The Atlanta metro area is home to at least 27 Community Improvement Districts (CIDs), which are formed by businesses within a geographic area that agree to tax themselves to help fund roads, bridges, signage, sidewalks, lighting and other infrastructure improvements. Most of them partner with other local organizations and government entities on projects that revolve around beautification, revitalization, safety and other community initiatives, all to help support economic development. Atlanta Business Chronicle asked executive directors of several CIDs about their goals, best practices and future plans.
How and when did your CID form, and how was the need determined?
Emory Morsberger, executive director of Stone Mountain and Lilburn CIDs: Lilburn started in 2011 to improve the community’s appearance and economy. Stone Mountain CID was created in 2010 to reduce blight and crime, and to improve the area’s infrastructure.
Alyssa Davis, executive director of Sugarloaf CID: The Sugarloaf CID formed in 2016 to ensure the long-term success of the Sugarloaf district. Our CID is distinct from some of the other CIDs in Gwinnett because we are not focused on revitalizing a declining area. Rather, the CID was formed to take an active role in planning for the future to avoid the decline that has happened to some other commercial areas.
Joe Allen, executive director of Gwinnett Place CID: The CID was organized in March 2005 by volunteer commercial property stakeholders in the area working in partnership with the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce. The Gwinnett Chamber reached out to key area stakeholders regarding challenges facing the area. Forming a CID was seen as a key tool in directing the continued success of the area.
Tracy Rathbone, executive director of Town Center CID: Town Center CID was initially created in 1997 to enhance commercial property values and provide infrastructure improvements. However, we quickly saw that community improvement goes far beyond roads and property values, so we expanded our priorities to include beautification, safety improvements, trails, greenspace and more.
Jim Durrett, executive director of Buckhead CID: The Buckhead CID was formed in September of 1999 with leadership from Sam Massell and the Buckhead Coalition, as well as local commercial property owners, to address traffic congestion in the Buckhead commercial core. We then expanded our activities to include other aspects of the public realm that have set the stage for Buckhead’s commercial core to be more a walkable, livable urban center.
How would you describe your CID’s top priorities?
Davis: We have great assets in our district, including the Infinite Energy Center, which is going to get a lot of new investment and energy with the expansion of the center and Revel, a mixed-use entertainment district built by North American Properties. We want the assets in our community to be connected, including the many office buildings, hotels, retail and restaurant locations surrounding that new development. The CID is working on projects to keep traffic flowing, enhance the district with more landscaping, provide more security and connect our district with trails and eventually transit.
Rathbone: The Town Center CID just completed an update to our master plan, which looks ahead three to five years to identify the areas that are prime for redevelopment, infrastructure improvements and greenspace enhancements. We are completing the South Barrett Reliever project, with phase two opening this year and phase three underway. In 2018, the Town Center CID will be focused on a number of studies to identify the next round of infrastructure improvements. In addition, we are collaborating with our nonprofit partner, the Town Center Community Alliance, to implement the next phase of trail activation and greenspace planning.
Allen: The mission of our CID is to enhance the vitality of Gwinnett’s central business district by strengthening the area’s role as the center of economic and employment activity. Our top priorities are: changing perceptions of Gwinnett; infrastructure investments and economic redevelopment.
Durrett: The mission of the CID has evolved since its creation. Traffic congestion is still our top priority, but today we approach that problem in a more comprehensive way. Today our mission is to create and maintain a safe, accessible and livable urban environment. We invest our funds in the planning and execution of improvements in the public realm. Where we see segments of streets that aren’t functioning as well for people as they could, regardless of whether people are in vehicles, on foot or on bicycles, we prioritize those corridors. Where we see opportunities to put in place infrastructure that creates a more connected and walkable urban place, we prioritize those opportunities. Where we see opportunities to attract other funding to pair with ours, those are prioritized.
Morsberger: For Lilburn it’s beautification and economic development. For Stone Mountain, it’s crime reduction, improved appearance and transportation upgrades.
How is your CID addressing these priorities, and what have been the best practices and the challenges doing so?
Rathbone: The CID staff is continually engaged in our community, cultivating relationships with local stakeholders to enhance partnerships and provide further opportunities for collaboration. We work as a collective group to envision the future growth of the area, conducting public meetings and studies to thoroughly vet ideas for growth and improvement. The challenge with this collaborative approach can sometimes come from the inability to implement every “great idea,” therefore prioritization based on the most significant need, funding availability and timing must be carefully considered with each project.
