15 April 2014

164-room Hotel to be Part of Extensive Renovation of Phipps Plaza in Buckhead

Simon Property Group announced today that it will undertake a series of improvements to Phipps Plaza.

The first project in a series of improvements will be an extensive interior makeover, providing a fresh new look and feel to the interior space of the mall. Plans include: upgraded LED lighting, repainting the interior, new warm wood accents, an updated railing system, luxury soft seating and lounging areas with Wi-Fi connectivity and chargers, upgraded restrooms, and the installation of a hotel-like concierge service center.

(Buckhead's Phipps Plaza will undergo an extensive renovation in the coming months.)
"Our patrons will really enjoy these improvements," said Dewayne Herbert, Phipps Plaza's mall manager. "These initial enhancements will provide a visible transformation of the interior environment that will be more consistent with the one-of-a-kind Phipps shopping experience that our customers deserve."

Major improvements to the parking decks will also be undertaken. All entrances from the parking decks to the mall will be improved with new flooring, lighting and automatic doors to welcome customers. Lighting in the parking decks will be converted to energy efficient LED which will also improve lighting throughout the parking decks.

Construction on these exciting interior renovations will commence this summer and be complete before the holiday season. The property will remain open throughout with phasing of the work to minimize customer disruption. The improvements on the inside of Phipps Plaza will also deliver energy-saving benefits.

Several other projects are also being planned to commence in the near future. Improvements are being contemplated to the property's prominent entrance along Peachtree Road which will include a new dramatic entrance, a dynamic streetscape filled with luxury storefronts, and new lush landscaping. New additions to Phipps Plaza will include 320 luxury residential units and a 164-room hotel with upscale dining.

Georgia Credit Unions Saved Its Members $124 Million in 2013

Georgia credit unions continue to help members afford life, saving them more than $124 million through better loan rates, higher saving rates and lower fees than banks in 2013, according to the latest Member Benefits Index (MBI) released by Georgia Credit Union Affiliates.

"Credit unions are literally structured to serve members…there are no stockholders," said Mike Mercer, president and CEO of GCUA. "Buying a car to get back and forth to work, taking the kids on vacation once in awhile, putting a down payment on a house, saving for retirement - these are the things people look to their credit unions to help them with. Credit unions' only purpose is to deliver value to their members, and they do it in all kinds of ways."

The MBI illustrates that the average interest rate for 60-month new car loans in 2013 at Georgia credit unions was 2.81 percent, compared to 3.61 percent at the state's banking institutions. For pre-owned cars, the MBI revealed the average interest rate at Georgia credit unions for a used 48-month used car loan was 3.05 percent in 2013 – 1.28 points lower than banks (4.33 percent).

Taking advantage of these savings, and appreciating the service they enjoy as member-owners of their financial cooperatives, Georgia consumers continued to join credit unions in 2013. Up 2.2 percent, membership at Georgia credit unions now stands just shy of 2 million members.

Additional examples of how credit unions saved members more than banks include:

Commissioner Bill Edwards Collects Most Campaign Cash from Non-Fulton Residents & Corporations

Fulton County Commissioners Emma Darnell and Bill Edwards are battling to win the 20 May Democrat primary.

Both have different campaign tactics.

Darnell spent most of the $12,850 she raised between 31 January and 31 March on phone banking and polling. Edwards spent his campaign cash on signs and cell phones.

Darnell and Edwards also have two distinct fundraising strategies.

Emma Darnell reported collecting most of her campaign contributions from Fulton County residents. Only six of Darnell's contributors were non-Fulton County residents or corporations. Edwards, by comparison, raised $28,850 mostly from corporate entities and non-Fulton residents.

The next campaign finance report for Edwards and Darnell is due 30 June.

Meet JMR Waterworld: The Company Behind the Stage Effects at Tomorrowworld and Sensation

Georgia Unfiltered recently caught up with JMR Waterworld, the company behind many of the stage effects seen by music fans at Tomorrowland, Tomorrowworld, and Sensation.

Founded by Job Rijsdijk, JMR Waterworld has been in business for fifteen years, and just finished working on the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit; a meeting of world leaders aimed at preventing nuclear terrorism around the globe. At the Nuclear Security Summit, held in the Netherlands, JMR Waterworld designed and built a screen made out of water, which was used to show videos such as the one seen below.

Welcome Nuclear Industry Summit 2014 by Students of University College Roosevelt

JMR Waterworld specializes in creating water, fog, fire, and light effects for events, shows and permanent installations.

10 April 2014

Atlanta Loses Its Title as "America's Most Frugal City" to Orlando

Atlanta held the title of "America's Most Frugal City" for four consecutive years. But Atlanta's reign is over, according to Coupons.com. Orlando is now the most frugal city in the United States.

