Editor’s note: Global Atlanta and GCIV on April 19 will host a reception and crawl with Atlanta Beltline CEO Brian McGowan at New Realm Brewing to discuss how the Beltline can help drive Atlanta’s rise as a global city. Register here.
Standing in a new craft brewery, 29 members of Georgia’s consular corps (most of them diplomats representing their countries in the state) experienced first-hand the economic power of the Atlanta Beltline.
The building was once an old warehouse in southwest Atlanta until Joel Iverson converted it into a 27,000-square-foot brewery called Monday Night Brewing.
“This is a part of Atlanta that has been largely disinvested,” said Beltline economic development director Jerald Mitchell. “Now we are seeing investment coming back in.”
The consuls, who toured the area on April 11 as part of the annual International VIP Tour put on by the Georgia Department of Economic Development, were impressed. They predicted that the Beltline will encourage overseas investment in Atlanta — or at least add an international flair to the cityscape.
“We don’t have anything like this in Tokyo,” said Japan’s consul general, Takashi Shinozuka, who added the Beltline reminds him of parts of Paris.
European diplomats said the area lends more livability and walkability to a place normally known for its car culture.
“It creates public space,” said German Consul General Detlev Ruenger, a former German ambassador to Austria. “Atlanta needs more public space. It beats sitting all day in a traffic jam.”
Thomas Rosseland, Sweden’s honorary consul, echoed that sentiment, noting the Beltline hearkens more toward the “right of access” to private property the Scandinavian country has adopted.
“There is much more of a concept of the commons in Sweden,” he said.
The Beltline, a 22-mile ring of old rail right of way, is being transformed into a network of trails (and eventually transit, leaders hope) weaving through more than 40 neighborhoods that proponents say will link up a divided city like never before. It was inspired largely by similar projects in Paris.
Brian McGowan, CEO of Atlanta Beltline Inc., told Global Atlanta in a recent interview that he believes it’s the primary engine for the City of Atlanta’s economic development. Along with that, he says, it will be the method by which the city realizes its goals of economic inclusion. That will include an effort to attract foreign investment.
“We’re going to start working more closely with the chamber and Invest Atlanta so that we’re marketing sites along the Beltline for new businesses that want to locate to Atlanta. That’s a big part of what we want to do,” Mr. McGowan said.
The International VIP Tour is meant to give foreign representatives this type of glimpse of Georgia — one that they may not see in the course of their normal duties. While it often takes them around the state, to places like museums and peach orchards, this time they were able to see the many gems hidden in their temporary hometown.
The group visited the Serenbe community of south Fulton County, the Porsche North America headquarters in Hapeville and, just before the Beltline visit, the Ron Clark Academy in southwest Atlanta, a widely acclaimed, diverse middle school that emphasizes academic rigor and discipline.
The Monday Night Brewing story showed them the transformative power of the Beltline from an investment perspective.
The name of the brewery stems from Mr. Iverson’s origin in the beer business. He and two friends from a Bible study group that met at 6 a.m. Fridays wanted to get together socially and so they started home brewing beer on Monday nights.
Five years ago, they launched the first location off Howell Mill Road and I-75. Last fall, they opened a new location in the historic West End neighborhood of Atlanta, opening up to a three-mile stretch of the Beltline.
“We started talking to some of the West End neighbors to see what they thought about three hipsters with beards starting a craft brewery in the neighborhood,” said Mr. Iverson. “Even though they didn’t really care about craft beer, they wanted to see new businesses in here. They wanted economic development in this area which has great people but has been neglected.”
The grand opening last September attracted nearly 3,000 people from all over the city. The neighborhood held its annual Christmas party at the brewery.
Stream Realty Partners, owner of the brewery building, was negotiating three years ago to buy a large portfolio of retail properties from an old Atlanta family, said Ben Hautt, co-managing partner of the company’s Atlanta office.
Mr. Hautt looked at the property on Google Maps and immediately accepted the deal, knowing that the Beltline was coming.
“Do you guys have a business plan?” Mr. Hautt’s business partner asked. “You can’t just buy 22 acres in a rough part of town with no business plan.”
Mr. Hautt’s reply was that the Beltline was on its way, and it would transform the area.
“It’s going to be amazing,” he told him. “You’ve got to trust us.”
In three years, the Beltline investment has seen the fastest increase in value of any investment in the company’s history, he said.
“We knew what the Beltline is and what it could be for this area,” Mr. Hautt told the diplomats during their visit.
Christopher Smith, Denmark’s honorary consul, said that even this early in the game, it’s evident that the Beltline will help grow the city.
“It’s a fabulous tool for economic development and growth.”