Morsberger: In Lilburn, we’ve taken over maintenance of both sides of a 6 ½-mile corridor along State Route 29/Lawrenceville Highway. We’ve also made road improvements at Jimmy Carter Boulevard, Rockbridge and Ronald Reagan Parkway, and begun landscaping several nodes within the CID. We are also working on a master plan for the area around the largest Hindu temple in the U.S., which is in the center of our CID. In Stone Mountain, we’ve reduced our crime rate from one break-in every week seven years ago to no break-ins in the last four months. We have seven-night-a-week private security patrols who are very friendly and ask anyone walking the streets after 10pm if they can help them. We also spent almost $1 million on landscaping improvements. We are maintaining roughly 15 miles of roadway at Mountain Industrial Boulevard and Highway 78. It’s the gateway into our CID and we’re proud of it.
Allen: We are the voice for area businesses with public agencies. We are proactive in our public relations; In 2017, we reached 17.9 million people with positive information about the area. Currently, the CID is reaching out to 70 local, regional and national developers to promote awareness of redevelopment opportunities and available incentives in the CID, including the new Redevelopment Overlay District. We have also made several infrastructure investments around the area. To improve quality of life, we are focusing on walkability, as Phase 2 of the Satellite Boulevard streetscape project was completed in the summer of 2017. Construction will begin this spring to complete the remaining portions of streetscapes along Pleasant Hill Road from Club Drive to Old Norcross Road. For our Broken Windows Initiatives for 2017, we repaired 136 street lights/shopping center/traffic signal lights and 51 faded or damaged street signs; and removed 43.11 tons of trash from the 10 miles of roadways maintained by the CID. The CID led the effort to create a Tax Allocation District, Opportunity Zone and Redevelopment Overlay, and many headquarters – such as Iconex Global, M&I Materials U.S. and Kaiser Permanente U.S. Mission Critical Call Center – have recently moved into the area.
Davis: As a new CID, we are in the early stages of tackling these priorities. We have an interchange landscaping project currently underway, and we are working with Gwinnett DOT on plans to improve the Sugarloaf at Satellite intersection. That project is a gateway to the CID, so along with traffic improvements, we have designs to make it more attractive and safer for pedestrians. We also submitted a successful grant application to the Atlanta Regional Commission to complete a scoping study for the section of the Loop Trail project that travels through our district.
Durrett: We subscribe to the “many hands make light work” school of getting things done. We partner with others in almost everything we do, including the City of Atlanta to jointly implement TSPLOST projects and Renew Atlanta bond projects. We have partnered with Georgia DOT to implement improvements to the several state routes that cross-cut Buckhead. We have partnered with MARTA and SRTA, as well as the city and the Federal Transit Administration to create a new entrance to the Buckhead MARTA station. We have partnered with Livable Buckhead and the PATH Foundation to plan and build the PATH400 greenway trail. We have partnered with the Atlanta Police Foundation to place cameras and license plate readers throughout our district, and we have planned collaboratively to identify our community’s needs and ways to address them. Collaboration is the best practice, but it is also challenging to do it right.
What do you think is the most important role of a CID in a community, and how does your CID create partnerships along that line?
Davis: We work as partners with Gwinnett County to make projects happen that would not happen otherwise. Having a CID means that the Sugarloaf area gets extra focus and attention. We have the ability to leverage funding, so that we can provide a great return on investment to our property owners.
Morsberger: CIDs bring together property owners and government officials at all levels to improve the business climate and operations capability for their area. With transportation projects, a CID doesn’t get anything done unless it does partner with other people. That’s the nature of what CIDs do. We are working with the DeKalb County Department of Transportation and we do a lot of things with GDOT. We’ve got state roads and county roads, and we work with both to make changes, with the CID putting in about 20 percent of the cost of a project. All of us [CIDs] thrive by working in partnership with the state and county DOT. They appreciate when they’re working with a CID that there’s a pretty high level of competence and integrity in getting things done. We are audited on everything and run things like a business.
Durrett: The most important role we play is providing a laser focus, resources and a sense of urgency to make improvements from which everyone benefits – whether you live in, work in or visit Buckhead. Allen: The CID is a convener/facilitator. We bring stakeholders to the table, share information, develop data and find solutions.
