by The Wilbert Group
With all eyes on Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. and affordable housing, we spoke with Patton about her tried-and-true passion for land planning, her involvement with ULI and how she spends a day off.
Soon after Stacy Patton graduated from the University of Georgia with her Master of Environmental Design in Landscape Architecture, she came to a fork in her career path. She realized that while she enjoyed working as a landscape architect, she wanted to be in a position to make more decisions on the final outcomes of a property.
With a passion for land, trails, transit and greenspace, she set off in an unexpected direction learning about land-use planning, development and environmental issues. She sought experiences in site selection, identifying the most sustainable land usages and working on developments from site selection to build-out.
Since then, she has blazed a trail of real estate decision-making. Patton was an early founder of Chattahoochee Hill Country Conservancy, and later served as President, before becoming the Managing Director of Development at Minerva USA.
A NEW KIND OF PATH
In January 2015, Patton joined Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. (ABI). As the Real Estate and Asset Management Director, she oversees the creation of a different kind of path. Now a household name throughout the region, the BeltLine is a sustainable project providing a network of public parks, multi-use trails and transit by re-using 22 miles of mostly unused railroad corridors circling downtown and connecting 45 neighborhoods.
Patton is responsible for all of ABI’s real estate‐related activities as they pertain to parks, trails, transit right‐of‐way, affordable workforce housing and economic development. The BeltLine is considered the most comprehensive revitalization effort ever undertaken in the City of Atlanta and among the largest, most wide-ranging urban redevelopment and mobility projects currently underway in the U.S. While the BeltLine continues to open in phases, ABI anticipates completion in 2030.
According to Patton, the railroads, funding and the project’s scale have been some of the biggest challenges. Since a local sales tax with a set-aside for BeltLine land acquisition passed in late 2016, land acquisition for the BeltLine’s primary corridor is moving a lot faster.
“Though everyone in the metro region wants the BeltLine, patience is necessary. It’s such a complex infrastructure project, requiring consistent community outreach, solving for numerous environmental projects and balancing funding over many programs in a large geography,” said Patton.
Today, ABI owns most of the planned loop with the exception of a segment in northwest Atlanta which is an active rail line. Patton added that ABI will continue to acquire easements and small slivers throughout the life of the project to create a corridor that is wide enough for trails, transit, parks, storm water and utilities — all the “accoutrements” that will accompany the BeltLine.
PAVING THE WAY FORWARD
Along Patton’s personal journey, the Urban Land Institute has remained a constant. When she joined ULI two decades ago, she was seeking professional development, just like many new members. ULI helped her put her goals in focus.
“I was in private real estate development with a very different background, so I wanted more exposure to real estate professionals and ULI provided me with an opportunity to meet a wide range of people who were in public and private development and trying to approach development responsibly.”
Throughout the past two decades, Patton has participated with ULI in varying degrees. With the Atlanta chapter, she is actively involved with the Creative Development Council, a group that is focused on innovation and creativity, infill development, and adaptive reuse. On the national level, Patton is involved with the Urban Revitalization Council. Whenever she can, she enjoys lending a hand with committees or meetings, especially when it comes to public projects and affordable housing.
“ULI is just incredibly well organized,” Patton said. “They don’t waste your time. You always get the opportunity to really get into detail and talk to people, which I love.”
A HEART FOR SERVICE
Patton’s heart beats for civic leadership. Many people are surprised to learn she served in the Peace Corps. “It was a long time ago, but it was an amazing experience,” she said.
In addition to her work with ABI and ULI, Patton is a council member on the Georgia Land Conservation Council. She also currently serves as the vice chair of the Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership, Inc. (ANDP) whose mission is to create and preserve mixed-income communities equitably by direct development, advocacy and policy research.
“It’s an amazing nonprofit,” she said. “It’s just such a complex problem that we are all facing: how to keep it affordable with land prices and construction costs going up throughout the city. We’re finding that ANDP can be nimble and creative, which is essential.”
Patton stays busy, but when she does have a day off, it’s no surprise that she prefers to spend time outside. “I hike as much as possible and run – although most people would call it walking,” she said. “The outdoors is where I find my peace, so I try to spend a lot of time out in the middle of nowhere as often as possible.”
What’s next on Patton’s path? She’s rallying for the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Amendment which will be on the ballots this November. “The funding will go to help protect outdoor spaces, wildlife habitat, parks and water quality,” she said. “It will go a long way to add to Georgians quality of life.”