Streetcar funding questioned

Several members of Atlanta City Council criticized a public-private partnership Oct. 12 for committing revenues from the city’s tax on rental cars to a planned streetcar project before obtaining the council’s approval.

The tax on rental cars is one of several funding sources identified in an application for nearly $300 million in federal stimulus funds submitted last month by a partnership that includes the city, MARTA, Central Atlanta Progress and the Midtown Alliance as a revenue resource to operate and maintain streetcars along Peachtree Street.

The federal grant would pay 100 percent of the project’s construction costs. But operating and maintenance costs – projected at $147 million over 20 years – are to come from passenger fares, contributions by the two business organizations, a federal air-quality improvement program and the rental car tax.

Council authorized the city in July to apply for the grant, but council members did not get to see the financing plan until Oct. 12.

Luz Borrero, Atlanta’s deputy chief operating officer, told members of the council’s Transportation Committee that the city’s commitment would be up to $1.2 million a year starting in 2012, when the streetcars are due to go into service. That money currently goes into the city’s general fund.

Councilwoman Felicia Moore objected to the commitment of those funds to the project without the council’s approval, saying it was premature, particularly during a recession.

Borrero said the city was under pressure to submit the grant application by a Sept. 15 deadline. She said the partnership would return to the council for approval of all aspects of the project, including the financing, if all or part of the grant financing comes through. A decision on the grant is expected by February.

Several council members also complained that the present plan only has the streetcars running from downtown to Midtown and from the King Center to Centennial Olympic Park. The project originally called for it to extend along the Peachtree corridor from Fort McPherson all the way to Brookhaven.

Borrero said that was changed to meet the $300 million grant application cap of the stimulus program.

Borrero suggested the odds of Atlanta getting the grant are iffy. While $1.5 billion is available nationwide for the grants, the feds have received $56 billion in grant requests.

Harris Poll says Atlanta among most popular

U.S. residents picked Atlanta as their 13th-most popular city in which they would like to live and Georgia as the 14th-most popular state, according to a recent Harris Poll.

New York City topped the poll this year as American’s No. 1 place to live, followed by San Francisco, which tied with Denver at the No. 2 spot, San Diego was No. 4 and Seattle was No. 5. The other cities on the top 10 are Chicago (No. 6), Boston (No. 7), Las Vegas (No. 8), Washington, D.C. (No. 9), and Dallas (No. 10).

New York City has topped the list every year except once since 1997.

California took the No. 1 spot as the most popular state for the sixth year in a row. Florida remains No. 2, Hawaii came in third, Texas was fourth and Colorado was No. 5.

City honors architect John Portman

Mayor Shirley Franklin and the Atlanta City Council presented a proclamation Oct. 5 honoring renowned architect and native son John Portman in recognition for his work as a developer and artist for designing projects in Atlanta, throughout the U.S. and around the world.

During the last half century, Portman has played an active and significant role in civic affairs and contributing to Atlanta’s growth. Without public financial assistance, he created Peachtree Center by designing and re-developing 14 city blocks in Atlanta’s Central Business District, a factor in preventing the abandonment of the central city by the business community.

Portman also designed the Peachtree Plaza Hotel, which gained landmark status as Atlanta’s tallest building from its completion in 1976 to 1987 when it was overtaken by One Atlantic Center. In addition, he developed, owns, and manages AmericasMart, a catalyst for the growth of Atlanta’s convention and hospitality industry.