Rathbone: One of the most important roles of a CID is to represent our commercial stakeholders, always ensuring that the priorities of the CID reflect the needs of our constituency. While CIDs are able to only fund projects within their boundary lines, it is critically important that a longer lens is used with master planning, taking into consideration the impact of the projects within the CID, but also the broader regional impact. Partnerships are the key to our success at all levels and we take great pride in our ability to effectively work at the local, regional and statewide level to accomplish our goals.
Can you share some unique projects and initiatives that your CID has funded and participated in, and the community’s response to them?
Allen: For the Diverging Diamond Interchange (DDI) at Pleasant Hill Road/I-85, the first DDI in the county, the CID took the lead to secure funding from Gwinnett County and SRTA. There has been a 51 percent decrease in the average number of stops, a 43 percent decrease in total delay and a 20 percent reduction in accidents. With funding from Gwinnett along with CID funds, miles of sidewalks, lighting and streetscape improvements have been added, with more planned for 2018. The Opportunity Zone and Tax Allocation District creation was spearheaded by the CID, and has resulted in thousands of new jobs for the area, and has gotten it back on the map.
Rathbone: One unique project is Aviation Park, located midway along the Noonday Creek Trail in the heart of our district. This park is a great example of the Town Center CID and Alliance working together with Cobb County, Cobb County International Airport and local stakeholders to create an aviation-themed park with a restroom building that mimics the airport control tower, a winged pavilion picnic shelter and a STEM-oriented and aviation-themed playground. The park was designed, developed and fully funded by the Town Center CID and Alliance, and the ownership and maintenance has now been turned over to the county. Another unique project is our Zagster Bike Share program. We are the first CID in Georgia to launch a program of its type and scale, with 24 bikes and three locations. Visitors can take a ride on our beautiful trails all day, every day of the year. We have had more than 25,000 rides during the first two years of the program. We are working with our regional partners to connect our trails and bike share program to the 22 miles of trail way that is nearly complete from Woodstock to the Chattahoochee River.
Morsberger: Both Lilburn and Stone Mountain CIDs have undertaken numerous landscaping and infrastructure upgrades, and several key intersections have been and will be upgraded.
Davis: We are currently going through a master planning process to create a Livable Centers Initiative (LCI) Plan for the Sugarloaf area. We held input sessions at Sugarloaf Mills and a Gladiators game at the Infinite Energy Center to get input from the public where they already are, instead of asking them to come to us. We’ve also held interviews with stakeholders and partners in the area, and many of them also participated in a design workshop for the plan to generate ideas.
Durrett: Changing Peachtree from a traffic eyesore to an attractive complete street, still underway in the southern part of our district, has been transformational. We have spent the past two years developing the conceptual design and implementation strategy of a park on top of GA 400 between Peachtree and Lenox Roads. We are in the process of handing this off to a new private nonprofit entity that will be responsible for implementing the concept and realizing the park’s completion. Community feedback around the development of the park has been overwhelmingly positive, however the sentiment is not universal. Charlie Loudermilk Park was redesigned and rebuilt to create a more inviting gathering area in the heart of Buckhead, and as more residential development continues in the area, we believe that park will be valued even more than it is today. A potential roundabout solution to the dangerous Wieuca/Phipps interchange is under design currently, and this has been welcomed by some in the community and received with skepticism by others.
How do you see your CID evolving in the future?
Allen: I believe we will become more involved with marketing and outreach for the area, becoming a mini Chamber of Commerce.
Morsberger: The CIDs are continuing to expand and improve traffic flows and overall appearance, and we will make a major increase in resources allocated to economic development.
Davis: We are working to create Gwinnett’s downtown, and we will do that by taking a leadership role in planning for the future and making sure necessary improvements happen. We are also working to grow. As a new CID, we are working to expand to add new properties in our district.
Rathbone: The Town Center CID will always be centrally focused on commercial property development and infrastructure investment. However, the vision of the CID is much broader. With the changing composition of our district – including the evolution of the retail and restaurant areas, expansion of office space and KSU, and addition of more residents – we are looking at how each of our projects benefits the community as a whole. Thinking creatively about the importance of walkability, greenspace and transit options is paramount to our long-term success. There is no longer a singular solution or strategy to meet the needs of a given area. Therefore, we are pushing ourselves to anticipate future needs and actively seeking holistic solutions to encourage future development and enhanced quality of life.
Durrett: As Buckhead becomes more built out and our streets cannot be further improved with big capital projects, more emphasis will need to be placed on maintaining a state of good repair, keeping the area clean, working with private property owners on interparcel access, and taking advantage of advances in technology, such as what we are seeing with the “smart city” movement.
