Influential Atlanta leaders to visit San Diego in May for 2018 LINK trip

Housing affordability and transit will be key focus areas of the 2018 LINK trip to San Diego, which will take place from May 9 to May 12.

Ever since 1997, a group of more than 100 Atlanta leaders – representing governments, businesses and nonprofits – go to a different city to learn about the best practices that we can bring back to our region. And it also provides an opportunity for leaders from the 10-county region to get to know one another.

This will be a return visit to San Diego. LINK (Leadership, Innovation, Networking, Knowledge) first went to San Diego in 2001, when regional leaders were first exposed to a city that was investing in bus rapid transit (BRT).

An aerial view of San Diego (Special: sandiego.org)

Doug Hooker, executive director of the Atlanta Regional Commission, said they decided to return to San Diego to see how the southern California city has implemented its plans for 17 years ago, to see what new challenges its facing and to explore whether those challenges “parallel” the issues confronting metro Atlanta.

“We know California is dealing with housing affordability,” Hooker said. “In San Diego, they estimate that they need 140,000 units of affordable housing. We have not quantified that number in the Atlanta region.”

Mike Alexander, director of ARC’s Center for Livable Communities, said that both Atlanta and San Diego are not building enough housing for middle-income families. But the State of California has done more to weigh in on the housing affordability crisis than Georgia.

But San Diego has a challenge that Atlanta does not have.

“More than 46 percent of their land is for conservation,” Hooker said. “Only 2 percent of their land is available for development in the region.”

But San Diego does have one major advantage over Atlanta. Most of the region’s 3.3 million residents reside in the County of San Diego, which has a total of 18 cities.

By comparison, the Atlanta region incorporates at least 10 counties – and dozens of cities.

San Diego is known for zoo (Special: Wikipedia)

San Diego does benefit from having a streamlined governance structure where one county can set the tone and policies for the entire region.

“They are actually able to launch regional efforts through their county,” said Stephen Causby, ARC’s manager of community partnerships who organizes the LINK trip every year.

Another area of focus in San Diego is its homeless population. Although it is the 17thlargest city in the country, San Diego ranks 4thwhen it comes to the number of homeless residents.

Jack Hardin, co-chair of the Atlanta Regional Commission on Homelessness, will be on the trip to provide a local perspective of Atlanta’s initiatives to reduce chronic homelessness and how it compares to San Diego.

Hooker said there will be a greater emphasis on this trip to directly tie the issues confronting San Diego with those in Atlanta by having local leaders provide insights during the trip – a real time response.

San Diego also is known as a center of innovation.

An evening view of San Diego’s skyline (Special: sandiego.org)

“It is known as a global leader in innovative technologies,” Causby said. “But small- and medium-sized firms that start there often move to other cities, such as Silicon Valley. Their goal is to attract research talent from all over the world. They are No. 2 in the nation for patents.”

But Atlanta has an edge in another way. San Diego only has two Fortune 500 companies (Qualcomm Inc. and Sempra Energy) while the Atlanta region now has 17 with the official relocation of WestRock’s headquarters from Richmond to north Fulton.

A couple of issues the LINK group will study are unique to San Diego – it has a tremendous military presence with more than 25 percent of the region’s jobs connected to the military. In 2016, the San Diego region had almost $9 billion in military procurement contracts.

The other unique issue San Diego faces is its relationship with Mexico. The greater San Diego region (also known as the CaliBaja megaregion) actually includes Tijuana and the Baja Peninsula. More than 49 million people, 930 million trucks and $4 billion in goods cross the San Diego-Tijuana border each year.

An area where San Diego and Atlanta do share much in common is transit. San Diego already has developed a couple of BRT corridors since LINK visited in 2001, and LINK participants will get to see BRT in action.

Another evening shot of San Diego skyline (Special: Wikipedia)

But San Diego also has been investing in a light rail system, which connects the city to one of the main border crossings – San Ysidro.

The LINK trip will include a host of key government leaders, including Chris Tomlinson, executive director of the State Road and Tollway Authority as well as the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority; State Sen. Brandon Beach, Gwinnett Chair Charlotte Nash, Chamblee Mayor Eric Clarkson, Fulton County Commissioner Liz Hausmann, Atlanta City Council President Felicia Moore, Rockdale Chairman Oz Nesbitt, Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul, Chattahoochee Hills Mayor Tom Reed, Douglasville Mayor Rochelle Robinson, Clayton Chair Jeff Turner, Union City Mayor Vince Williams and Henry Chair June Wood.

Recently-elected Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is not going. And neither is DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond nor Cobb Chairman Mike Boyce nor Fulton Chair Robb Pitts, who is running for re-election.

