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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Atlanta Welcomes Global Land Economics Group

ATL skyline view from
 the opening reception
The Lambda Alpha International Atlanta Chapter hosted the Spring 2014 Land Economics Weekend (LEW) April 3 - 5 attracting a global contingency eager to learn about Atlanta's history, challenges and accomplishments. With limited time, the LEW tours and presentations focused on the Downtown and Midtown business districts.

Lambda Alpha International (LAI) is an honorary society for the advancement of land economics. LAI provides a forum for the study and advancement of land economics where the "winnowing and sifting" of ideas takes place in an atmosphere of mutual respect. LAI operates through a network of chapters. A LAI Chapter provides a variety of programs and forums for its members to share information critical to understanding important land-use issues. The IMPACT Blog article, Lambda Alpha International Atlanta Chapter: growing membership, influence and impact, introduces LAI along with its designated purposes.

Twice per year chapters sponsor "Weekend Experiences" giving members an opportunity to meet and learn about land economic issues in other cities throughout the world. Open to LAI members and their guests, these meetings address wider international, national and regional issues and include project tours within the host city.

Mike Sizemore presenting
the opening reception
Atlanta LEW festivities began on Thursday evening at a lovely reception hosted by the SizemoreGroup at the Metro Atlanta Chamber reception space overlooking Olympic Centennial Park and Midtown. After introductions by LAI member Bill de St. Aubin, SizemoreGroup (SG) CEO, Mike Sizemore, SG Founding Principal and SG President Lily del Berrios, gave an excellent presentation of the Centennial Park | Luckie Street district evolution that aligned with the 1996 Summer Olympics hosted in Atlanta. The reception was a great opportunity for long-time LAI friends to reconnect and new friendships to blossom prior to the formal program.

Each of the two tour days began at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Ga Tech) conference center with informative presentations on a variety of topics, including the history underlying the tour locations planned for the day. 

Dan Reuter @ podium
 After opening remarks, LAI member Dan Reuter – Atlanta Regional Commission Community Development Division Manager – presented on the topic, Overview of the Metro Atlanta Region and the Importance of Community Improvement Districts in the Region. Dan’s presentation set the stage for the regional interplay within local impact, a theme carried through in Saturday topics.

Narrowing the focus to Midtown, Kevin Green – Midtown Alliance (MA) President – chronicled Midtown’s journey from its sordid history to a thriving metro business center where the culture | arts community plays a vital role. A strong residential coommunity, ranging from the magnificent homes in Ansley Park to new high rise condominiums, Midtown is cyclist and pedestrian-friendly with vibrant street level retail.

MA Executive Vice-President & Chief Operating Officer Shannon Powell addressed the powerful role Blueprint Midtown, a community-based master plan for Midtown, plays in the area re-development. Deep into the implementation phase, the plan includes open spaces, streetscapes, land use and transportation initiatives and is the catalyst for over $600 billion in high-density development projects. 

Shannon Powell & Steve Foster
Further narrowing the morning session focus, John Majeroni – Executive Director of the GA Tech Office of Real Estate Development and Vice-President of Georgia Advanced Technology Ventures – gave an excellent presentation on the GA Tech metamorphosis over the past decades including the new Midtown campus. It was interesting to learn the techniques used to bridge the older and new campus activities split by The Connector (joined I -75 & I – 85 interstates through the city.)  John also addressed the 1996 Olympics’ significant long-term impact on the GA Tech campus.

Following the morning presentations, the LEW group loaded onto two buses for a first-hand Midtown experience. The Fabulous Fox Theatre was the first stop. Originally the Yaarab Temple Shrine Mosque, the Shriners built the facility in 1929 as their headquarters and then sold it to movie mogul William Fox. The early financial challenges were integral to the history overview prior to the tour. 

LEW group during pre-tour
presentation @ The Fox
A forerunner, The Fox opened with indoor plumbing, flushing toilets, light bulbs in clear light fixtures and phone booths in the Men’s Salon. Dedicated to preserving its historical significance, all furniture and light fixtures are originals where possible. The tour was filled with intriguing historical facts intermingled with the Fox's deep commitment to maintaining its heritage.

Lunch was an easy walk across the street to The GeorgianTerrace, a historic hotel & event facility located across Peachtree Street from The Fox. The LEW group was treated to a southern-style buffet lunch ending with a delicious peach cobbler.

Next on the agenda was a visit to Atlantic Station, a former brownfield “cleaned-up” and transformed into a LEED certified multi-use commercial, residential and retail complex by the Jacoby Development Group. Current owners North American Properties’ strategic action created a renaissance for the troubled complex. Liz Gillespie – North American Properties Vice-President of Marketing – gave an excellent presentation on how the owners “listened,” took action to correct real or perceived challenges, and moved forward with innovative marketing using technology-based promotional vehicles.

