Biz leaders line up support for Westside revitalization

Top business leaders are lining up to support the Westside Future Fund, a high-powered umbrella organization that’s been formed to coordinate the planning, fund-raising and revitalization efforts in the communities west of the Mercedes-Benz Stadium now under construction.

Written by Maria Saporta for Atlanta Business Chronicle

Oct 16, 2015, 6:00am EDT


Westside Future Fund Chairman Richard Dugas, CEO of PulteGroup Inc. (one of Atlanta’s newest Fortune 500 companies), sat down with Atlanta Business Chronicle on Oct. 14 for his first in-depth interview about the initiative since he was tapped to lead the effort last December.

In the past 10 months, the Fund has hired Quince Brinkley as its executive director, raised about $1.5 million for its initial operations, formed its board and started putting together a strategy of how to attract new investment and improve the quality of life in Vine City, English Avenue, Castleberry Hill, the Atlanta University Center and Ashview Heights.

“This is not a community redevelopment effort,” Dugas said. “This is a community revitalization effort. We will have failed if we have displaced anyone.”

The Fund is taking a multi-pronged approach towards the Westside. It is working with the numerous partners who already have been investing in the neighborhoods, and it is hoping to serve as a coordinator and facilitator in making sure everyone is working collaboratively rather than independently.

“I see our role as taking all the tributaries and turning them into a river,” Dugas said. “We want to play a coordination role, to serve as a community quarterback.”

When the Fund was formed, the idea was to have a neutral entity that could coordinate “the good existing efforts already underway and not care who got the credit,” Dugas added.

The Westside Future Fund was an outgrowth of the Atlanta Committee for Progress, the blue-ribbon business group that works with Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed on the city’s top initiatives.

At the last ACP meeting, Reed said that in addition to Chick-fil-A Inc., The Home Depot Inc. and the Blank Foundation had pledged at least $250,000 each to support the operations of the Westside Future Fund. Dugas said Pulte Homes also has made a similar commitment.

To support the operations of the Westside Future Fund through the end of 2018 — staff, rent, administrative costs as well as consulting services — Dugas said the board needs to raise a total of $4.5 million.

The Fund also is putting together a comprehensive plan for the entire area that will incorporate the multitude of more targeted plans that already have been done for the Westside. The scope will be education, economic development, public safety, housing and land use as well as health and well-being.

Dugas said he appreciates the skepticism that exists both inside and outside the Westside communities, based on what has happened in the past.

“I have been educated about the false starts,” Dugas said. “I’m committed that we will not do that again. We feel a strong obligation to not let people down again.”

That’s one reason Dugas wants to be sure the Fund is working from a comprehensive plan before the Fund starts implementing projects on an ad-hoc basis.

On the top of his list is community engagement. Dugas is well aware that that population in those five neighborhoods has fallen 55 percent between 1970 and 2010–from 41,000 to 18,000, and he said the most important constituents are the residents in the community. That’s why he wants to make sure this effort is done right.

“We are in this for 20 to 30 years,” Dugas said. “This is not a short-term — raise a bunch of money — and leave. It’s going to take a long time. We are acutely aware the community is skeptical.”

Another top priority is respecting the unique history of those communities. For example, the home where Martin Luther King Jr. was living when he was assassinated is on Sunset Avenue in the heart of Vine City. “The Westside Future Fund is very committed to preserving the historic integrity of the entire west side, including historic properties,” Dugas said. “Our goal is to make sure that unintended consequences don’t occur.”

Dugas asked for patience as the Fund’s leadership puts all the pieces in place.

One of the initiatives that could have the greatest impact is what Dugas is calling a “social responsible acquisition fund.” The idea would be for the Westside Future Fund to set up a vehicle whereby people could make a low-margin investment to a social fund that could be used to acquire blighted properties that could either be renovated or rebuilt.

“There are executives and corporations in town, like Jeff Sprecher, sitting on the sidelines, watching the Westside Future Fund’s ability to manage a social responsible acquisition fund and are willing to make sizable contributions to the overall effort,” Dugas said.

If the Westside Future Fund can work through those, Sprecher, CEO of New York Stock Exchange-owner InterContinental Exchange Inc., has pledged to invest $5 million into such a fund. Because that kind of contribution is more like a loan than a donation, Dugas said it could be a way for the entity to raise a significant amount of money in a short period of time.

“There’s a lot of momentum from a lot of foundations and corporations,” Dugas said. “The reality is that there’s a lot of excitement around the Westside, and our goal is to have a catalytic impact over the long-term.”


