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Who Atlanta Real Estate Is Backing In The Wide-Open Mayor's Race

The top job at Atlanta City Hall is up for grabs Nov. 2 after Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ surprise announcement that she won’t be running for re-election. In the wide-open race to replace her, the local commercial real estate industry has yet to coalesce around a single candidate.

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Former Atlanta mayor, and current mayoral candidate, Kasim Reed speaking at a Bisnow event.

Among the major candidates to replace Bottoms are her predecessor, Kasim Reed, Atlanta City Council President Felicia Moore, prominent Atlanta zoning and development attorney Sharon Gay and two other members of the council: Antonio Brown and Andre Dickens.

Moore and Gay have drawn the most donations from the commercial real estate industry, but Reed is leading in early polling. In a poll of 516 likely voters conducted by SurveyUSA last month, 17% said they prefer Reed, followed by Moore with 10%, 11Alive reported.

The other eight candidates all received less than 10% support in the poll, with Atlanta resident Walter Reeves — who espouses a tough-on-crime approach, honing in on what's viewed as the central issue of the campaign — in third with 6%. Gay and Brown, who is facing a federal indictment for fraud against several financial institutions, both were polling at 5%. Thirty-nine percent of respondents remained undecided just three months before the election.

Reed also has the early fundraising lead, with a campaign war chest of over $1M. Supporters maintain the two-term mayor has the experience already to rein in crime and soothe relations between the city and the governor’s office. But that relationship has been strained during the coronavirus pandemic as Bottoms and Gov. Brian Kemp fought over the city’s economic reopening.

“I think it's critical. If you're fighting with your wife and have people over for dinner and continue to fight, I don't want to be in the middle of that,” said Dallas Smith, the head of the prominent Atlanta commercial real estate brokerage firm T. Dallas Smith & Co. “I just think [Reed's] a strong candidate. Crime was low, money was in the bank. We need to get the city back to those stats.”

Atlanta’s increase in crime over the past two years is taking center stage in the campaign, but the city also is wrestling with issues around its rampant growth, including rapidly escalating housing prices. Reed said his focus on lowering crime has been crucial toward building an early lead.

“When I left office, I hired 900 police officers, and I built the biggest police force in the city. That's why I believe I have the support I'm receiving,” Reed said in an interview with Bisnow. “My No. 1 priority is to keep the city of Atlanta safe and to return our sense of normalcy to Atlanta, and it's going to take everyone pulling together to achieve that objective.”

Reed, however, isn’t leading among donations from the commercial real estate industry, which saw a huge run of success during his tenure in the aftermath of the Great Financial Crisis. That distinction belongs to Gay, who has raised more than $400K thus far, much of which has come from commercial and residential real estate executives, according to her recent campaign disclosures.

Gay, a senior counsel in the public policy practice at the law firm Dentons, has played behind-the-scenes roles in developments like Ponce City Market, Atlantic Station, Avalon, Madison Yards and Krog Street Market. Gay also has helped arrange the funding of more than $2B in infrastructure financing through tax allocation districts throughout the metro area, and worked under then Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell in the 1990s, according to her company biography.

Among her contributors are Mesa Capital Partners Chairman Tom Bell, the former chairman of Cousins Properties, Cortland CEO Steven DeFrancis and Kaplan Residential partner Nathan Kaplan, who each donated $2,800. Gay raked in $4,100 in total from the Billionaires Funding Group, the firm headed by Shaneel Lalani, who purchased Underground Atlanta in January; $2K from Richard Bowers and Co. President Richard Bowers; and a total of $4,300 from Kaplan President Morris Kaplan.

Other industry names who donated less than $1K to Gay’s campaign include Hines Senior Managing Director John Heagy, City Realty Advisors President Tim Holdroyd, CD Moody Construction Co. founder Dave Moody, Pope & Land Vice Chairman Larry Kelly, Legacy Ventures founder David Marvin and Jacoby Development founder Jim Jacoby.

“The commercial real estate industry is an important component of our city’s economy. CRE provides good-paying jobs in architecture and engineering, construction, finance, sales and leasing, development, and property management and creates new places for people to live, to start a business, to have dinner or see a movie. Right now, these contributions are mostly ignored by the [Bottoms] administration,” Gay wrote in an email to Bisnow. “I would engage this vital sector by improving the permitting and inspection process and fixing our infrastructure.”

Moore, a longtime city council member who took over the presidential role in 2017, also has a number of prominent CRE donors, including Regent Partners Chairman David Allman and Third & Urban partner Chris Faussemagne, who each gave $2,800; Bowers, who donated $2K; Raulet Property Partners President Paul Raulet, who gave $1,500; Edens Senior Vice President Herbert Ames, Lee & Associates President Dick Bryant and DeFrancis, who each gave $1K; and five separate executives at Brock Built Homes who donated more than $13K combined.

