By John Schaffner

The Buckhead Community Improvement District was approached at its Oct. 27 board meeting to invest $100,000 in a “Red Fields to Green Fields” program of President Obama’s administration, focused on investing up to a trillion dollars to turn distressed urban commercial and retail assets into parks, at least temporarily.

Joe Hughes, who is part of a team at Georgia Tech that is working on designing this program, which could bring a $5 billion national pilot program to Atlanta, told the CID board the program would “provide funding to acquire distressed assets, removing them from the books of banks and/or struggling owners, create jobs and enhance property values while neighborhoods benefit directly from gaining park or open space.

In simple terms, the federal government would purchase underpreforming commercial and retail buildings, tear down the buildings and turn the property into park space with the hopes for later redevelopment.

The program is being developed under the auspices of The City Parks Alliance, a national parks advocacy group based in Washington, DC, and, according to Hughes, the Obama administration has apparently endorsed the concept and committed to funding up to a trillion dollars.

The Red Fields to Green Fields Atlanta Program (R2GA) which Hughes discussed with the Buckhead CID board, proposed to implement a two-phase development process that immediately converts these properties to open space and parks and over time, creates incentives for development and densification around these open spaces.

Aided by Georgia Tech, the program is preparing an analysis to present before federal funding sources, requesting $5 billion for Atlanta to be the national pilot program. The program is now attempting to raise a matching CID fund of at least $500,000 to further the Atlanta program.

Not everyone at the Oct. 27 CID board meeting thought the proposal was a good idea. Board member Scott Selig, vice president of Selig Enterprises which owns and manages commercial and retail properties in the Atlanta market, considered the program to be in direct competition to company which he said is presently trying to purchase some of the same properties that would be the target of this program. He said the buildings mostly are underperforming because of faulty management.