The existing partners include:

–    The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, which has pledged $15 million towards revitalizing the Westside–primarily by investing in human capital;
–    The city’s economic development agency Invest Atlanta, which also is investing $15 million on primarily physical improvements in the community;
–    The Chick-fil-A Foundation, which just announced that it is donating $300,000 to the Westside Future Fund and building a Chick-fil-A store on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive;
–    Families First, which will be moving its headquarters to the to the historic E.R. Carter School;
–    Westside Works, which is creating job training and employment opportunities for Westside residents, placing 216 individuals in living-wage jobs;
–    Friendship Baptist Church, which is building its new sanctuary in the community and has more extensive plans to invest in the area;
–    City of Refuge, which is planning to expand its community footprint to the areas adjacent to its home base on Joseph E Boone Boulevard; and
–    The Atlanta Police Foundation, which is installing security cameras, launching neighborhood security patrols and working with Pulte Homes and the Blank Foundation to have Atlanta police officers live in homes in the area.

$200M Proton Therapy Center Faces New Questions

A Texas billionaire is claiming millions of dollars of his money was fraudulently used to develop the Emory Proton Therapy Center now under construction in midtown Atlanta.

Written by Douglas Sams and Ellie Hensley for Atlanta Business Chronicle

Oct 9, 2015, 6:00am EDT

Proton Center

Kelcy Warren, founder of Dallas-based natural gas pipeline giant Energy Transfer Partners, claims in Texas court filings the developer of the Emory Proton Therapy Center, Advanced Particle Therapy LLC of San Diego, Calif., improperly transferred $40 million, much of it from Warren. The proceeds were allegedly used as a “piggy bank” to fund other proton therapy centers.

“APT then transferred the funds it took from [business entities in Dallas] to its separate entities in Baltimore and Atlanta, where the funds were presumably used to develop those separate proton therapy centers,” Warren claims in a Sept. 24 court filing in federal bankruptcy court in Dallas. (To read one of the court filings, click here.)

APT’s proton therapy center in Dallas filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Sept. 17. Warren had loaned $20 million to APT for that center.

Warren’s claims are another challenge for the $200 million Atlanta project, which has already fallen months behind.

The 107,000-square-foot Emory Proton Therapy Center broke ground a little over two years ago on Ponce de Leon Avenue at Peachtree Street, just a block from Emory’s Midtown hospital. At the May 2013 ground breaking, Mayor Kasim Reed called the launch of the center a “moment of auspicious beginnings.”

The project was supposed to be completed by November 2016, but Advanced Particle Therapy is now targeting a January 2017 completion date. For now, the project is about 85 percent complete.

In a statement, Advanced Particle Therapy indicated the legal issues surrounding the Dallas project would have no effect on its progress in Atlanta.

“Dallas Proton Treatment Holdings and Dallas Proton Treatment Center are separate entities from the Atlanta project,” said Ashley Preisinger, an APT executive director leading development of the Emory Proton Therapy Center. “Major building construction on the Emory Proton Therapy Center is complete. The next phase of the project is delivery, installation and clinical acceptance of the equipment leading to first patient treatment.”

Preisinger added, “The Emory Proton Therapy Center is committed to this project and its ability to deliver cancer treatment to the metro Atlanta area.”

The proton center would be staffed by physicians from Emory University’s Winship Cancer Institute and Emory Healthcare. Asked about the issues involving APT, Emory Healthcare issued a brief statement to Atlanta Business Chronicle, saying, “Emory is set to operate the proton center once it opens.”

For now, Warren’s allegations give the appearance the Atlanta project is in trouble, said David Smith, a president with Kearny Street Consulting Inc. “If they’re trying to use funding from Dallas across the board and that wasn’t part of the agreement I would say they’re in trouble in general,” he said.

Smith also noted the legal issues come during a critical point in the Atlanta project ­— financing the purchase and installation of its equipment.

The centerpiece is a 9-by-12-foot cyclotron, an incredibly dense piece of high-tech machinery that uses powerful magnetic and electrical fields to accelerate protons — highly energetic subatomic particles — that can be focused precisely on cancer cells. It’s not clear what the machine costs, but the company expects to secure $120 million to $150 million in senior debt for the second phase.

Earlier this summer, APT CEO Jeff Bordok said the company has raised $47 million in convertible equity and $72.4 million from its capital partners for the Midtown proton center. It also entered advanced talks with lenders to finance the second phase, including the purchase of equipment and its installation.

The new legal issues linked to the Midtown project raise the question of whether Emory will have to step up financially to get it moving, Smith said. “Emory has deep pockets. They may be able to find a donor or [pony] up on this, but it’s a big ask to get that type of money.”