Running a Perimeter monorail and hosting the Indian Oscars ceremony were among the ideas Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul brought back from his recent trip to India.
The mayor’s trip began April 22 and ended May 2, the very day he gave a somewhat jet-lagged debriefing to the City Council. He was joined on the trip by his spouse Jan Paul, who heads Leadership Sandy Springs, and Sandy Springs Perimeter Chamber of Commerce officials. The trip was arranged through India’s Atlanta consulate, based in Sandy Springs.
Mayor Paul said the “whirlwind trip” included the cities of Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Delhi.
“The goal is to try to build relationships and establish business ties,” he said, holding up a stack of business cards a couple of inches thick, which he said he collected from locals.
The mayor said he toured some traditional industrial sites, such as a factory that makes the tails for the U.S. military’s C-130 cargo planes; the tails are then shipped to Georgia for assembly at Lockheed Martin in Marietta.
But Mayor Paul’s visit also included the less typical fields of alternative mass transit and the “Bollywood” film industry. He also found himself having to explain his country’s newly restrictive immigration policies under President Trump.
“I will never complain about the traffic in Sandy Springs again,” said the mayor after his experience on India’s crowded urban streets.
While he crawled in traffic there, he also saw one of the mass transit solutions: a monorail operating in Mumbai.
Monorails – trains that run on a single, usually elevated track – are popular in Asian countries, but in the U.S. have become a symbol for government boondoggles, almost singlehandedly due to a famous episode of the cartoon “The Simpsons.” As Perimeter Center’s traffic has grown, monorails have been proposed several times over the years. In late 2015, former Sandy Springs Planning Commission chair Lee Duncan kicked off a new round of studies with strong pro-monorail statements. The talk has died down in the past year, but transit alternatives remain a hot topic.
“I get teased a lot by media about my fascination with certain modes of transportation,” Mayor Paul said as he recounted his trip to the Mumbai monorail office. He explained “the reason monorails have fascinated me” is their ability to fill the huge gap of east-west mass transit in Perimeter Center.
The mayor noted that I-285 is the obvious, available route to run east-west transit. But MARTA-style heavy rail would struggle with the hills and stations in the middle of the highway would be inconvenient, he said. A monorail could make steeper climbs and turns, and on elevated columns, it could wend its way closer to population centers. A monorail system could “bring the train to the people instead of the people to the [train],” he said.
“So what you can do is, take a train down 285 on a monorail,” the mayor said.
Indian Academy Awards
Jan Paul, who has board positions with Georgia Public Broadcasting, later said that among her goals on the trip was to seek possible partnerships with Indian TV and film directors on documentary projects. She said that led to discussions about attracting Bollywood’s Academy Awards event to metro Atlanta – including the new City Springs facility set to open next summer.
“It would be a great way to show off our new performing arts center,” the mayor said.
“Bollywood” is the term for a huge Hindi-language film industry based in Mumbai that is known for its epic, melodramatic musicals. In 2000, Bollywood created an annual International Indian Film Academy Awards ceremony, which is always staged in some other country. The first was held in London, and last year’s in Madrid, Spain. The multi-day ceremony has been staged twice in North America: once in Tampa, Fla., and once in Toronto, Canada.
“We met a lot with Bollywood,” the mayor said.
Jan Paul said IIFA officials “expressed interest in metro Atlanta as a future awards destination since they travel to different locations each year. So, the door is open to future discussion about the Bollywood awards show being in the metro area and Atlanta and state officials would need to be included on those discussions.”
Jan Paul serves as chairman of the Georgia Public Broadcasting Commission and vice chair of the Georgia Public Broadcasting Foundation. While the mayor said in the meeting that GPB covered her trip expenses, she later clarified that she paid her own way.
Immigration and business
The mayor said that Indians frequently asked him to explain America’s newly restrictive immigration policies of the Trump era, and that he tried his best despite limited expertise.
“There’s a lot of angst and there’s a lot of concern,” said the mayor. And a lot of lost business, too, he said, with Indian investors heading to Africa and students going to Britain or Canada.
“It’s obviously something on the minds of people around the world,” he said of the anxiety about America’s accessibility.
This story has been updated to correct and clarify Jan Paul’s role in the trip.