AJC, New Atlanta BeltLine bond series creates taxpayer savings

Atlanta will save as much as $919,000 annually on Atlanta BeltLine payments as part of a new series of bonds for the greenspace project approved by the Atlanta City Council on Wednesday.

The series, worth $145.3 million, was put up for sale recently as part of an updated round of financing for the BeltLine Tax Allocation District to take advantage of more attractive interest rates.

“This is a lot like anybody who would refinance their mortgage from a higher interest rate to a lower interest rate,” Jim Beard, chief financial officer for the city of Atlanta, told the council. “In that regard, we were able to get roughly $9.7 million in present value savings.”

The savings come as the BeltLine is set next year to begin getting $66 million from a four-tenths increase in the city’s sales tax voters approved in November. The BeltLine allocation will be used to purchase the remaining right of way needed to complete the project’s 22-mile loop.

In addition, Mayor Kasim Reed and other leaders broke ground Wednesday on a project to build a massive mixed-use development along the BeltLine’s eastside trail on Ponce de Leon Avenue.

The project, slated for the current home of the Kroger on Ponce — known by some residents as “murder Kroger” — will create a new 360,000-square-foot tower, including 10,000-square-feet of retail space. Cincinnati-based Kroger will build an updated 60,000-square-foot urban-format store as part of the development.

The new bond series dedicates $11 million of the money raised toward affordable housing on the BeltLine, a growing issue as increased popularity of the trails has sent nearby home prices soaring. The money will be used as incentives to attract developers willing to set aside a percentage of new units lower-income households that spend as much as 30 percent of their earnings to pay rent or a mortgage.

“Communities that were once affordable are now no longer affordable,” said City Councilman Andre Dickens, who is also a member of the board of Atlanta BeltLine. “We need to have development without displacement.”

Another $40 million of the money will be use for capital projects, such as park and trail design, and $2.5 million for economic development along the BeltLine.

Beard said the new bond series was received well by investors, despite some turbulence in the market.

“The markets have been a little interesting since the election,” Beard said. “We’ve seen rates move up. But even with that upward motion in rates, we were able to get the kind of savings that we wanted. Our timing was good.”