the mechanics of motion and flight.”
All the exhibits align with Georgia Department of Education standards. In fact, the CID created a teacher kit with teacher guides and curriculum for grades K-5, which was funded in part by a $35,000 grant from the department.
“It’s such a cool project,” Styf says. “People love it and the pavilion is booked every weekend.”
A Larger Presence
Regarding priorities, the Gateway Marietta CID (GMCID) keeps it simple.
“We focus on the things that CIDs work on – public safety, beautification and infrastructure improvements,” says Caroline Whaley, GMCID executive director. “What our CID does very well is work closely in partnership with the city of Marietta. And the city of Marietta does an excellent job of economic development and business recruitment for not only the city but the Franklin Gateway area. We’re doing our part of making that area attractive and desirable for companies to either relocate, expand or come into our market with a physical presence.”
Whaley noted that Wellstar Health System, which had always had a significant presence in the CID, purchased one of the office towers at Parkway Place last year.
“To have them fully occupying one of the towers at Parkway Place, of stating their presence in the area, is huge,” she says. “I think it’s a combination of all the partners playing a tremendous role with the city, the CID and the business community doing their part to make the area attractive and desirable.”
Safety remains a top GMCID priority. In coordination with the Marietta Police Department, the CID installed five additional Flock Safety security cameras at the beginning of the year, bringing the total to nine vehicle license plate readers within the CID boundaries. The cameras assist law enforcement in gathering data and collaborating with other jurisdictions using Flock’s surveillance technology to monitor security concerns.
Keep Moving Forward
Placemaking is the essence of CID work, encompassing beautification, infrastructure and economic development.
“It’s very important to create a sense of place,” says Whaley. “Not only does it create a pride of ownership in the community that’s already there, but it draws people in. That’s what makes the first impression when individuals visit and ask, ‘Is this going to be where our new headquarters is going to locate? Is the area attractive?’”
As part of a 2020 ARC-funded Community Development Assistance Program grant, the GMCID is in the permitting stage for two projects to enhance the CID’s sense of place.
“Stemming out of that study, we decided to focus on the Delk Road corridor,” Whaley says. “In 2019, we did a landscape project [Phase 1]. We are in the permitting stage of Phase 2 of the Delk Road landscape project, where we will add to the landscape, making it feel more like a boulevard or parkway as you come off the interstate.”
The CID is also in the initial phases of looking at completing the landscaping at the quadrants at the I-75 and Delk Road and I-75 and South Marietta Parkway interchanges. The project was started in 2015 but was paused because of the construction of the Northwest Express Lanes.
“Now that that project is complete, we can pick up our project again,” says Whaley. “We are in the update and design phase right now, and the next steps will be the move to permitting.”
Whaley says the size of the CID, from a revenue base, limits some of its activity. Still, the staff can increase the CID’s impact by looking for strategic ways to manage assets – including partnerships, personnel and even the ideas they generate.
“How can we be creative in our partnership with the city of Marietta and other partners?” asks Whaley. “Can we fund a study and let them take it over from an infrastructure standpoint? Our priority is to continue to partner with the city in efforts for development and reinvestment in the area. It sounds broad, but it’s probably one of our biggest priorities, working in step with one of our most important partners to keep moving forward.”