It is hard to believe that it was nearly three decades ago that leaders on both sides of the aisle of the Georgia legislature such as Senator Johnny Isakson and former Governor Roy Barnes, worked with Atlanta businessmen like John Williams and others to create legislation that enabled community improvement districts (CIDs) to be formed in Georgia. Although CIDs often function under the radar, their ability to engage stakeholders and provide needed funding for implementing critical infrastructure improvements is unparalleled. It is expected that by 2025, the existing 20 CIDs, plus others, will have invested more than $1 billion to produce more than $3 billion in projects. The private commercial dollars collected by the CIDs provide leverage to bring public funding to the table in order to support the needs of their respective communities and keep metro Atlanta on track to reap future economic development opportunities.
It was the enabling legislation in 1984 that gave birth to the first CID in Georgia, located in Cobb County’s central business district of Cumberland. With The Home Depot and Genuine Parts’ world headquarters located in the community as well as divisions of Sprint, Vonage, The Weather Company, and GE, the area boasts more than 75,000 jobs. The Cumberland CID makes up a third of Cobb County’s total economy and has a 5.4% impact on the state’s economy, serving as a major economic engine for them both. The community is unique in that it is a major business district adjacent to 10,000 acres of national parkland at the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area. It has also become a cultural destination with the Cobb Energy and Performing Arts Centre, which is home to the Atlanta Ballet, The Atlanta Opera, and many other world-class performances. The Cobb Galleria Centre, also located in the heart of Cumberland, is one of the Southeast’s largest convention centers. It is this mix of business, culture, and recreation that sets the community apart in the region.
The Cumberland CID has served as a driver of this market since 1988, investing private dollars to push forward the projects that matter most to the community. It has also served as a convener, bringing together stakeholders to form critical partnerships for developing a master plan for the road network and a 25-mile system of multi-use trails and streetscapes. It has partnered with Cobb County, the state, and federal partners to leverage private dollars from its commercial property owners to complete major road projects such as Cumberland Boulevard. The Cumberland CID has built a reputation for delivering on its initiatives. The decades of proactive planning and advancing of projects ahead of the area’s growth, was a major reason noted by the Atlanta Braves when they announced Cumberland and Cobb County as its new home in 2013.
Located at the crossroads of Interstate 285 and 75, Cumberland’s work over the past three decades to prepare for its biggest development project has not gone unrewarded. The current construction of the Atlanta Braves $1.3 billion ballpark and mixed-use development is not only attracting additional private investment but is translating into a surge of real estate activity. The community is experiencing positive gains in sales, prices, rents, and occupancy rates. There is also a sense of urgency to implement new public infrastructure to support new development in the immediate and long term. The Atlanta Braves development has played a role in catalyzing $3.5 billion in public and private investment in Cumberland by 2018.
Right now in the Cumberland area it looks like a flock of cranes have descended on the district. With the Atlanta Braves site underway alongside more than 20 other development projects worth more than $1.5 billion, the market has begun to heat up post-recession. If you were to take a tour of the district in 2018, just three years away, you would see at least six new Class-A office buildings; more than 4,500 high-end residential units translating into an estimated 10,000 new residents; 1,250 new hotel rooms; and half million square feet of new retail including multiple chef-driven restaurant concepts. During construction alone, more than 5,000 jobs will be supported, with a total payroll of more than $235 million. This type of transformational growth is catapulting the Cumberland community into one of the most attractive, amenity rich neighborhoods in the region.
Building on the CID and county’s reputation of implementing infrastructure ahead of growth, immediate and future projects are in the works to continue to support Cumberland. Because of that proactive planning, the county and CID can boast that more than $100 million in improvements to two of its most important arteries, Cobb Parkway/US Highway 41 and Windy Hill Road, are underway and set to be completed in time for first pitch in April 2017. This doesn’t include the projects Cobb County is studying and moving forward, such as a shuttle circulator that would run 365 days a year to move people around the district as well as scores of pedestrian enhancements. The state will also complete its most ambitious project to date with the Northwest Corridor Express Lanes that begin in Cumberland. More than $2 billion in projects are underway and set to be complete by 2018.
And what does the future hold you may ask? Trail connectivity into the City of Atlanta, a comprehensive bike plan, better accessibility to national parkland. Yes. Yes. And yes. Cumberland will take on an identity all its own and be a community that attracts people from all over the region and state, and even the world to enjoy its amenities and its national parkland. It will continue to be retrofitted into a more walkable, scalable environment, with millennials and boomers alike walking on the dozens of miles of multi-use trails to get to work, community amenities, and even the grocery store. It is a shining example of what can happen when the private sector takes a vital role in the development of their community bringing value and creating value by investing in public infrastructure.
Malaika Rivers is the executive director of the Cobb County-based Cumberland CID