(5.25.15) Engage Gwinnett voters on MARTA

(Atlanta Journal-Constitution, May 25, 2015) In the wake of corruption scandals and the financial collapse of its two largest retail centers, business as usual is the order of the day in Gwinnett County. Despite the embrace of transit by the market and the electorate, County Commission Chair Charlotte Nash stands steadfastly against consideration of expanded public transportation options.

The market has spoken. Three of the most vibrant commercial real estate sub-markets in the region are Buckhead, Perimeter Center and north Fulton County. The three have the highest rental, absorption and occupancy rates in the region. Demographics, zoning and workforce vary across the three markets. The common thread is MARTA.

Our company has invested more than $50 million in commercial office property in Gwinnett in the past five years, and we are happy with our investments. But we know the most successful urban and suburban markets in America offer a variety of transportation options. So Gwinnett’s over-reliance on roads and underfunding of public transportation is of great concern.

MARTA is finalizing plans to expand its rail system to north Fulton, and business leaders there are enthusiastically awaiting the expansion.

Perimeter Center has become metro Atlanta’s gold standard for sensible and strong growth over the past 40 years – not coincidental to its link to MARTA rail and bus service. The two largest corporate re-locations and consolidations this past year — State Farm and Mercedes-Benz — were drawn to the Perimeter market by transportation choices that include rail and bus service.

Perimeter Center’s two Community Improvement Districts have played a significant role in transportation planning and investment, which is why the CID our company has played a leadership role in forming – Airport South CID – is modeling our effort, with the Airport West CID, after the Perimeter organizations. We’re pleased Clayton County recently joined MARTA, and we’re encouraged our state leaders are finally adding their support for the system.

The body politic has spoken, too. Nash has said the question of bringing MARTA service to Gwinnett should not be brought to a referendum because it will fail. But in a poll released by the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce recently, 63 percent — a landslide in electoral politics — favored expansion of MARTA into the county.

Nash has asserted that people are reluctant to embrace a MARTA initiative because of a lack of public participation, lack of trust in the process and an inability to influence decision-makers. If these are the things that may turn voters away, let’s seek new avenues to assuage those fears and approach voters with plans to build trust and demonstrate how citizen input will be heard. Gwinnett citizens will be well served by an effort to improve transportation in the county rather than ignoring the needs and desires of voters.

Gwinnett can attempt to forestall the future, or embrace it. Voters can participate in choosing the transportation options they want, or they can be denied this chance. Gwinnett leaders can face the reality of why companies like NCR choose to move to Midtown Atlanta, or they can pretend it isn’t happening. The region is moving forward. The question is whether Gwinnett will move with it.

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