The latest draft study about the park over Ga. 400 includes some long-awaited discussion of who would pay for the new public space. One possibility on the table: special taxes for neighboring residential and commercial tenants.
Proposed nearly two years ago by the Buckhead Community Improvement District, the park capping 400 between Peachtree and Lenox roads has drawn excitement, but also questions and internal CID board controversies about who would pay for it. Funding sources will be further detailed when the final phase of the study is presented at the July CID board meeting.
The draft study, led by consulting firm Rogers Partners Architects + Urban Designers, was given only to CID board members at their March meeting, while other attendees saw only a summary of the study. The Reporter later obtained a copy of the full draft study.
Concerns about the possibility of increased taxes have been discussed since the first public presentation of the park in September 2016, when residents at MeridianBuckhead condos expressed concerns. A mixture of public and private funding has always been on the table, but this study reveals some details about funding that were previously unknown.
The CID, which is spearheading the project, has identified three tiers of properties — “park neighbor patrons,” multi-family and commercial — that would benefit from the park, the document says. Those neighboring properties may form a “special services district,” or SSD, which imposes special property taxes.
The special tax district was identified as part of an overall preliminary funding plan that includes federal, state and city funding sources as well as philanthropic contributions. The CID itself could also fund the park. The CID could kill the park plan, and if the plan does move forward, an SSD may not be a funding source as no details have been finalized.
If an SSD is formed, the report recommends that group be heavily involved throughout the public engagement process. Properties considered for the special tax district “may be the most important group to consider for the public engagement process and the group that will require the most attention,” the report says.
The report notes that former Cobb County Chairman Tim Lee, who brokered the Atlanta Braves’ secret move to a new stadium partially funded by a special tax district, was voted out of office due to what some saw as a lack of transparency.
Consultants recommend the Buckhead CID’s public engagement techniques with neighboring properties include individual interviews, small focus group meetings, surveys and mobile interactive exercises.
In a mock-up of an online survey that could be used, residents living in the district are asked what they would be willing to pay in monthly taxes, ranging from $0 to $21 or more.
Other details studied in the report include the hiring of an executive director at a $125,000-a-year salary and a five-person, full-time staff that will oversee marketing, programming, horticulture, security and fundraising.
Consultants estimate the yearly operating costs for the park would be $1.7 million. The park would experience funding gaps for three years with an $850,000 deficit for the first year of operation.
Although the Buckhead CID has spearheaded the idea for and studies on the park, the park’s construction and operation may ultimately become the responsibility of a committee or entity formed in partnership with the CID. However, if the park is created, it would likely be maintained by the city of Atlanta, the report says.
A full traffic study has not been completed, but the report suggests consultants believe traffic would not be heavily affected by the park. Peak visiting times for parks are typically on weekends and afternoons, but this park would generate more traffic than a typical park because of its location in an urban environment, according to the study.
The park has legal obstacles to overcome, especially concerning its relationship with surrounding MARTA and Georgia Department of Transportation infrastructure. The consultants list 17 items that must be completed before the park can be approved by the city, which include completing studies and submitting plans to agencies like MARTA and GDOT for approval.
GDOT Commissioner Russell McMurry has emphasized in meetings that the park cannot prevent the addition of a fourth lane in both directions on Ga. 400, according to meeting minutes included in the report.