John F. Schaffner
Except for the runoff coming up, the 2008 elections are over, and I am more than a little disappointed in the voters of Atlanta.
I was thoroughly disappointed that Atlanta and Fulton voters, with the economy being what it is, voted to approve spending $85 million to build a new Central Library in downtown Atlanta, just because someone wants to build a new monument around Centennial Olympic Park.
The principal occupants of downtown Atlanta these days are homeless people, some office workers (most of whom live elsewhere), government workers, and students who attend Georgia State University and Georgia Tech. Oh, and of course, tourists and conventioneers, who don’t generally spend their time in a library.
During nighttime hours, most of the office workers and government workers have abandoned downtown. The students at Georgia State and Georgia Tech have access to libraries that must certainly be as good or better than the Central Library of the Fulton County Library System.
So whom are we spending this $85 million on, when we already have a sound building that acts just fine as a repository of books for the public to read?
Oh, by the way, did I mention the $85 million has to be matched by private funds to build the book palace that is planned for the Centennial Olympic Park area — an area that is frequented mainly by tourists? And what will be the fate of the present Central Library building? Just hang out a vacancy sign.
I also cannot believe Atlanta voters chose to allow the use of school funds to support nonschool development through tax allocation districts (TADs). Of course, I am opposed to the proliferation of TADs, period.
I believe if developers feel new development projects in various areas are worthwhile and likely to be economically viable (that means profitable), they should be able to find the financial ability to do the development on their own. They should not require support of a bond issue and city incentives that mortgage the taxpayers of the city. If developers don’t think a project is viable enough to do on their own, then it more than likely is not viable enough to be done under any circumstance.
Furthermore, even though Atlanta Public Schools spends more per capita on students than just about any urban school system in the country, it still needs to spend all its bucks on education — not on commercial development — because Atlanta students are improving but still rank low nationally among their peers.
But Atlanta, if it keeps going in the direction it is headed, may not become the education capital of the South, but may well become the TAD capital of the country.
Now that is an accomplishment we all can truly be proud of.
What about development?
What really amazes me is that Mayor Shirley Franklin and her administration keep pushing TADs and every other form of development stimulus — principally for downtown and southside Atlanta, not Buckhead — but the city’s Department of Planning and Community Development and all of its nonworking parts doesn’t even seem to be able to process normal or even easy building permit applications and grease trap permit applications so entrepreneurs can open the doors to their businesses.
We have written about businesses that spent months trying to get approvals so they could open restaurants, retail specialty food stores and even an animal clinic. In each case, the city’s delays resulted in the business owners losing large sums of money, needlessly.
Even after we recounted those horror stories and talked with city officials about the problems, nothing seems to have improved.
I recently was called by three established restaurant owners who have been trying to open restaurants in Buckhead and have run into the same problems, if not worse.
One owns multiple restaurants in the city and started in May seeking permits to open in the space formerly occupied by another restaurant. At last report, he still wasn’t open, and the delay had been costing him $130,000 a week for more than four weeks.
A second veteran restaurateur was opening his first restaurant in Atlanta in a space that had been occupied by another restaurant. He finally opened after weeks of problems with the city over building permits and grease trap permits, but not before it cost him $50,000 a week for several weeks of not being in business.
The third is a smaller operation that wanted to open a second location in the same neighborhood where the owners already operate a restaurant. They chose a space in a shopping center where another restaurant had been located. They have battled with the city for months and still can’t open the new spot.
The worst part of all this is none of these veteran business people wanted me to use their names or the names of their businesses because they fear the city will seek retribution and make their lives a living hell. What does that say about the way our city fosters new businesses and the growth of existing businesses?
Mayor Franklin, this doesn’t make me proud. Does it make you proud?
You can take pride in celebrating Nov. 10 the completion of a major project of the Combined Sewer Overflow consent decree before possibly heading off to join Barack Obama’s administration in Washington next year. Too bad the project did not come in on time and on budget. But what else is new?