2020 Annual Meeting Explores the Power of Local Leadership, Midtown’s Next Moves and the Future of Cities
Event previewed the latest projects in Midtown and discussed the emerging role of cities as the world’s leading problem-solvers.
More than 1,000 people attended the 2020 Midtown Alliance Annual Meeting at the Fox Theatre on February 25 to celebrate accomplishments of the past decade, examine current initiatives and imagine what Midtown could become ten years from now.
Crossing the threshold into a new decade, both the City of Atlanta and specifically Midtown have ridden a surging growth trajectory in recent years. In the near term, the City of Atlanta’s population is projected to surpass the previous high-water mark achieved in the 1970s. Looking ahead to the next ten years of growth and beyond, the presenters discussed the importance of building new models of leadership to seize opportunities, unlocking more value from publicly-accessible open space via partnerships, and avoiding complacency.
Here are some highlights from the event:
Board Chair Mark Toro Calls for the Next Wave of Midtown Visionaries
Midtown Alliance Board Chair Mark Toro recognized some of Midtown’s leaders from the past few decades, including former Woodruff Arts Center President and CEO Joe Bankoff, restaurateur and Serenbe founder and CEO Steve Nygren, PEDS founder Sally Flocks, groundbreaking architects Bill and Ivenue Stanley, Fifth Group Restaurants founder Steve Simon and entrepreneur Paul Judge.
Toro ended his remarks by calling on attendees to pick up the mantle and continue what past leaders have started.
“The easy stuff is done at this point,” he said. “It’s going to require a sustained commitment to speak up, take risks, and never settle for anything less than an exceptional urban experience where all are welcome.”
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms Discusses Plans for Safer Streets
On stage at The Fox Theatre, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms praised Midtown’s growth and economic development, transportation options, engaged neighborhoods and diverse population. But, she said, more work remains to be done.
Bottoms discussed her administration’s One Atlanta office, the first Mayor’s Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, as well as her administration’s pledge to preserve and create affordable housing. She also spoke about the Action Plan for Safer Streets, which was launched last year after a spate of fatalities on City of Atlanta streets involving conflicts between e-scooter riders and motor vehicle drivers.
“We’ve identified more than 20 city corridors where we will improve safety for everyone who drives, walks, takes transit and even rides e-scooters,” Bottoms said. “Projects coming soon to Midtown include mobility on West Peachtree, Spring Street, Juniper and Piedmont Avenue. These will account for nearly six linear miles of protected lanes in the core of Midtown. We’re also increasing our collaboration with partners such as MARTA.”
Midtown Alliance President and CEO Summarizes Infrastructure Strategies
Midtown Alliance President and CEO Kevin Green celebrated the growth happening in Midtown and the City of Atlanta, where the core of Midtown, Downtown and Buckhead comprise roughly 3.5% of the City’s land area and 60% of the City’s jobs, as well as a fast-growing residential population, the majority of visitors and a large portion of the City’s tax base. But he also noted that neither Midtown nor the City can accommodate this kind of density without supplying the local infrastructure that allows it to work.
Green summarized the next strategies for improving infrastructure in Midtown, suggesting that new infrastructure needs to be executed as multi-purpose, designed to do more for more people and delivered in a way that the City can wring the most value out of the investment.
“The public realm is what knits this place together, what really makes it work,” Green said, describing Midtown’s streets, sidewalks, crosswalks, traffic signals, parks, and plazas. “With this kind of density, we need some breathing room, and we need to think about infrastructure more broadly.”
One example he noted was the plans at the Midtown Union development (currently under construction) to extend Arts Center Way, embracing new changes to zoning that creates more options for people walking on long city blocks. The plans will create a new connection between West Peachtree and Spring Streets, lined with active uses and retail, along with open space.
Transportation needs in the district are also changing, which means infrastructure also needs to change. Green reviewed several improvement projects coming soon to Midtown, including extending 15th Street between West Peachtree and Williams Streets, creating a complete street along 5th Street through Tech Square, enhancing the 10th Street Bridge and other projects which are part of the Mayor’s Action Plan for Safer Streets.
“We know that despite all the technology and innovations, the things that have made cities great for the last several hundred years are the things that are going to continue to make cities great,” said Green. “And that’s opportunities for people to interact, to thrive and build a sense of community. And in order to achieve that, we need to make sure we’re creating the spaces for it to happen.”
Director of Urban Design Previews Plans for Welcoming Public Spaces
Midtown Alliance’s Ginny Kennedy, one of the organization’s longest-tenured staffers who has been involved with carrying out Midtown’s community master plan since its origin, spoke about the importance of establishing more public open space for people. After successfully partnering with MARTA to reimagine underperforming plazas at the Midtown and Arts Center Stations, Midtown Alliance is looking for more opportunities to work with property owners to bring life to inactive spaces.
