Last night I attended the public kickoff meeting for Downtown Atlanta’s Multi Modal Passenger Terminal, arguably the most progressive and complex transportation and development project on the city’s books. Stan Harvey of Urban Collage moderated a panel of panel of executives at the three firms managing the project: Jim Richardson, Senior Vice President of Development, Forest City Enterprises. Inc.; John McColl, Senior Vice President, Cousins Properties, Inc.; and Egbert Perry, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Integral Group, LLC.
The panel faced a packed house at the Georgia Pacific Auditorium downtown and stressed the importance of this project in Atlanta’s quest to becoming a world class city and securing our position as a leader in the southeast. The timing of this is critical as well as local and national trends have focused heavily on the need to invest in transportation, especially alternative transportation.
For those who are unfamiliar with the project, it entails the creation of a multi-modal transit hub in the downtown area called The Gulch, which will bring local, regional, and interstate bus and rail together at a central location that is a destination in and of itself, while also managing and streamlining the freight trains that run through the area. The MMPT is meant to attract commercial, residential and office development and reconnect for pedestrian activity parts of downtown that are currently isolated and empty. The managing and financing structure of the project, a public-private partnership (PPP), is progressive as well and is an approach that is increasingly being used in large transportation projects.
The panel was asked a series of questions, both prepared by the moderator and directly from the audience. Questions were asked about the overall impact to downtown, jobs, freight, and political will necessary to pull this off. The main theme of the answers seemed to suggest that in order for this project to be a success, our region as a whole–not just the City of Atlanta–needs to start thinking and acting like a region. Our first test in this is to pass the T-SPLOST in July, according to John McColl of Cousins. The other two panelists agreed with this sentiment and added that its passage is only the beginning. “Cities can’t stop” says Jim Richardson of Forest City. As congestion and other problems mount, they become more and more difficult to solve.
Our region is behind the curve on many issues that are common to other regions around the country: water, education, transportation, and age services. Not only that, but we are losing our competitive edge when it comes to attracting jobs–well-paying, technical jobs that used to be our specialty. If we are to remain competitive we must act now and keep acting to restore our future as a region.
These were the statements made by the professionals hired to complete this project. It’s our job as citizens to ensure that what they’ve said is not lost to cynicism and apathy.