Better schools are needed in the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport area if real estate and economic development there is to continue, said Ed Riggins, executive vice president of CresaPartners Atlanta LLC, at a monthly meeting of the Atlanta Air Cargo Association.

Mr. Riggins said during his presentation that much of the housing being built in the airport area is executive housing, designed for people who work at the airport or downtown and are interested in shortening their commute by living near the airport.

“The people moving into this executive housing are going to want their kids to have a better education” than currently offered in the area, he said.

Housing and retail development in these communities coincides with the beginning of construction for a new international terminal at Hartsfield-Jackson.

Airport officials told GlobalAtlanta that plans are in place for tremendous growth, including the addition of international and domestic gates and an above ground transportation system.

The “tri-city” area of College Park, East Point and Hapeville is at the center of airport business, providing international travel accommodations and facilities for air cargo transport, car rental and airline offices.
The cities around the airport are attractive to businesses wanting to deal with smaller entities than the City of Atlanta, where they receive more personal attention, said Mr. Riggins.

“People are looking for a sense of place,” he said, adding that south side residents have the same pride in their neighborhoods as residents of in-town Virginia Highlands and suburban Vinings.

In a series of telephone interviews, local leaders said that the perception of local schools is part of a negative image of the south Fulton area, a perception that is often inaccurate.

“Education has been a big topic of conversation in redevelopment of the south side of town,” said Mayor Alan Hallman of Hapeville, adding that educational reform must meet economic realities in the area.

Mayor Joe Macon of East Point said that the negative perception of south side schools is an exaggeration, adding that Atlanta Magazine has listed Tri-Cities High School in East Point as having one of the top arts programs in the city.

Mr. Macon defended the schools, saying, “I think we’re not doing a good job as a community actually telling the story of how those schools are doing.”

Mayor Jack Longino of College Park expressed his belief that if the south Fulton area was perceived as having the economic strength of other parts of the county, the schools would be viewed more positively, adding that current economic development will raise those perceptions.

Susan Hale, communication project manager with Fulton County School System, said that schools in south Fulton are improving.

“I can understand being frustrated with the performance of the schools, but the fact is that they are getting better,” she said.

Ms. Hale cited the 58-point improvement in average SAT scores at Banneker High School in College Park as evidence of this improvement.

Changes are already being made to the educational system in the area, particularly the opening of two charter schools, Hapeville Middle School and KIPP South Fulton Academy in East Point.

Ms. Hale told GlobalAtlanta that plans are in place to open a newly-built campus for Westlake High School in southwest Atlanta in 2008. A new high school school, middle school and two new elementary schools will be built in south Fulton by 2009.

Demonstrating its commitment to local education, the Air Cargo Association awarded three scholarships at the meeting: Marcella Breffle, a student at the University of Georgia, Esperanza Chavez Torres of Georgia Perimeter College and Kristen Holt of the University of West Georgia each received awards of $2,700.

The Air Cargo Association is a group of businesses concerned with airport shipping, including air and motor carriers, pickup and delivery contractors, customs brokers and warehouse operators. The group provides funding for individual scholarships as well as endowments at Georgia State University, Clayton College and State University and Georgia Southern University.

CresaPartners, an acronym for corporate real estate advisors, advises tenants in real estate investments. Clients in Atlanta include JPMorgan Chase & Co., the Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Merrill Lynch & Company Inc. Mr. Riggins has over 20 years of experience in commercial real estate and has worked on the development of housing, offices, warehouses, and industrial complexes.

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