Vision is one of those 20th-century words you don’t hear much now, at least not in these parts. So when the v-word popped back into the headlines last week, some of us old-timers switched off the Weather Channel and took notice.
A commission of business and civic leaders, convened by Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, announced a billion-dollar dream to overhaul the most famous thoroughfare in the transportation center of the South. Yep, the big mules want to restart the heart of Atlanta and remake Peachtree Street.
Led by Cousins Properties CEO Tom Bell, the Peachtree Corridor Task Force proposes turning Peachtree into a grand boulevard from Brookhaven in the north to Fort McPherson, south of Atlanta. Battalions of workers would bury utilities, reinstall streetcar lines, improve sidewalks, create parks and rip up unsightly edifices. They would convert Peachtree into a splendidly landscaped spine of a refurbished city.
Someone on the commission said Peachtree could be like Chicago’s Michigan Avenue. Did he say Michigan Avenue? Let’s shoot higher. Let’s talk like those guys from the old days. Remember the “World’s Next Great City?” That was Atlanta’s slogan and dream a long time ago.
Redoing Peachtree is not the only major public-private dream floating around. But this idea has more behind it than hope and blue smoke. It is a real possibility backed by what seems to be a feasible financial plan. Its point man, Tom Bell, runs one of the nation’s premier real estate development corporations. His retired boss, Tom Cousins, was a driving force behind Atlanta’s move into world-class commerce beginning in the 1960s.
Of course, when Cousins and his pals reigned, a handful of business executives called the shots in the Capitol and Atlanta City Hall. No one hemmed and hawed much about whether to build a Major League stadium, expand Hartsfield Airport or construct the World Congress Center. Coca-Cola magnate Robert W. Woodruff usually had the first and last word. Decisions, albeit less autocratic, are much more difficult and complicated nowadays.
Trapped in a carryover from Georgia’s wool-hat days, Atlanta is still envied and resented in much of the state, even though the ripple effect of Atlanta’s booming economy has created jobs, helped build highways and schools and improved the quality of lives in every part of Georgia. For generations young Georgians left for cities like Detroit or New York or Cleveland to enjoy the good life. Now they come to Atlanta. More than half of all Georgians now live in the metro area centered on the capital city. Every thinking Georgian knows that the health of the state is dependent on the Atlanta region.
Yet in recent times, the capital city has cooled. Construction cranes still dot the skyline but not nearly in the numbers as in the old days. Giant corporations have merged, moved out or gone under. Thousands of high-paying jobs have disappeared.
The current leadership under the Gold Dome makes no bones about its “make no waves” governing philosophy. But if the past is a valid guide to the future, most of the good things that have helped move our state into the modern era have been accomplished through partnerships with government and business leaders. George Berry, a former city of Atlanta official from the go-go days of the 1960s, says: “The Peachtree Street project has the potential of bringing the state, with its well-funded Department of Transportation, into partnership with the city of Atlanta government and the city’s business leadership to bring a vision into reality.”
Georgia is blessed with other opportunities but also beset with problems. Population is increasing exponentially, and the real estate industry flourishes. Yet infrastructure is stretched to the breaking point. Dreamers who are also doers are rare. The Atlanta-Peachtree project is important statewide because it marks the first time in years substantial interests have come up with a public-private project of such magnitude. It could prove to be a mood changer. Instead of recoiling, retreating and taking cover, our business and government leaders might be ready to embark on a new string of ventures to bring improvements and prosperity to every corner of the state.
Contact Shipp at P.O. Box 440755, Kennesaw, GA 30160, or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.