Some expect they will help turn the airport area into a more unified international business center. Others simply want the grass mowed.
Despite varying motives, businesses are so serious about an effort to spruce up the area that they’re willing to tax themselves to make it happen.
If all goes as planned, the airport could soon be practically surrounded by three Community Improvement Districts, or CIDs. A CID is a defined area of commercial properties whose owners agree to pay an additional tax or fee in order to fund improvements within the district’s boundaries. A private business organization, a CID is run by a board and a paid executive. Members include business owners, property owners and area residents, but only non-residential property owners are subject to CID taxes and fees.
The CIDs aim to improve aesthetics and security, but they’re also part of a larger effort to develop Atlanta into an aerotropolis. The urban development concept calls for the airport to drive growth in its immediate area and throughout the metropolitan region, connecting workers, suppliers, executives and goods to the global marketplace.
The Atlanta Regional Commission has led the aerotropolis initiative with an eye toward helping communities capitalize on the airport.
“We are supportive of all initiatives that support the airport, and CIDs are a way to help local governments and property owners and other folks think about strategies for improving and better leveraging the airport,” says Jon Tuley, a planner with the ARC, who added that CIDs can also apply for state grants for improvements.
Dennis Martino, past president of the Airport Area Chamber of Commerce and general manager of Martino-White Printing, said the area around the world’s busiest airport doesn’t always leave a good first impression, especially for international visitors.
“If we upgrade the whole area, which the CID will help in, then some of those visitors might stay here rather than go someplace that looks better,” Mr. Martino said. “We need the security, landscaping, highways, interchanges – a whole lot of different things. We need help to bring the area together.”
For Mr. Tuley, it’s a simple equation: better looks and improved access in the area equals more opportunity.
“With the improvements, the area has improved chances of landing more international and national traffic and business,” he told Global Atlanta.
The three CIDs in the works are Airport West/Camp Creek Parkway, Airport East/College Park and Hapeville. A CID may not cross county lines, therefore parts of College Park are in Airport West (Fulton County) and Airport East (Clayton County). The Hapeville CID’s borders extend past its city limits. Although there are three jurisdictions, it is expected they would work closely together and even share staff, similar to the successful Perimeter CIDs in Fulton and DeKalb counties.
Airport West/Camp Creek Parkway is located on the western side of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and is the furthest along in its development. Last year it applied to the Fulton County Tax Commissioner for certification.
Tax Commissioner Arthur Ferdinand rejected the application. The law requires that 50 percent of commercial property owners plus one additional business agree to join the CID by signing and notarizing a consent form. These property owners must represent 75 percent of the commercial property value in the proposed CID.
Dr. Ferdinand maintained the CID did not have enough valid signatures to meet those requirements. Currently, the organization is ensuring that it has all the needed signatures before bringing it again to Dr. Ferdinand. The new timetable is late first quarter, says Emory Morsberger, president of The Morsberger Group, a developer who is leading the effort and will serve as its executive director.
Mr. Morsberger was disappointed in the delay, saying it led to “lost” grants that the CID was confident it could’ve applied for and received.
“The tax commissioner said he would certify us three different times last year and he didn’t,” Mr. Morsberger said. “He claims we don’t meet his standards, but he won’t tell us what those standards are. I’m sure he’ll eventually get around to it but his inaction has already cost us about $4 million in funding.”
Both Gary Young, director of airport affairs for College Park Economic Development, and Gerald Walker, director of communications, declined to speak about the CIDs.
The CIDs have prominent supporters in their respective business communities. On the board of directors for Airport West/Camp Creek Parkway are representatives from Wells Fargo, Chick-fil-A, First Industrial Realty Trust, Duke Realty, Hilton Garden Inn and Capital City Bank, as well as several civic or government entities such as Fulton County Economic Development, College Park Economic Development and the Atlanta airport. Porsche Cars North America, which is building its new headquarters near the international terminal, is supportive of the nascent Hapeville CID.
The impetus for forming the Airport West CID was a fatal car crash on Camp Creek Parkway that was “due to faulty road construction,” Mr. Morsberger said. “As we started talking, we realized that the area west of the airport is not very well coordinated. Property owners wanted to improve the quality of the infrastructure and make it better.”
Stuart Gulley, president of Woodward Academy in College Park, is committed to the CID. The school contributed $30,000 in start-up money.
“We’re excited about the benefits of the collaboration of property owners in the area to try to improve the traffic flow, aesthetics and security of along the named thoroughfares,” Dr. Gulley said. “In an ideal world you would expect the local government to attend to these things, and with this collaboration these things will be more likely to happen. I’ll be happy to have the grass cut so we have a more attractive entry for visitors and guests.”
Airport East is currently establishing its board and its goals and priorities, which focus on appearance (improving the physical appearance of interchanges and major arteries through maintenance and landscaping); economic development (building a desired brand and attracting higher-level jobs and improving property values) and infrastructure (funding pedestrian safety improvements and working to relieve congestion near interstate interchanges).
The Hapeville CID is putting together its board and signing up members.
“Whether it’s reducing car break-ins, landscape beautification or general economic development goals, CIDs have been very successful throughout metro Atlanta, and with the airport as a base, we think they will be very successful in this area,” Mr. Morsberger said.