Midtown view from
Atlantic Station
With the penthouse floor vacant in the BB&T Tower, the space is used as a reception and educational facility, a perfect venue for the Atlantic Station tour presentation. The panorama views of Downtown, Midtown and Buckhead are amazing.

Following Atlantic Station, MA associates narrated a bus tour through Midtown’s commercial and residential flagstones, including the in-town Ansley Park neighborhood showcasing the mansions and urban parks.The Ponce City Market (PCM) was the destination and final tour. Due to major construction-in-process, the presentation was staged at the park across the street from the impressive renovation project.

Originally completed in 1928, the historic Sears, Roebuck &Co. distribution center was the largest brick building in the Southeastern United States at the time. As the largest adaptive reuse project in Atlanta’s history, PCM will restore 1.1 million square feet of the Sears building into retail, office and residential space.  

Limited parking space is not a concern as PCM will provide a trolley to the close-by MARTA station during working hours. In addition, ride share programs like Zip Car are planned along with plenty of bike parking space. The project is garnering attention as a national model for adaptive re-use.

Paul Morris prior to
his impromptu "teaser"
With the Atlanta BeltLine (ABL) along the PCM backside, Paul Morris – ABL President & CEO – gave an impromptu “teaser” to his keynote presentation at the closing reception Saturday evening.

The LEW group gathered Saturday morning for another day of presentations and tours focused on Downtown Atlanta. Beginning with the big picture, Dr. Catherine Ross, GA Tech Professor and Director of the Center for Quality Growth and Regional Development, presented on Mega Regions and Regional Competitiveness. With an emphasis on water, energy and transportation, Dr. Ross gave an exciting glimpse of the incredible potential inherent within a mega region, versus a city, urban focus.

Following the big picture, A.J. Robinson – Central AtlantaProgress President – gave an overview of Downtown Atlanta. Originally founded as Terminus, Atlanta is a transportation-oriented city with roots in terminating railroad lines from the East and originating lines to the West. In modern times, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the busiest airport in the world, serves as the transportation and economic hub for Atlanta and the region. Beyond mere transportation, the airport retail operations are some of the most frequented in the world.

 A.J. noted several prominent driving forces for Atlanta’s success:
A.J. Robinson @ podium
  • City of Opportunity – many residents came to Atlanta for work; Atlanta is a relatively inexpensive city for business and living costs.
  • Business Community Engagement – Atlanta corporate leaders are engaged in the city on many fronts ranging from culture | arts to public safety, naming several areas.
  • Incredible Higher Education – Atlanta is home to many high profile universities including GA Tech, Emory University, Georgia State University, Agnes Scott College, Atlanta University Center, Kennesaw State University to name a few.
  • Entrepreneurial Spirit, a “can do” attitude – Atlanta’s spirit nurtured the creation of CNN, Coca-Cola, Delta, Home Depot along with winning the 1996 Summer Olympic Games.
  • Convention & Hospitality Industry – in addition to corporate headquarters, the convention | event industry is a powerful economic driving force. The Georgia World Congress Center is the fourth largest convention center in the nation, the Georgia Dome is home to the Atlanta Falcons and hosted the 2013 Final Four among other major events, and ample, first-class hotels are located in downtown and other districts to support visitors. 
LEW group members @
The King Center
Although Atlanta is a hub for higher education, a weakness within the city, according to A.J., is the educational infrastructure in the K - 12 realm. It seems Atlanta attracts talented young professionals rather than nurturing home grown quality students and talents within the public school system. The author notes Atlanta has a strong private school system for the K -12 realm.

After the Downtown overview, CAP associates treated the LEW group to a narrated Dynamic Downtown Tour. The National Center for Civil & Human Rights, The World of Coca-Cola, CNN Center, Centennial Olympic Park, Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, National College Football Hall of Fame, Georgia World Congress Center, Georgia Aquarium,  Centennial Hill, Hyatt Regency, AmericasMart, Peachtree Center, Historic Five Points, Underground Atlanta, Government Center, Georgia State Capitol, Georgia State University, Sweet Auburn Curb Market, Grady Hospital, Auburn Historic District, Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site, Freedom Parkway and the Carter Center were featured on the tour that covered a several mile radius.

Manuel's Tavern
The tour included a visit to The King Center before lunch at Manuel’s Tavern, an Atlanta institution founded in 1956. During lunch, the LEW group learned about the Old Fourth Ward Park, a new Atlanta public park. Owned by the City of Atlanta, funded by Watershed Management and developed by the ABL, the Fourth Ward Park serves as a storm water retention pond and city park. The Trust for Public Land assisted with acquisition of land for much of the site. A unique conjunction of circumstances and public partnerships, the park is indicative of Atlanta’s “can do attitude” and business leaders active in community affairs.

