ATLANTA -- Atlanta leaders converged on the Old Fourth Ward Monday to celebrate the opening of the first major section of the Atlanta Beltline. The 2.25 mile paved trail connects Piedmont Park to Inman Park.
"All you have to do is take a walk along the trail," Mayor Kasim Reed said. "You see real estate being exchanged, you see new developments occurring, you see the City Hall East that was a 2 million square foot mothballed building coming to life again."
The construction costs for the new section were about $10.5 million, half of which came from private donations. The larger project calls for 22 miles of trails circling the city replacing mostly abandoned rail lines.
So what's next, how far along are they on their fundraising, and how long will it take to be finished?
There are still-unannounced trail and park projects on the southern and western sides of town. They'll be acquiring land and raising money in order to complete them. Land acquisition is easier during a soft economy, but donations and taxes are lower.
Beltline staffers said they are 6 years into their 25 year timeline, and have raised about 10% of the $3 billion they'll need to finish. $153 million came from federal and local taxes, and $37 million of the $337 million raised so far came through private donations.
"The project has a plan, and I think people when they see the plan they see they get returns back," said interim CEO Lisa Gordon.
They have faced additional challenges recently. Former CEO Brian Leary was ousted after an Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation revealed misuse of taxpayer funds. Then the failed transportation vote eliminated $600 million that would have gone to streetcars and a faster construction timeline.
Supporters say as the new trail is used, momentum will build for the project.
"This is just marvelous," Judy Pemberton said. "This is our first time out this far, and I can't wait to go around the whole circle."