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Atlanta Beltline CEO Paul Morris is out after four years

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Beltline leader was embroiled in recent affordable housing controversy, but Atlanta mayor and others salute his achievements

Construction on the Eastside Trail, one of the initiatives CEO Paul Morris is credited with overseeing.
Construction on the Eastside Trail, one of the initiatives CEO Paul Morris is credited with overseeing.
Curbed Atlanta

One of America’s most consequential urban redevelopment projects officially has a new leader.

As of Sept. 11, Atlanta Beltline President and CEO Paul Morris will be stepping down, the city announced today. The Beltline’s board met for a quick executive decision this morning, where the decision to switch leaders was finalized, per Saporta Report.

Morris came aboard in June 2013, and he’s credited with helping lead several key projects, including the ongoing Eastside Trail extension, construction of the $43-million Westside Trail, the Eastside Trail Gateway in 2014, and completion of the Beltline’s first urban farm (Alumna Farms) and second skatepark (Arthur Langford Jr. Park).

Another feather in Morris’ cap, per a press release, is a newly renovated affordable housing effort in Peoplestown called Stanton Oaks; but in recent weeks, the CEO has been embroiled in an uproar over affordable housing in the wake of a scathing AJC-led investigation.

Nonetheless, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who’s recently hinted at Morris’ pending ouster, had kind words for the veteran urban planner, a former deputy with the North Carolina Department of Transportation.

“For the last four years, Paul Morris has brought an impressive depth of management experience to the Atlanta Beltline, and I am grateful for his service to the City of Atlanta,” Reed said in a release.

Here’s part of Morris’ statement:

“I have been extraordinarily honored and humbled by the opportunity I have had over the last four years to have worked for this project ... At the end of the day, the BeltLine has never been about me or any one individual but it has required the leadership of the mayor, the ABI Board, and the successful efforts of several partners for the Beltline to have come as far along as it has.”

Atlanta Loop reports that ABI had recently approved a 29 percent pay increase for Morris—tentatively setting his base salary at $285,000. He was hired with a base salary of $220,000 four years ago, the website reports.

The release mentions nothing about Morris’ future employment or whether he’ll receive severance pay.

So who’ll take the Beltline lead now? Per the release:

The ABI board voted to elect Brian McGowan as the new President and CEO of the Atlanta BeltLine. McGowan is currently a Principal with the global law firm Dentons...

Prior to this, McGowan was the Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the Metro Atlanta Chamber. In 2011, McGowan served as the CEO of Invest Atlanta. While in this position, he refocused the organization to be a catalyst for community revitalization, economic growth and competitiveness. During his tenure, he was responsible for programs that facilitated the creation of more than 23,000 jobs and nearly $2 billion in investment in the City of Atlanta.

As President and CEO of ABI, McGowan will continue to lead the organization which is responsible for implementing one of the most transformative urban redevelopment and mobility projects in the country.

McGowan will start on the day Morris exits: Sept. 11.

“This is the most important project in Atlanta because it gives us an opportunity that no other city has—a way to comprehensively address affordability and economic mobility,” said McGowan.