Editor’s note: Atlanta BeltLine Inc., a branch of the Atlanta Development Authority, recently was forced into dissolving a business partnership with Barry Real Estate Cos. for $3.5 million to get the tax allocation district (TAD) bond money needed to purchase 4.5 miles of the BeltLine’s northeast corridor. Although the state’s open-records and open-meetings laws apply to Atlanta BeltLine and the Atlanta Development Authority, the partnership buyout proceeded with little notice and few details.
The city and Atlanta BeltLine paid $66 million to Gwinnett County developer Wayne Mason for the 65-acre crescent of land he had purchased from a railroad three years before for a reported $25 million. The partnership with Barry was considered necessary to raise the money for the land purchase and to negotiate with the Masons. The down payment was $25 million.
In the end, the money for the purchase came from the initial sale of $64.5 million in BeltLine TAD bonds. Because Atlanta BeltLine used the vast majority of the initial TAD bonds for the Mason land, those funds are unavailable for initiatives in other quadrants of the city.
For a full news story related to this land acquisition, visit www.reporternewspapers.net, click on Buckhead, then Community.
To the editor:
So where did Atlanta BeltLine Inc. (ABI) get $25 million to put up in the first place for the down payment on the northeast Atlanta property owned by Wayne Mason?
This commitment took place before any TAD bonds were issued, so the taxpayers shouldn’t have been on the hook for a dime. Now we are on the hook for 650 million dimes.
Of course, we can all sleep easy because 20 percent of the BeltLine is in the hands of ABI, and we have given over a significant portion of our tax base for the next 25 years. Why is no one concerned that 80 percent of the BeltLine is in private hands and most of it is owned by railroads, from which it will be much harder to acquire than the expensive 20 percent ABI pursued first?
Does anyone remember why the route for the BeltLine was selected? Was it because the right of way was perceived as being easily acquirable? If we are going to pay top dollar for every acre, we could have chosen any alignment, not just one that followed the old rail line.
Has anyone noticed that the city is cutting essential services? If we can’t maintain, operate or plan for the future of the parkland and infrastructure we have, does it make sense to add a bunch of land and infrastructure? If it catches fire, who will put it out?
Why doesn’t anyone seem to care that all of this foolishness is being financed at an effective interest rate of around 11 percent per year? Is it really a good idea to make long-term investments with money borrowed at credit card interest rates?
Is it really just bad luck that ABI negotiated the purchase price for the Mason land at the peak of the real estate bubble, then waited until the peak of the credit crisis to finance it?
Has it occurred to anyone that a significant fraction of any tax increase implemented in Atlanta to cover the shortfall in the general fund will flow straight into the coffers of ABI because it will constitute a “tax increment” for all the property that is inside the TAD? The worse things get for the city’s budget, the better they will get for ABI’s.
Has anyone noticed the BeltLine commercials on television? How it is that our tax money can be diverted for a feel-good ad campaign but can’t seem to fill the gaps in the police and fire budgets? It seems as if there are rules about how tax money is spent.
James Martin, chairman
Neighborhood Planning Unit D