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RADCO Cos. CEO Norman Radow

Dickens also touts a number of prominent CRE executives as donors, including RADCO Cos. founder Norm Radow and Vice President Lisa Hurd, who gave a combined $12,900; four executives with Brock Built Homes who gave a combined $7,600; multifamily development firm Prestwick Cos. and its senior vice president, Edrick Harris, who gave $2,600 combined; and Perennial Properties principal Aaron Goldman, who gave $1K.

Under the Reed administration, commercial development boomed in the city. Between 2010 and 2018, when Reed left office, developers built 9M SF of new offices, according to Colliers, and more than 28,000 new apartment units, according to the multifamily consulting firm Haddow & Co.

Reed also spearheaded the sale of Underground Atlanta to Lalani — whose Billionaires Funding Group donated $4,300 to his 2021 campaign — and started negotiations with CIM Group, which eventually purchased the Gulch in Downtown (a deal consummated by Bottoms during her first year in office).

Despite that record, far fewer prominent commercial real estate names show up in his disclosure report. Aside from Smith, who contributed $1K, and Lalani’s group, Reed has also collected $1K from Moody and $2,100 from Prestwick Cos. Assistant Vice President Casey Craven.

But Reed is running for mayor under a cloud of scandal. A host of former officials in his previous administration have pleaded guilty to a bribery scheme or are facing federal indictments, including the city’s former chief financial officer, Jim Beard, who is accused of using city funds to buy automatic rifles and personal trips. 

“The problem is the corruption happened right under his nose,” Radow said. “He's had his eight years. It's time for the city to move on.”

Donations can give contributors access to candidates, an investment for if and when that candidate ascends to office in order to get face time, said Charles Bullock, a professor of political science at the School for Public & International Affairs at the University of Georgia.

“[A federal investigation] hasn't reached him and maybe never will, but it probably does raise questions in some people's minds about him,” Bullock said. “That would kind of negate your investment.”

Reed continues to maintain his innocence and denies allegations that federal authorities continue to investigate him.

“Kasim outraised three of the other candidates in less than one month. In fact, his fundraising efforts made him the only candidate in the history of Atlanta mayoral politics to raise $1M in twenty days,” a Reed campaign spokesperson said in an email to Bisnow when asked about his relatively small number of CRE donors compared to some of his opponents.

“This outpouring of unprecedented support from grassroots donations and from community and business leaders across the city is a clear indication that voters believe he is the right candidate to lead our city at this critical time,” the spokesperson said.

A number of executives have contributed to multiple candidates; Novare Group CEO Jim Borders — a prominent multifamily developer — contributed $2,800 to Moore, $1K to Dickens and Gay. He said in an email he has also contributed recently to Reed, but that donation hasn’t yet appeared in campaign records.

“In the City of Atlanta Mayor’s race, I typically contribute to more than one candidate if I know them and believe that they are qualified,” Borders wrote in an email. “I contribute in the spirit of enabling each candidate to get their message out and really to thank them for running.”

While Reed and Gay said affordable housing is a priority for them, many CRE execs who spoke to Bisnow said the spike in crime in the city has become the most pressing issue in the race. A group of business leaders and residents in Buckhead have been pushing to break away from Atlanta to form their own city in large part because of crime.

“Real estate developers want the same things every voter wants: a safer city with smart policing; delivery of city services in an effective, efficient, and ethical manner; affordable, safe places for people to live; and healthy neighborhoods where every person can thrive,” Gay wrote.

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The front door to Atlanta City Hall.

Radow said Dickens’ plan to address crime is one of the reasons he supports the councilman’s campaign. Among his agenda items, Dickens has vowed to improve 911 response times, install more streetlights and license plate readers and revoke the licenses of bars and clubs that violate the law, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. Radow said the crime wave hit close to home recently when an intruder broke into and ransacked his Buckhead home while his wife was there alone, forcing her to flee the property.

“Crime has been happening in poor parts of the community for decades. Now that it's affecting wealthier parts of the city,” he said. “We should have been talking about it when it was only happening to poor people.”

Faussemagne, who also is a board member of the Upper Westside Community Improvement District, said crime is perhaps the biggest issue facing the city, potentially threatening its economic development gains in recent years. His firm is developing projects in Charlotte as well, and he said the recent crime wave is being used against Atlanta in economic development circles.

“When you’re in other markets, other cities definitely bring it up,” said Faussemagne, who donated to both Gay and Moore. “When you hear about some of the violence that occurs in areas in Midtown, Buckhead, West Midtown, you know, it raises people’s eyebrows.”

Reed said the flood of news about shootings and other crimes in the city can ultimately affect the commercial real estate industry.

“The reputation for being a center of business leadership in the Southeast and for the location of regional and direct headquarters for companies has been placed at risk,” Reed said. “I think that restoring the public safety framework is essential for the commercial and residential real estate industry. Our international reputation of Atlanta has been placed at risk by the surge of crime.”