One major initiative breaking ground in 2020 is the first phase of the Midtown Art Walk. Initial work on this project was delivered in 2019 when the AC/Moxy hotel added a pedestrian stairway and commissioned a mural along the western edge of its property between 13th and 14th Streets. Midtown Alliance is partnering with the Federal Reserve in 2020 to transform Peachtree Walk between 10th and 11th Street, with a future partnership in the works with Selig Enterprises to transform its frontage between 12th and 13th Streets.
Two major pieces of art will be added at key intersections this year. A Pegasus topiary on loan from the Atlanta Botanical Gardens will be installed in the median on 10th Street near West Peachtree Street. And the Sabine Woman, Dorothy Berge’s 1968 sculpture, will make her triumphant return to the district at the corner of Peachtree and 15th Streets, thanks to collaborations with adjacent property owners North American Properties and Cousins Properties.
“The bottom line is that we can’t do any of this alone,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy also announced that Midtown’s “Parliament of Owls” lantern parade will return for its third year in 2020.This community event doubled its attendance from 500 participants in 2018 to 1,000 in 2019. Mark your calendars to flock with us again on Saturday, August 8
Keynote Speech Describes Midtown Atlanta’s Emergence as a Global Leader
The 2020 Midtown Alliance Annual Meeting featured a keynote speech by Bruce Katz, co-author of “The New Localism.” Katz shared his research on this emerging governing philosophy and practice for the 21st century, which identifies a power shift occurring from traditional sources like national and state governments to local players like community improvement districts, universities and civic institutions.
He offered as examples the work happening in Pittsburgh and Copenhagen to create new models for equity in the entrepreneur space, land investment and redevelopment and sustainable transportation. Katz noted that Atlanta has the potential to join these other cities in the new decade as some of the world’s leading problem-solvers. But to do so, Atlanta needs to be a city focused on sustainability, transit, affordability and inclusion.
“Inclusion is not a nice thing to do, given where demographics are going and what we’re leaving on the table. You have to bake it in at this level,” he said.
Atlanta stands to be one of 50 U.S. cities to benefit from trillions of dollars that are leaving industries like coal and looking for 21st century development with technology embedded.
“Power is here,” he said to the crowd in the Fox Theatre. “Responsibility is absolutely in this room, because no one else is dealing with this myriad of challenges. I would urge everyone here to think about where Atlanta and Midtown Atlanta can be at a time of New Localism. It could be at the vanguard.”
This high-energy opening video kicked off the event and asked, as Midtown starts a new decade, "what if" the next ten years look completely different from the past ten years?
The 2020 Midtown Alliance Annual Meeting would not have been possible without commitments from our sponsors. Gold-level sponsors included Affairs to Remember, Alston & Bird, CenterState Bank, The Coca-Cola Company, Cousins Properties, Creative Approach, Emory University Hospital Midtown, The Fox Theatre, Franklin Street Properties, Georgia Power, Georgia Tech, Greystar, Interface, Jacobs, Jones Day, Kimley-Horn, King & Spalding, Norfolk Southern, North American Properties, Northside Hospital, Perkins and Will, Portman Holdings, Rule Joy Trammell & Rubio, Selig Development and Seyfarth Shaw. Silver sponsors included: Astra Group, CBRE, Colliers, Cushman & Wakefield, Invesco, JLL, Lord Aeck Sargent, PNC, Publix, Regions Bank, Savannah College of Art and Design, Smith & Howard and tvsdesign. Bronze sponsors included: Anthem Inc., Bleakly Advisory Group, Brasfield & Gorrie, Charles Schwab & Co., Chattahoochee Group, Equifax, Eversheds Sutherland, Fisher & Phillips, Four Seasons Hotel Atlanta, Gensler, Goode Van Slyke Architecture, Hampton Inn & Suites Atlanta Midtown, The Hanover Co., IDI Logistics, NCR, NELSON, Novare Group, Piedmont House, Silverman CPM, Suntrust now Truist, Toll Brothers Apartment Living, Troutman Sanders, TSW, Whole Foods and The Winter Group of Companies.
View the 2019 Midtown Alliance Progress Report
At the event, Midtown Alliance released its 2019 progress report, chronicling the recent impact of the organization and its partners. View it online here.
How to Get Your Photos from the Event:
Were you a guest at the event? Did you get your picture taken upstairs in front of the step-and-repeat banner in the Egyptian Ballroom? View, download and share your images here.