It may be a missed opportunity for the Atlanta mayor. In 2002, right after Mayor Shirley Franklin was elected, LINK went to Chicago, and Franklin was able to charm regional leaders, set the stage for her new administration to work in tandem with others and most importantly, to show how the mayor of the signature city can emerge as a national leader.

The trip will include a host of other notable leaders, including: Doug Shipman, president and CEO of the Woodruff Arts Center; Alicia Philipp, president and CEO of the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta; Robbie Ashe, chairman of MARTA’s board; Nancy Johnson, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Atlanta; Tim Hynes, president of Clayton State University; Bill Bolling, chair of the Food Well Alliance; Ann Kaiser, vice president of economic development for Georgia Power; Eloisa Klementich, president and CEO of Invest Atlanta; Michael Halicki, president and CEO of Park Pride; John O’Callahan, president and CEO of Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership; Anthony Rodriguez, co-founder of Aurora Theatre; Chris Appleton, founder and CEO of WonderRoot; Nathaniel Smith, founder of Partnership for Southern Equity; Sam Olens, counsel at Dentons; Pat Upshaw-Monteith, president and CEO of Leadership Atlanta; and Bob Voyles, founder of Seven Oaks Co.

The trip also will include several top leaders from the different chambers of commerce, business organizations and community improvement districts from throughout the region.

“LINK has been an invaluable resource for the Atlanta region,” said Doug Hooker, ARC Executive Director. “The lessons we learn and the relationships forged among participants have helped drive important innovation and collaboration back at home.”

A map of downtown San Diego (Special: Wikipedia)

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Gardens tourism blooming throughout Atlanta – Atlanta Business Chronicle

With new offerings and new interest sprouting, metro Atlanta’s garden tourism industry keeps blooming.

Georgia – and metro Atlanta – is home to several public gardens, some more well known to tourists than others, but each offering the best of lush flower and plant life, along with other amenities.

“As with any other form of travel, people are looking for hands-on, authentic experiences, not just to look at and admire pretty gardens. Whether it’s growing their own tomatoes, raising their own chickens or selecting plants and flowers native to Georgia to plant at home, people are thinking globally when making these choices more and more often,” said Shawn Jervis, general manager of Barnsley Resort, via email. “Gardens that offer hands-on learning experiences to teach skills people can take into their day-to-day lives will continue to grow,”

Part of the success of garden tourism is a steady interest in organic and locally grown food, he added.

“Whether through farm visits and stays, or pick-your-own [fruits and vegetables] experiences, people are reconnecting with where their food is grown and raised,” Jervis said. “You can see the importance and potential in this through statewide initiatives like Georgia Grown and by searching agri-tourism on [the website] Explore Georgia.”

Public gardens come in varying sizes in the metro area, including Atlanta Botanical Garden, Callaway Gardens, the demonstration gardens at Fernbank Science Center, Atlanta History Center’s Goizueta Gardens and State Botanical Garden of Georgia. Someone might visit a 30-acre garden for a couple hours, for example, then linger at a larger property to finish out the day.

“Each garden helps the other gardens,” said Jim Gibbs, founder, designer and developer of the 326-acre Gibbs Gardens in Ball Ground, Ga.

Though data on the economic impact of garden tourism is sparse, anecdotally, interest is growing, as these spaces in Atlanta are expanding and introducing new experiences for patrons.

“A lot of the large gardens are realizing they have to up their game in terms of their programming because that brings people in through the gates,” said Carol Cowan, manager of the North American Garden Tourism Conference, and director of marketing and operations for the Canadian Garden Council. “That’s a real draw for people when you start to mix art and music and cooking in with the beauty of a public or botanical garden.”

An indoor and outdoor experience

Barnsley Resort in Adairsville, Ga., is one example. The attraction has opened a new 55-room inn and 9,000-square-foot event space called Georgian Hall.

“We initially needed more meeting and event space to meet the increasing demand for corporate meetings, events and incentive programs at the resort, along with the growth for weddings and other celebrations,” Jervis said. “As we developed the plans and looked at the future of the resort, we recognized the opportunity to increase our guest-room capacity, allowing us to continue to host intimate retreats and board meetings while having the opportunity to book larger groups of up to 150 rooms per night.”

Barnsley has other projects in the pipeline, including a spa renovation, and the completion of its pavillion meeting and event space renovation in May, said Jervis.

Dunaway Gardens, a USDA-certified organic tea farm in the Newnan, Ga., area, has some new ideas, too, said owner Jennifer Bigham through email. “Approximately 15,000 tea plants provide the backdrop for these lush gardens. In the near future, we hope to offer tea tours and tea tastings.”

