Vision without action is just a dream.  Fortunately, Atlanta has always been blessed with remarkable dreamers, from Martin Luther King Jr., to Maynard Jackson to Billy Payne, whose actions have reshaped our nation and our great city.  More than a quarter century ago, Atlanta hosted the world for the Centennial Olympic Games, setting off an avalanche of development that revived the central city and left a legacy of projects that are still enjoyed today by millions. 

Unfortunately, a 40-acre barren asphalt wasteland in the heart of downtown remains untouched by time and urban resurgence.  We have a rare opportunity, much like the Olympic Games, to transform the Gulch into the Southeast’s single largest city-center, mixed use development—with virtually no cost or risk to the city taxpayers.  More important, millions of dollars and hundreds of affordable housing units will flow to those who need it most.  Vision, plus action, will change our city once again.

Reinventing the Gulch into a dynamic, thriving cityscape of housing, retail and offices involves great risk, perhaps costing over $5 billion.  Mayor Bottoms has negotiated a thoughtful incentive package that requires no out-of pocket contributions from taxpayers.  In fact, the overwhelming bulk of the incentives for the project are underwritten by the state.  And the benefits are tremendous; here is a partial list:

35,000 permanent jobs

$185 million investment in low-income communities

$100 million in an affordable housing trust

38% benchmark for minority and female owned businesses

Green-spaces, bike lanes and tree-lined smart roads.

There were those, including some cynical voices in town, who doubted our bid to host the Olympic Games.  But then, just as now, I trusted in the greatness of this city and in her people. Atlanta is a world class city, but that privilege requires constant re-investment and re-invention.

World class cities have world class downtowns.  For all the progress made in Atlanta’s downtown, including Georgia State University, major historical, scientific and sports facilities, there remains a paucity of activities and a 40-acre crater in the heart of our city.

Mayor Bottoms’ plan for the Gulch asks nothing of taxpayers, utilizing the same tax-allocation district that helped underwrite other transformative projects, including The Beltline.  Under the plan, the collection of property taxes on the project would be temporarily frozen and reinvested to help offset the cost of development.  Since the busted and unused parking lots that constitute the Gulch are not generating any revenue currently, no priorities like education, public safety or economic development will suffer. Instead, this plan offers Atlantans a vision of their city that is better connected, more equitable and more prosperous in every sense.

It was vision—and a little stubbornness—that convinced the world 28 years ago to allow Atlanta to host the Centennial Olympic Games.  Our great city was transformed and the world was witness.  I see the same stubborn vision that Mayor Bottoms has for the Gulch, an action that will reverberate throughout the city, and I trust the City Council will too.

Ambassador Andrew Young, former Mayor of Atlanta.

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