June is Pride Month, and the Atlanta BeltLine is a staunch supporter of efforts to promote and advance equity and inclusivity for all people. This month, we highlight the work of Dave Pierce, who is a proud member of Atlanta’s vibrant LGBTQ+ community, which he touches on here.
“You can’t build a project if you don’t have the land to do it.” Dave Pierce says this is his standard remark when jokingly emphasizing the importance of his role as Director of Real Estate and Asset Management for Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. The comment is in jest but obtaining and managing land assets are indeed crucial to advance the goals for the Atlanta BeltLine.
Dave grew up in a small town in New Jersey and fondly recalls his fascination with the metropolis across the river. “I remember seeing the hazy outline of the Manhattan skyline and always being drawn to that. I loved going on field trips as a kid and being in the city and feeling that energy.” His appreciation for city life carried over to his undergraduate studies at Penn State, where he majored in human geography and immersed himself in sociological studies of why cities look the way they do and how they’re developed.
He came to Atlanta in 2005 to pursue a Masters in City and Regional Planning at Georgia Tech, and his arrival coincided with the early days of BeltLine legislative approval and implementation. His masters option paper in 2007 was an equity assessment of the Atlanta BeltLine project, though his career path would not take him to a role with the organization right away. Professional stops included doing pre-development feasibility studies for a consulting firm, research analysis for a freight logistics think tank, and working in the corporate offices of a large home builder before Dave saw a Facebook listing for a position as a real estate project manager for the Atlanta BeltLine. He said he knew immediately, “this is the job for me.”
Dave began working with the BeltLine in 2015, helping with land acquisitions and corridor activation. He’s been involved in $80 million worth of land purchases for the BeltLine and notes that, just in the past year, they’ve more than tripled the amount of property available for affordable housing redevelopment along the BeltLine, growing such assets from 21 to 65 acres. Dave says, “this shows our commitment to advancing equitable development along the entirety of the corridor, and those acquisitions were in all parts of the city.”
In Dave’s current role as Director of Real Estate and Asset Management, he continues to oversee land purchases, asset management and corridor activation, as well as creating an interface for businesses and the BeltLine to make new development as seamless as possible. He stresses the importance of a continued focus on equity and affordability, saying “the strategy of buying land to leverage for deeper and longer-term affordability is so critical.” Gentrification and displacement are not unique BeltLine challenges, and many cities grapple with such issues, but he feels the BeltLine makes Atlanta unique because “very few cities have a similar thoughtful, equity-focused redevelopment project that has the tools and resources we have.”
Another important aspect of land acquisition is private sector engagement. The vision for where the BeltLine is happening has been public knowledge for more than a decade, and a lot of speculative land-buying has occurred in the interim. This complicates efforts to preserve affordability. Dave is excited that they are now working with the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership to offer incentives to private landowners to allow the BeltLine to purchase properties at below-market rates. “These people bought sites a while ago at a much lower price, but they’re willing to work with us to structure the transaction as a partial charitable contribution. They still make money on the acquisition, we get a good deal, and they get some added tax benefits.” Dave is hopeful similar future purchases will allow the BeltLine to further expand affordable housing efforts. “It takes everyone to get the BeltLine completed. Those types of partnerships with the private sector are important. You can’t just solely rely on public funding to get it done.”
Looking ahead, Dave believes the recent approval of the Special Services District (SSD) is a crucial component for achieving the goal of trail completion by 2030. He says Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. CEO Clyde Higgs often refers to having a “line of sight” to finish the trails, and Dave is particularly encouraged by current design planning and alignment discussions for the north and northwest segments. “This gives us that ‘line of sight’ for what we call ‘closing the loop’ and that is really exciting.”
Dave and his husband of eight years live near the Eastside Trail, and he can routinely be found running along the corridor. He has a fondness for the unique community of the BeltLine, especially during Pride Month. “I was on the trail the other day and saw what appeared to be a high-school-aged same-sex couple holding hands in public, walking down the trail. That is not something I was able to do at that age.” He says Atlanta, in general, is very supportive of the LGBTQ+ community, noting that he and his husband, as gay men, “live a very boring life like any other couple, and people who live other places don’t have that luxury.”
Dave Pierce is Director of Real Estate and Asset Management for Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. and enjoys gardening and running in his spare time.