When gardens offer a variety of experiences, they draw diverse types tourists, Bigham added. “One of the things you have to look at in terms of garden tourism is, there are people who travel to a place specifically to see a garden. Then there are people who travel to a city – New York is a perfect example – and they’ve got theater tickets but they also walk the High Line [a 1.45-mile-long elevated greenway on Manhattan’s west side], because that’s part of what New York offers. They’re there for another reason, but they will incorporate [a garden] into their visit.”

In 2010, the 30-acre Atlanta Botanical Garden had about 200,000 annual visitors. That number has climbed to “more in the neighborhood of 500,000,” said Mary Pat Matheson, its president and CEO.

The city garden’s upcoming programming includes a return of the giant plant-based sculptures in “Imaginary Worlds: Once Upon a Time,” Cocktails in the Garden, a performance by singer Sheryl Crow, and additional concerts both in Atlanta and Gainesville during the summer.

“It’s our job as professionals to think ahead to what people would enjoy,” Matheson said. “We do [programming] all year long.”

Atlanta History Center’s Goizueta Gardens include six diverse gardens that capture pictures of times gone by. They are: Mary Howard Gilbert Memorial Quarry Garden; Sims Asian Garden; Frank A. Smith’s Memorial Rhododendron Garden; Swan House Gardens; Smith Family Farm Gardens; Swan Woods & Wood Family Cabin; and, under construction, Olguita’s Garden, named for Olga “Olguita” C. de Goizueta. The history center also has on its campus the Cherokee Garden Library, which is open to the public and part of the Kenan Research Center. The library has horticulture books and related material.

“Most people come to gardens to escape, to find a peaceful place, to walk around,” said Sarah Roberts, the History Center’s Olga C. de Goizueta Vice President, Goizueta Gardens and Living Collections.

Dunaway Gardens has a rich history, Bigham added. “This garden speaks of kinder, gentler, quieter times, where you can enjoy tranquility and the gifts of nature.”

After visiting 61 countries and touring their respective public gardens, Gibbs, a landscaping company owner, was inspired to start his own.

During travel to Japan in 1973, he started his plan. “I knew I wanted a rolling topography, a mature forest setting, and to be close to I-575 and Georgia 400, knowing everything was growing to the north,” he said.

In 1980, he bought 220 acres of land and, once his plants had matured, opened Gibbs Gardens in 2012.

Gibbs said patrons are after certain experiences when they visit gardens, and the metro area’s garden attractions do not disappoint. “People want to see a beautiful garden that’s well maintained,” he said. “They want to be inspired and educated.”

Bigham of Dunaway Gardens agreed. “People are drawn to gardens as an escape from the hustle and bustle of life,” she said. “They provide a place of pleasure and beauty.”

GROWING GARDEN TOURISM

There isn’t much information about the economic impact of garden tourism on a local or national level. Carol Cowan, manager of the North American Garden Tourism Conference, and director of marketing and operations for the Canadian Garden Council, cited information on the industry from Richard Benfield’s book, “Garden Tourism (CABI, June 2013):” In any given year, more people visit public gardens in America (78 million) than go to Disneyland (11 million) and Disneyworld (11 million) combined, or visit Las Vegas (48 million) annually. Cowan also referred to data from the American Bus Association, the trade association for motorcoach operators and tour companies in the US and Canada: 66 percent of people are more apt to take a bus tour if a garden or gardens is on the itinerary.

Metro Atlanta’s Bumper Crops

Some notable gardens in the area include:

Atlanta Botanical Garden

Incorporated in 1976Named one of the Top 10 Best Botanical Gardens in the Country by USA TodayCanopy Walk, Edible Garden and Cascades Garden opened in 2010

Atlanta History Center’s Goizueta Gardens

Currently has six gardens; a seventh is under constructionFeatures native plantingsRepresents how gardens looked according to the time period

Barnsley Resort

More than 3,000 acres Recently opened a new 55-room inn and 9,000-square-foot event space called Georgian HallProperty includes a spa and other amenities

Callaway Resort & Gardens

Opened in 19522,500 acresEvents include butterfly releases, birds of prey shows, concerts

Dunaway Gardens

On the National Register of Historic PlacesEstablished by stage actress Hetty Jane Dunaway and first opened in 1934 “as a theatrical training ground for some of the country’s most beloved stage performances.” Restoration began in 2000 under owner Jennifer Bigham. The gardens reopened in 2005.

Gibbs Gardens

Founded, designed and developed by Jim Gibbs, retired president and founder of Gibbs Landscape Co.Located in Ball GroundEvents include live music, festivals and presentations

The State Botanical Garden of Georgia at the University of Georgia

Opened in 1968 313 acresAttracts more than 230,000 visitors a year

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