As part of our October issue, which will highlight the 55 most powerful people in metro Atlanta, we sat down with Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed to discuss his accomplishments, how fatherhood has changed him, and what remains on his to-do list in the remaining two-and-a-half years in his term. We asked specifically about the Peachtree-Pine homeless shelter, which Reed wants closed so he can open a police and fire station in its place. Reed believes he can seize the building through eminent domain. The issue will likely be decided in the courts.
Look for the entire interview online in late September, when the October issue goes on sale.
On how he plans to overcome City Council opposition to seizing the shelter:
Peachtree-Pine doesn’t work. And we haven’t found a case in Georgia where a city was using eminent domain to create a public safety facility where they didn’t prevail. Let’s remember when Ambassador [Andrew] Young built the Georgia Dome: They took 14 churches through eminent domain. I haven’t met anybody who believes that Peachtree-Pine is working. The only way that we’d have difficulty is to do nothing. And that’s not what we’re going to do; we’re going to do better. We have a track record. We housed a thousand people in permanent housing since I’ve been mayor. We can walk people to the Imperial Hotel, which houses 90 homeless people. What we’re going to show is the people we have helped are actually reclaiming their lives.
I believe in the politics of the soft and the hard. I don’t ever believe you can just be an ogre. The city is strong enough financially. We have $150 million in the bank. We’ve got the best credit we’ve had in 25 years. And the NGOs and philanthropic community have been wanting to get involved in Peachtree-Pine for a long time. And [critics] are wrong on the politics. We’ll have a poll out in a week on how people feel about Peachtree-Pine. But the early data is people want it gone. Because everybody who lives in the city of Atlanta has driven by it. And we all live it. Not only is it not changing the people’s lives, it’s damaging the public park across the street, which is riddled with drug needles and condoms. We clean it and it goes right back to that condition. None of the people [who live] around the park can use it. A friend of mine called me the other day who’s a political veteran and he said, ‘Kasim, there’s a reason that Peachtree-Pine has been open for 25 years.’ And my response is ‘What do I have this job for?’ So I’ve said it before: The only thing that’s going to prevent me is a judge telling me no. And if a judge tells me no, I would have done everything I could. I think Peachtree-Pine is one of the five most significant impediments to the success of Atlanta. We have filmed it: People come out of Peachtree-Pine. They go panhandle throughout the city. At the end of the day, they walk back into Peachtree-Pine.
We’ve got 48 million visitors and 220,000 people who derive their quality of life through jobs related to the convention industry. Don’t talk about working people with me. Working people are the people who clean up the hotels and get jobs in hotels that they use as ladders to move up. That’s why the convention business is a wonderful business. So yeah, someone’s going to be on the other side of the conversation with that same old rhetoric, calling me names: hard-hearted and Uncle Tom and all this other stuff they’re trotting out. But they’re not going to be offering to do anything better than what we’re offering.
On the need for a police and fire station in that location:
Between where Peachtree-Pine sits and 15th Street, there are 14 new developments coming on line. They’re going to need a police station and a fire station. We’re just gonna tee it up and go for it.
On the fate of the people served now at Peachtree-Pine:
The people who are served now, we’re going to place every single one of them—every single person who wants to be placed. We’re going to do a combination of things. I’ll probably go to the capital markets for a bond between $20 and $25 million to build new housing stock. We’ll acquire older buildings and recondition them. But our approach is going to focus on homeless people—20 at a time, 30 at a time—in smaller buildings dispersed throughout the city, and done in a first-class way like has been done with the Imperial. We are not going to have any massive facility with homeless people. We are going to have small facilities with wraparound services that really change people’s lives. And the politics will take care of itself. My job approval right now is about 72-73 [percent], so we’re going to take it for a spin. I’m going to get out and work my butt off to explain to folks. Because I don’t think you can win this argument on a stage talking this out with me. And I’m not gonna get tired of talking.