I had a great conversation with a former colleague, Amanda Rhein, who has taken over the TOD efforts at the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority. She and I were touring Manhattan at the ULI Fall Meeting and discussing our experiences with pre-recession downtown Atlanta development in comparison to today's frothy market (scary). I also learned that Amanda is applying many of the skills she gained at Atlanta's redevelopment authority to the region's rail stations.
She hit the ground running early this year and has gotten some great press on MARTA's TOD work. For example, a CityLab article on the efforts to carry out value capture on agency-owned properties was picked up by several outlets (e.g., TRA picking up the piece from NationSwell). While praise is deserved for any agency able to garner national attention for its TOD program, there is some misinformation in these and other articles out there. For example, the Saporta Report said, "For the first time, MARTA plans to find out how much desire developers have to build high-rise mixed-use projects over the transit authority’s urban train stations."
This "bold" new endeavor by MARTA is actually old hat for the agency. In fact, MARTA was planned at a time when value capture was thought to be a promising funding gap filler and many of its stations were designed with TOD and joint development in mind. For example, the photo of the North Avenue station in the CityLab article has a caption that points to opportunities for air rights development over stations. It is appropriate because that station was originally constructed under the Bell South headquarters building, the largest in Atlanta (by sq ft) at the time (in the photo, you can see the base of that white building to the north of the station access portal). Likewise, the Sloppy Floyd government complex was built over a station, Peachtree Center station is below numerous downtown high rises, and both stations in the Buckhead area are topped by buildings constructed using air rights contracts.
MARTA's former real estate teams have spent decades of their careers trying to develop MARTA's parking lots and agency-owned properties. It was a longstanding effort of the agency that went dormant after the onset of the great recession. It's great to give the reemergence of the program attention, but let's not discount the long value capture legacy at MARTA. To do that would lead us to believe that this new round of value capture efforts will be a resounding and immediate success when most value capture programs--including those at MARTA--have been characterized by consistent, long-term effort and occasional victories.
Ian Carlton is a transportation and land use expert specializing in transit-oriented development (TOD). He helps clients - including transit agencies, planning departments, and landowners - optimize real estate development around transit.
Special thanks to Burt Gregory at Mithun for permission to use the Portland Streetcar image above.