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Member Spotlight: Midtown's Preeminent Relationship Builder

Carlton Fields' Charlie Sharbaugh Embraces Volunteer Spirit, Bringing Creative Solutions to Support the Arts


Charlie Sharbaugh has lived in Atlanta for more than 50 years, spending much of his career in Midtown.

Few people have seen Midtown’s transformation over the decades the way Charlie Sharbaugh has.

The career lawyer and his wife moved to Atlanta from Western Pennsylvania in the 1970s. Charlie has served on the Midtown Alliance Board since 2009. And the impact he has made on Midtown cannot be overstated. In addition to guiding major real estate deals as a partner at the Midtown law office of Carlton Fields, Charlie was recognized by the Alliance Theatre with the Kathy Bernhardt Volunteer of the Year Award for his tireless work to nurture the local arts economy.

We sat down with Charlie to find out more about Midtown’s trajectory for success, and why relationships in the community will always be the essential rocket fuel that powers the district forward.

How did you find your calling in the legal field?

I was always interested in doing something where I could apply knowledge and creativity to solve problems. And I’m so grateful for this career that keeps giving me so much satisfaction. When I think about Midtown in the late-1970s, there wasn’t much here. But you could see the potential. A big chunk of the development activity in Midtown was tied to a Swedish developer back then. But those plans fell through and the financing collapsed. And then holding companies began making land deals to offload Midtown properties.

What’s your perspective on how far Midtown Atlanta has come during your longstanding involvement with the Board?

I knew I wanted to be part of Midtown Alliance’s work and contribute as a Board member. Our law offices were right in the middle of Midtown. I could see the neighborhood poised to change right outside my window. To me, the secret ingredient is that you need to have people who care about the place, and are committed to making it excellent. Midtown Alliance has shown through its actions that we care. There are amazing leaders involved in this work. And I am so grateful to have this opportunity to positively impact Midtown and to know and work with those amazing people.

What is your vision for Midtown’s long-term future?

I see an active district with plentiful options for things to see and do. A full schedule of events. It’s about activating Midtown. At the Woodruff Arts Center I see a conscious effort to draw people in. The same is happening at other venues like the Fox Theatre. The more people we get to live in Midtown, or the more time young people want to spend in our office, the more they will want to come to events. They’re looking for things to do, to be around colleagues and friends. Midtown Alliance is producing 120 community events this year. I think that is amazing.

Talk about the work you have done in support of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Alliance Theatre and the Woodruff Arts Center.

These entities all deliver a very important service to this community. What the Woodruff Arts Center gives to me is the opportunity to be good friends with creative, bright, far-sighted staff members. I have enjoyed hearing about plays originating from here that get uplined to Broadway. And the symphony is very special to me as a classical music lover. My daughters appreciate classical music. And now my grandchildren are getting exposed to it as well. I feel very fortunate. It’s so much fun to work with staff of the ASO, Alliance and the Woodruff Arts Center.

In the early stages of the pandemic, arts venues and staff were idle. It wasn’t safe to gather and see a performance. So, we pivoted to bolster digital productions for the Symphony and the Alliance Theatre. My good friend Peter Stathopoulos, partner at Bennett Thrasher and I figured out how these digital productions could qualify for Georgia Film Tax Credits. We worked extensively with Susan Ambo, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Mike Schleifer, Managing Director of the Alliance Theatre, to bring these digital projects to a success. We triangulated the need for people to continue working in the performing arts industry with the emerging trend for producing digital shows during the pandemic, and then lined it up with the tools available in Georgia, through the tax credit. The digital programming is viewed by music and play lovers in all fifty states and twenty-nine foreign countries.

We’re working now on another project that connects a need for a new roof over the Alliance Theatre’s costume shop with the possibility of installing solar panels via the Inflation Reduction Act’s solar tax credits for nonprofits. Research assistants on my team helped identify other funding sources. To me, that is a whole lot of fun.

What is your message to others about getting involved in the Midtown community?

I have two messages: First, is about the great young people at offices like mine. They hear about how great Midtown and Atlanta are. They come here. And then what? They need a place to connect. Midtown truly offers a place that can bring people together with similar interests. Second, is the wisdom a very successful businessman once shared with me: “All businesses are relationship businesses. And in Atlanta they’re really relationship businesses”. How many connections can you make here when you get involved? I think Midtown, the Midtown Alliance, and the many organizations like the arts groups such as the Woodruff, the ASO, the Alliance, the High, the Fox, the Botanical Gardens and so many others are the places to do it.

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