Thursday, April 29, 2010

New urbanism and public health

I'm quite positive that Decatur Metro gets more traffic than I do and doesn't need the help, but you should all check out the recent post by Andisheh (subbing) about public health, new urbanism, and Decatur.  The funny thing about the post is that I was reading it in my RSS reader, and thought I was reading Creative Loafing until I clicked over to DM.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Transportation funding: I continue to see the glass as half empty

So the legislature finally passed a transportation funding bill.  You can get the details here, here, or here.  A map of the various regions is here (PDF).  Overall, I'm just glad that something passed, and I'm glad all the money stays in the region instead of going to build a highway to some rural politician's alpaca farm or something.

While probably not the most important aspect of the bill, the fact that MARTA got a three year reprieve on its 50% sales tax/capex spending limit is important.  Unless there is some reason that MARTA cannot use its reserves (or I am blatantly misreading their financial documents), the system should be able to fund services for the next year.  MARTA has enough weird rules and legislative stipulations that it is very possible there is some reason its reserves can't be dipped into, but I haven't heard of any reason why not.  MARTA still has a long way to go before it is out of the woods, but this is good news.

I also want to make the point that a regional 1% sales tax is really only enough for metro Atlanta to just keep up.  We are so far behind many of our competitors that this bill only brings us up to par.

Consider also that the sales tax only lasts for 10 year before it has to be renewed - will this qualify us for  dedicated funding for federal transit grants?  Forget transit grants - could a region feel confident in establishing a transit service if funding has to go for a vote ever 10 years, not to mention pass a regional political gauntlet to make it on the list?  How many transit projects will we get passed when our region include Cobb, Gwinnett, Cherokee, and Rockdale?  We might be surprised, of course.

One big plus is that 15% of the sales tax will go to local governments instead of regional projects (this is actually more for non-metro Atlanta regions).  For a bill that is supposed to generate $750 to $790 million a year in the Atlanta region alone, thats no chump change - $112.5 to $118.5 million.  If Atlanta gets 1/10 of that, it'd be $11-12 million/year - on top of whatever Atlanta-related projects the region elects to perform.

As long as this thing doesn't end up funding a zombie underground toll road, I'll be pleased.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The environmental cost/benefit of green building

I've said before that I'm not really an environmentalist.  I don't really go out of my way to be very 'green'.  I care a lot about 'sustainable' development, but in my mind that embodies a lot more than just environmentalism and energy consumption.  Still, I know that a lot of my readers care a lot about green buildings and so I thought I'd pass along this little video about green home building:



h/t: Andrew Sullivan

Saturday, April 17, 2010

More MARTA funding b.s. ... I am Jack's complete lack of surprise

I missed this a few days ago, but check out this exchange from House Speaker David Ralston being interviewed by Denis O'Hayer:

Ralston: I’m not sure MARTA has ever had very much support from the state. It was never designed to be state-supported. It’s an important part of a large transportation infrastructure in Georgia. But I think before we have any kind of serious discussion about how we right the ship, we need to find out how we got into the storm.
O’Hayer: Is there time for that?
Ralston: Probably not this session. I mean, that’s going to have to be an extended discussion looking at all the things I’ve mentioned. And I think that would be a discussion that would take a lot of time. More than 40 days.
More time?  You mean more than the two years we've been talking about a regional transportation funding mechanism?  More than the year and a half it has been since MARTA almost went broke and had to be bailed out by the ARC and the stimulus?  

How can you not know??  Surely at least you have an opinion.  Jill Chambers has an opinion.  It is one I don't share, but she has an opinion.  I have an opinion, as a lay-person and not as someone charged with setting public policy for the state, like Ralston.  I believe that MARTA is funded primarily by a sales tax, and so during a major recession it is TO BE EXPECTED that funding would decline.

This is freaking ridiculous.  At this point, it should not take any time to diagnose what is wrong with MARTA, at least if you aren't a state leader.  Someone, anyone, in a position to make things happen, tell me what MARTA needs to do in order to please the GOP enough to get some help.  A list of 10 things.  

Hopefully I'll be able to take a look at MARTA's financials when I am finally done with this semester, so maybe I can help Mr. Ralston out.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Are large development projects set up to fail?

I was reading this article about the Allen Plaza development, and I wondered if projects like Allen Plaza or Atlantic Station can EVER truly succeed.  Now, I think both of these projects have succeeded in many ways, but they are both roughly half-built.  For all the early success of Atlantic Station, the Atlantic condos are sitting empty and there are a lot of unbuilt development pads along 17th Street.  Barry did great with the Southern Company building and the Ernst and Young building.  The W almost went into foreclosure, though, and Barry is barely hanging on to the land for the rest of the project.

These are two projects that started off very hot at the right time - Barry was leasing up the office space in 2004 and 2005, and the Atlantic Station offices started opening in 2004.  Now, who knows when they'll get finished.  Despite how hot things were, there is only so much that you can build and absorb before things begin to cool down.

Frankly, I wonder if you could have EVER expected these not to falter.  The development cycle is simply too short to build as much space as folks were planning.

I actually do agree with Barry that long-term, the pictures still looks good for Allen Plaza.  I admit that I am biased, because I want to see Downtown succeed.  I think one lesson here is that if you want to do something of this magnitude, you have to plan for the long-term and riding out at least one downturn.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

What do you do about Turner Field?

James and I were discussing this on our way to opening day.  Everyone who goes to a Braves game says, "man, there could be so much more here."  And there could be:
There's about 20,000 square feet of retail space within one half-mile of Atlanta's Turner Field, according to researchers from Georgia Tech. By comparison, Tech researchers found an average of 1.5 million square feet of retail space within the same distance of recently built baseball stadiums in Cincinnati, Denver, Pittsburgh, San Diego, St. Louis and Washington, D.C.
The comparison is pretty stark.  There is simply nothing around the stadium.  Part of this has to be the fact that 47 acres is owned by the Atlanta Fulton Recreation Authority, which has built ridiculous stuff like the Fanplex - which has been closed since 2004.  Hey, it costs the city 35,000 a year to hold on to the property, but they aren't selling.

I have no idea if anyone has tried to buy land from the city before.  As far as I know, there is no history of folks with big ideas for this area.  For one thing, it has always been pretty rough - Summerhill rioted in 1966, in part because the area felt neglected by the city.  The stadium was built in the area in the first place to try and revitalize it.  That worked out well...