Five Questions With… Ben King

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If you follow Atlanta politics, real estate or urban development, the blog Terminal Station is a must-read. Authored by Atlanta native Ben King, Terminal Station offers smart commentary and analysis on a myriad of issues, separating the wheat from the chaff better than any other media outlet around. So, what does Ben really know? Let’s find out…
Q. It’s your last meal in Atlanta- where are you going, and what are you eating?

A. A few years ago I would have said Le Fleur de Lis in the Healey Building, which was this great little French place that was a killer place to take dates…but it closed. My other favorite was the Majestic, but since they renovated it just doesn’t feel the same. I’ve probably eaten at Waffle House more than anywhere else in this city, but I don’t think it would suffice for a “last meal”…

 

Final answer – I’d go Murphy’s. I grew up around the corner from Murphy’s and it is an old favorite. I don’t think I’ve ever been disappointed by a meal there. Take-out meat loaf and mashed potatoes from Murphy’s has been a fixture in my family’s kitchen since I was old enough to have memories. I was there last week and tried the new menu – the stuffed chicken was absolutely incredible. Great food, great service, low hassle, not too loud, and it doesn’t totally destroy my wallet. What’s not to love?
Murphy’s: A portrait of neighborhood comfort.
Q. Favorite Atlanta neighborhood(s)?

A. Despite growing up and presently living in Virginia-Highland, I think Grant Park is my favorite neighborhood. I love the historic houses, and the park is fantastic. Grant Park is still a little rough around the edges compared to Inman Park or Virginia-Highland, which I like. People don’t seem to feel quite so entitled about things. Grant Park is also about the right speed for me – things are just slow enough that I feel like I can relax.Q. The most pressing (non-public safety related) issue facing the next mayor is…

A. Basic operations management. I don’t think the public has any faith that they are getting their money’s worth when it comes to city services. The city payroll is probably bloated, the organizational structure is a bureaucratic mess, employees don’t care about customer service, and the city can’t attract top quality management personnel. All of those organizational/management issues result in poor financial performance and low service quality. We need a mayor who knows how to streamline an organization and how to inspire and motivate employees.

If we can get basic city operations streamlined and up-to-par, that will go a long way towards attracting more residents, freeing up money to invest in infrastructure, and re-establishing civic pride.
The headquarters of bureaucracy and bloat?
Q. Best Atlanta celebrity sighting?

A. Everyone else seems to see celebrities except me! La novia used to see celebrities all the time when she worked at the Starbucks next to the Four Seasons, but the best I’ve done is meeting Al Sharpton at a DNC event near the airport in 2005. Mostly I remember that he was very short and I was surprised at how much hair he had – all that hair slicked back from up front has to go somewhere, and so it stuck out several inches from the back of his head. He’s really bizarre looking in person.

 

The Godfather of Soul and the Godfather of Gadfly, in more folically fantastic days.

 

Q. You’re given the keys to Underground Atlanta, a pot of money, and the directive to “make it work”. What do you do?

A. Ugh. We can’t just get rid of it? Since they re-did it, I think it feels less historic, so I’m not sure what core value is left to build on. The problem isn’t just Underground itself, but what surrounds it. There need to be more bodies living nearby to support the level of retail there.

So if I had carte blanch to “fix” Underground, I’d focus on the stuff around it. I’d build GSU dorms next door (and turn a blind eye to the underage drinking). I’d rehabilitate all the buildings on Peachtree Street south of Five Points, and focus on putting more residential units there. I’d get the state to go ahead and build the multi-modal terminal in the railroad gulch.

When it comes to Underground itself, I think it has gotten dislocated from its historic roots. It doesn’t feel particularly “historic”. I couldn’t tell you how to get to the Zero Mile Post. I think Underground needs to do a better job of leveraging that asset – otherwise it is just an odd retail center that no one goes to.

One thing I would definitely not do is build electronic casino machines.

BONUS QUESTION: What is Terminal Station, and why is it awesome?

A. Terminal Station is my blog! It started out as a place for me to keep track of Atlanta developments and real estate happenings, but you can only write about foreclosures and construction delays so long.

Now, I like to think that Terminal Station is a place to get data-driven analysis of the issues facing Atlanta. When I talk about the police department, I try to base my analysis on the actual hiring numbers, crime data (not crime stories), and academic studies about the policies and programs that actually work to reduce crime.

I’m most proud of the tone of Terminal Station – things are pretty laid back, but it is not the sort of place where you’ll get a lot of spleen and childish back-and-forth. I try to keep to the middle of the road – I’m not trying to push a party line or anything. I’ve had a few folks tell me they actually learn things from Terminal Station, which is a great compliment.

The Relevant Linkage

To take a magical photo tour of Al Sharpton through the years, click here.

To take a magical photo tour of Underground Atlanta through the years, click here.

To take a photo tour of a funky townhouse not far from Ben’s beloved Majestic, click here.

Photo Credits: Sharpton Brown: Arkansas Times, Murphy’s: About.com, City Hall: AtlantaArchitecture.info

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