What are your goals for this year? What about the next five years?
Durrett: Our goals for this year are: to complete the park hand-off to the new entity; complete the construction of the East Paces Ferry Road complete street project; to make significant progress on the designs for the Wieuca-Phipps roundabout; Peachtree Phase 3 and 4 corridor improvements; Piedmont Road widening and Lenox Road complete street. We also will commission a scoping study to improve the Piedmont/Roswell/Habersham triangle interchange, and will begin to study the opportunity to pursue a potential interchange at GA 400 behind Lenox Square. Over the next five years, we will be constructing many of the projects that are currently under design, while beginning the next generation of projects that were proposed in the Buckhead REdeFined master plan, completed in 2017. I am sure that we, along with many others, will also be considering financial support for the construction, operation and maintenance of Atlanta’s park on top of GA 400.
Morsberger: We have a one-page strategic plan for both Lilburn and Stone Mountain. For Lilburn, our strategies include: develop three key geographic “pillar” areas to drive overall economic growth; improve appearance with various programs; invest in pedestrian walkways and trails; increase CID membership and engagement and invest in better industrial area access for large tractor trailers. For Stone Mountain, our strategies are: continue to improve security and improve public appearance; and continue to improve road conditions and traffic flow, and pursue outside funding for infrastructure improvements.
Davis: Our focus this year is to complete our LCI Master Plan and to begin a scoping study for the section of the Loop Multi-Use Trail that travels through our district. We have several sidewalk projects that will be completed this year as well. You’ll also see some banners and initial branding of the district later this year. In five years, we’ll have more landscaping, intersection and trail projects completed.
Allen: GPCID, in partnership with Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners and Partnership Gwinnett, created Vision 2020, our strategic plan for the next two years. Our strategic priorities include: continuing to be a key advocate/partner for transit, housing and catalyst projects; working with Gwinnett County on implementing major projects in the Gwinnett Place area, and improving the perception of Gwinnett Place.
Rathbone: One major goal is the construction completion of Phase 2 of the South Barrett Reliever, which is scheduled for completion in early summer. Our next focus is on corridor studies for three major thoroughfares in the district. We will be looking at data to determine the best way to promote a “complete streets” concept for design on our internal roadways. This concept promotes connectivity and creates a transportation network that works for vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists. Over the next five years we expect to see a large forward movement to construction of the South Barrett Reliever Phase 3, which will span over the new Managed Lanes and I-75 to connect to Roberts Court and up to Barrett Parkway. This major undertaking will be a tremendous asset to the infrastructure of the CID and county.
How do you work with other CIDs in the metro area, and if you do, on what initiatives?
Rathbone: We all share best practices and experiences, and support each other in our individual efforts. While our daily work focuses primarily on the projects and programs within our boundary lines, we are all aware of the value gained by working together to ensure mutual success. Many of our recent conversations have been focused on the regional transit expansion plans, as well as trail connectivity initiatives throughout the metro Atlanta area.
Allen: We have limited interaction with the CIDs outside of Gwinnett County, which is unfortunate. However, the Gwinnett CIDs meet on a regular basis and work on projects together such as transit and safety/security.
Morsberger: We meet and trade information regularly. Every CID in metro Atlanta is very successful. CIDs are relatively new to Georgia; they started in the 1990s and have come on really strong and have become the main way that things get done in metro Atlanta. They’re leading the charge, usually followed by the county and state. Both counties and states like partnering with people who have skin in the game. We’re not a charity; we’re there to improve an area and are willing to put our money where our mouth is.
Davis: Other CIDs can be a great resource for ideas, so we keep in touch with CIDs throughout the metro area. We are also working together on a security initiative with the Gwinnett CIDs.
Durrett: Since our projects are physically disconnected from other improvement districts, there are no joint improvement projects on which to work. As it relates to collaboration within the city of Atlanta, the Midtown and downtown districts do collaborate with us, along with Little Five Points and Westside, to work with the city on successful implementation of jointly-funded projects. Midtown and downtown also collaborated with us on a recent study of the economic impact of the Peachtree Corridor within Atlanta.
Please feel free to share any additional comments about your work.
Morsberger: We are working efficiently to upgrade our areas and dramatically improve our property values and member bottom lines.
Davis: Partnerships are important for all the work we do. In addition to Gwinnett County, we also have great partners in the Gwinnett Convention and Visitors Bureau and the churches in our community who support the work of the CID.