It’s been four years since Georgia State’s Carter & Associates led joint venture, Panther Holdings, acquired 68 acres in Atlanta’s Summerhill neighborhood. Hank Aaron Boulevard’s now become an ocean of high-rises and new construction, with bare-brick and pastel settlements enclosing the residue of an ousted community.
The city of Atlanta has been fascinated with Summerhill since at least 1993, prodding it with the odd capital injection, circulating packets with colorful illustrations rezoning a block here, a block there. However, it remained a mere fascination unrealized until a confluence of conditions enabled an entry.
All the city wanted in response was a Community Benefits Agreement or CBA. An agreement to ensure the neighborhood wasn’t so quickly sold to the development vision, to indistinguishable AutoCAD renderings with slick streetcars and plain steel balusters – to portraits of city blocks that looked nothing like theirs, to people who looked nothing like them.
Atlanta City Council passed a resolution in 2016. A solicitation for proposals to redevelop Summerhill is released. The Council left the CBA out of the draft. Panther Holdings emerged from the principal bidder by July. The Atlanta City Council drafted closing documents by November.
The involved parties are indiscernible, a nexus of acronyms. What can you see from outside, staring at that marble, that teak, at the press releases and interviews asking their questions and providing their answers? What can you see from behind that line of cops?
Summerhill’s cleanly sold by early 2017. Their Councilwoman Carla Smith here reiterates an initial appeal, first promising a year earlier to “sit down and work with them [TFCBC.].” Only 10% of residential units are set aside for tenants making less than 80% of the area’s median income – a criterion below the city’s standards for affordable housing. Smith receives $2500 from the president of Carter a week after the sale.
Panther Holdings later negotiated a temporary agreement with the more amiable Summerhill organization. All opaque hands would be washed clean as glass by a week’s headlines of “CBA Reached.” It wouldn’t matter; everything that mattered would be arrested or sold.
Brian Blake is replacing Mark Becker as our university’s president. I hope he will redirect the development. I hope demands for a CBA will return to make amends for its absence.
I hope President Blake will build something better for Summerhill. If these hopes endure unrealized, I hope we will be ready to stay ourselves. I hope from the streets below we will greet him.
Welcome back to Atlanta, President Blake. How will you treat our city?