The Atlanta BeltLine is a transformational project that is breaking down barriers and connecting people, communities, and cultures. For our staff spotlight this month, we feature Senior Accounting Manager Robbie Ross, a native Atlantan who has seen first-hand the impact of the BeltLine project in his childhood neighborhood on Atlanta’s Westside.
Robbie Ross grew up in the Beecher Hill/Westview area and attended Booker T. Washington High School, located a block from the Westside Trail on MLK Jr. Drive. His parents still live in his childhood home, which they moved into on the day of Dr. King’s assassination in 1968. He calls it a very quiet area where his parents knew all the neighbors and the woman across the street was his babysitter and Godmother. Robbie says the Westside is a “a very formative place where you learn a lot of street knowledge and core values.”
The neighborhood has changed quite a bit, particularly in recent years. Robbie recalls fondly some bygone features, noting, “the corner laundromat where we hung out and played video games is now the Slutty Vegan restaurant.” Robbie believes area residents are generally excited about new developments, but he knows there are concerns. Some legacy residents worry the neighborhood is being taken away, but he hopes they can embrace the upside. “Things are changing and demographics are shifting, but more opportunity and more dollars are now there, and I attribute that to the BeltLine. Any form of change is painful, but if the good outweighs the bad, it’s a net positive.”
“More like-minded people who see the value in the neighborhood are pouring more resources into it. My parents are reaping the benefits and the whole area is too. There are fresh faces, and joggers, and people walking their dogs – the neighborhood has new life and new vibrancy.” He points to several BeltLine initiatives that are designed to help long-time residents. “We’ve had a down-payment assistance program, an owner-occupant rehab program, and a major affordable housing initiative, so we really do have these concerns front of mind.”
Robbie studied accounting at Georgia Southern and says, “going from the Westside of Atlanta down to Statesboro was a bit of a culture shock.” However, he calls it one of the best experiences of his life, in part because it’s where he met his future wife. He worked in a variety of accounting jobs after college and later obtained a Master of Accounting & Financial Management degree at Keller Graduate School of Accounting. Robbie was laid off during the 2008 economic downturn, an experience he calls, “a very challenging time where I really had to lean on my wife, lean on my mom, lean on my sister, and lean on my faith.” Accounting opportunities did return and led him to briefly relocate to Orlando. He enjoyed the work but missed his hometown, so Robbie brought his family back to Atlanta in 2014 after he was offered a job as an accounting manager for the BeltLine.
Asked to identify important accomplishments during his time with the BeltLine, he laughs and says he shares in the excitement when colleagues have “major wins” like big grant awards, important land acquisitions, or notable milestones with trail build outs, but concedes there aren’t a lot of “woo-hoo” moments in accounting. “For me, the goal is to just make sure the numbers add up and the project keeps moving forward. If I do that, it’s a win.” He takes pride in the fact that they’ve had clean financial audits each year he’s been at the BeltLine. “That was always a major goal with previous CEOs and still is with (current CEO) Clyde Higgs. We want to be transparent with the citizens of Atlanta. We take our fiduciary responsibility very seriously.”
Robbie is excited to be part of the effort to get the project across the finish line and points to the City Council’s approval of a Special Services District (SSD) in March 2021 as a monumental step. “The SSD allows us to deploy more resources to ensure the project is completed on time.” He borrows a line from CEO Higgs and says, “these additional funds really allow us to walk and chew gum at the same time, as opposed to just chewing gum.”
Robbie recently celebrated his 20th wedding anniversary and has three children, including a daughter who followed in his footsteps and attends Georgia Southern. Robbie is a huge Falcons fan and enjoys watching documentaries and true crime shows in his free time. He loves being part of the exciting changes happening in his hometown and says, “I’m an Atlantan until the day I die. I’m a Westside guy.”