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Tuesday, November 29, 2022
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Postpone ‘Buckhead City’ vote VS keep $5B district in the city

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A group of the city’s largest property owners, hotel companies and apartment developers is urging state legislators to postpone the proposed Buckhead cityhood bill or keep Buckhead’s nearly $5 billion commercial district inside the city of Atlanta, accoding to Bizjournals.com

The group includes real estate companies whose projects have filled the Atlanta skyline for decades including Cousins Properties, Selig Enterprises and Portman Holdings. Jamestown LP, the owner of the upscale development Buckhead Village, and hotels including the Grand Hyatt Buckhead and JW Marriott Atlanta, are also included in the list of businesses.

In a letter to legislators Tuesday, the business leaders say the Buckhead property holdings represent $4.7 billion in real estate value. The properties also generate about $57 million in annual property taxes to the city of Atlanta, according to the letter. Simon Property Group, owner of Lenox Square and Phipps Plaza malls, did not sign the letter.

Simon Property Group could not immediately be reached for comment.

The movement is spearheaded by business consultant Bill White and backed primarily by Republican legislators from municipalities outside of Atlanta. Before the movement began to take shape in 2021, the influential Buckhead Coalition and its partnering organizations took a stance against cityhood, as did Mayor Andre Dickens. 

In the new letter to legislators, business leaders say the proposed Buckhead City will increase upfront costs for city operations and weaken economic development opportunities across Atlanta and Georgia. Site selection experts outside of Atlanta agree.

“Uncertainty directs companies elsewhere,” global site selection firm Hickey & Associates President Jason Hickey told Atlanta Business Chronicle. “It sends a message that companies should hold off until it becomes more stable.” 

The leaders also say the movement will put Atlanta Public Schools in a state of disarray. An early feasibility study conducted by KB Advisory Group estimated the school system would lose $232 million from its operating budget — or around 28% of its 2020 annual budget — if Buckhead were to secede.  Cityhood will also set a “dangerous precedent” for other neighborhoods considering secession, they say. A coalition to form unincorporated areas in south DeKalb into a city with roughly the same land area as Atlanta came forward late last year.

A bill that would put the proposed Buckhead City on the 2022 ballot currently sits in the Democratic-majority Senate Urban Affairs Committee. The proposal could still move forward during the legislative session. It has been opposed by top Atlanta business leaders, including those in the hospitality industry.

Historically, business leaders can have significant influence in state politics. The signees also include prominent Buckhead commercial property owners such as Highwoods Properties, Piedmont Office Realty Trust, The Ardent Cos. and Granite Properties. Atlanta Tech Village, a center for startups in a city that just posted a record year for raising venture capital, is also joining opposition to a new Buckhead City.

The business leaders request the General Assembly table the bill. If unwilling, however, they ask legislators to carve out the commercial district of Buckhead from a “start-up city with no experience.” 

The push for the city’s wealthiest enclave to secede emerged in late 2020, as a response to perceived surges in crime and lags in city services. Legislation calling for citywide zoning reforms to densify neighborhoods also played a part, though it failed to pass the Atlanta City Council in 2021.

The pro-cityhood Buckhead City Committee says crime is negatively affecting Atlanta’s business prospects and leading companies to relocate to the suburbs. Leasing activity in Buckhead’s commercial and residential real estate markets are telling a different story. Buckhead had the second-highest sales transaction volume for intown apartments in 2021, and major investment firms are buying up trophy office properties. 

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