For the final tour, the LEW group visited East Lake to learn about one of Atlanta's oldest neighborhoods dating back to the 1880's. In 1908 the East Lake Country Club golf course opened and was the home club of amateur golf great Bobby Jones. By the 1960's the East Lake neighborhood slipped into a decline further fueled by the construction of East Lake Meadows, a crime ridden public housing project.

In the mid 1990's the East Lake Foundation, in partnership with the City of Atlanta, razed the public housing project and began a mixed income development that serves as a national model. Along with the neighborhood, the East Lake Foundation renovated the golf course to its previous grandeur and beyond. In 2005 East Lake Golf Club was named the permanent home for the PGA Tour Championship.

Recognition of Charter
for UAE Chapter
The Atlanta LEW closed with a wonderful dinner reception at the Loews Hotel. First on the program agenda was the Recognition of Charter for the United Arab Emirates Chapter. LAI President Tim Youmans and LAI Regional Vice-President Robert McBride presented the official UAE Chapter Charter to new chapter president Rudayna Abdo.

LAI member Paul Morris - ABL President & CEO - gave an outstanding keynote presentation, Rebuilding a City from the Inside Out. The ABL is a sustainable redevelopment project that provides a network of public parks, multi-use trails and transit along a historic 22-mile railroad corridor circling downtown and connecting 45 existing in-town neighborhoods.

Within the plan, there are 33 miles of multi-use trails, 1,300 acres of parks, 5,600 affordable housing units, public art and historic preservation. Locals take ownership of the ABL with impromptu art shows. For instance, the September 2013 ABL Lantern Parade kicked off the largest art display in Atlanta's history with over 10,000 participants. 

For the program finale, the Good bye Atlanta - Hello Madrid, 2014 was a celebration of Atlanta LEW success while building enthusiasm for the fall Madrid LEW.  In a fun ceremony, Joan Herron, LAI Atlanta Chapter President, passed her LEW Chair name tag ribbon to Emilio Gomez, LAI Madrid Chapter President. With wine still flowing, the LEW group stayed after the program end for farewells until the next encounter.

Steve Foster of GA Power
with his lovely wife Sherry
The Atlanta LEW success was the result of diligent effort by the LEW Committee led by LEW Chair Joan Herron. Steve Foster with Georgia Power provided sponsor funds along with in-house program printing. In addition, Steve orchestrated much of the two-day program and kept the group on tract while touring. The program design was spearheaded by Steve Arms of Marthasville Development. Along with the itinerary and pull-out map, the program included a nice snippet on tour destinations and sites viewed from the bus. As mentioned earlier, the SizemoreGroup sponsored the opening reception.

General sponsorship dollars were required to underwrite the LEW. Thank you to Skanska, Marthasville Development, Harrison Design Associates and University of Georgia College of Environment Design for fiscal sponsorship.

Joan completes the name
tag ribbon passing to Emilio
LEW Chair Joan Herron of Herron Consulting was the grounding force for success. As the leader, Joan motivated and organized the committee to meet deadlines and accomplish necessary tasks required for a smooth event.

A big thank you to the Midtown Alliance and Central Atlanta Progress for working with Joan and Steve on the program, presenting on their district's history and future directions, and providing associates to narrate the on-bus tours. Top executives from both organizations made the LEW a priority in their hectic schedules.

Elemental Impact founder Holly Elmore was inducted as an LAI member in December 2013 and served as a LEW photographer and author of this article. The Ei FB album, Spring 2014 Atlanta LAI LEW, is a pictorial recap of the powerful event.

For locals, the Atlanta LEW was a time of reflection and pride. Though not mentioned during the presentations, Atlanta was burned to the ground during the Civil War and later rose as a Phoenix from ashes. The spirit necessary to rise with brilliance from ashes was at the essence of Atlanta's story and the core of many of the presentations:  
Final LEW photo of two
lovely ladies - Rudayna & Joan
  • Midtown's evolution from a sordid past to a vibrant economic power center
  • Centennial Olympic Park's transformation from a crime ridden space to a 20-acre downtown park that claims the 1996 Summer Olympics in its birthright 
  • East Lake's spiral from glory to a "scary, " destitute neighborhood and then back again to an economic powerhouse golf course named the permanent home to the PGA Tour Championship.  
Thank you A.J. Robinson for recognizing the strength inherent within Atlanta's spirit. For those of us who love this vibrant city dearly, Atlanta's spirit beats within our daily lives - what an honor!