Coupons.com ranked greater metro areas (with a population of 1,500,000 or more) based on each area's total issued coupon savings (including coupons printed or saved to a store loyalty or rewards program) on Coupons.com and the Coupons.com network in 2013 relative to its population size. With an index of 222, Orlando residents are more than 2 times more likely to print coupons or save them to a store loyalty or rewards program than the average American city dweller.

Atlanta dropped from #1 to #6 in this year's rankings.

Washington D.C. jumped into the top ten, advancing eight spots to number three and pushing Atlanta out of the top five. Raleigh made the biggest jump overall, moving to the number 10 spot, from number 36 in 2012. Indianapolis was the second biggest gainer, moving up 16 spots to land at number 11.

Gwinnett County Up for $1 Million Prize for Reducing Achievement Gap Among Students of Color

Wednesday, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation announced Gwinnett County Schools were one of two finalists for the foundation's $1 million Broad Prize for Urban Education.

(Gwinnett County Schools named a finalist for $1 million prize for reducing achievement gap among low-income and minority students. Image courtesy Gwinnett County Schools)
The Broad (rhymes with "road") Prize for Urban Education is an annual $1 million award —the largest education prize in the country— that honors urban school districts that demonstrate the greatest overall performance and improvement in student achievement while reducing achievement gaps among low-income students and students of color.

Gwinnett is competing with Orange County, Florida for the top prize -- $750,000 in college scholarships for graduating high school seniors. The runner-up will receive $250,000 in college scholarships. The winner will be announced by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on 22 September in New York City.

This year's finalists were selected from among 75 of the largest districts in the country by a review board of 13 prominent education researchers, policy leaders, practitioners and executives from leading universities, education associations, civil rights advocacy organizations, think-tanks and foundations. The review board evaluated publicly available academic achievement data that were compiled and analyzed by RTI International, a leading global research institute.

School districts cannot apply or be nominated.

In selecting the finalists, the review board evaluated school district data including SAT, ACT and Advanced Placement participation rates and scores, graduation rates, results of state assessments in reading, math and science, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, student demographics including poverty, state test rigor, per pupil expenditures and district enrollment. The data analysis included more than 75 measures of how well a district has performed in the last four years in terms of raising student achievement, particularly for low-income students and students of color.

08 April 2014

Carter Repeats Claim Refuted as Mostly False by PolitiFact to Score Points with Georgia's Women

Tuesday afternoon, presumptive Democrat gubernatorial nominee Jason Carter tweeted the following on Twitter:

The tweet sounds great, and it's intended to score points with Georgia's women. However, the tweet posted by Carter simply isn't true.

In 2012, Barack Obama's campaign made the same claim in an advertisement.

"The son of a single mom, proud father of two daughters, President Obama knows that women being paid 77 cents on the dollar for doing the same work as men isn't just unfair, it hurts families. So the first law he signed was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to help ensure that women are paid the same as men for doing the exact same work. Because President Obama knows that fairness for women means a stronger middle class for America."

Here's the ad:

Obama for America TV Ad: "First Law"

PolitiFact reviewed the Obama commercial and said, "the Obama ad takes a solid statistic and describes it incorrectly. The campaign is wrong to say that the 77-cent figure describes the pay differences between men and women 'doing the same work.'

"The Obama campaign took a legitimate statistic and described it in a way that makes it sound much more dramatic than it actually is. The 77-cent figure is real, but it does not factor in occupations held, hours worked or length of tenure. Describing that statistic as referring to the pay for women "doing the same work as men" earns it a rating of Mostly False" [Jacobson (21 June 2012). Barack Obama ad says women are paid "77 cents on the dollar for doing the same work as men". PolitiFact. Retrieved on 8 April 2014.].

Despite PolitiFact's ruling, the Carter campaign repeated the claim.

First Edition of Tomorrowworld Festival Pumped $85.1 Million into Georgia's Economy

In 2013, Georgia welcomed 140,000 people from 75 different countries (and all fifty United States) for the inaugural edition of Tomorrowworld; a three-day electronic dance music festival patterned after Belgium's Tomorrowland.

(The inaugural edition of Tomorrowworld had a $85.1 million economic impact on Georgia. Image courtesy ID&T/Tomorrowworld)
Independent research firm Beacon Economics released a study commissioned by Tomorrowworld organizers to measure the economic impact of the event.

According to Beacon, Tomorrowworld brought $85.1 million into the Georgia economy in 2013.

Atlanta received the majority of the economic impact, a total of $70 million. This matches the $70 million impact generated for the city from the NCAA Final Four Championship games held in March 2013. Visiting attendees' direct expenditures added $28.7 million into the local economy across areas such as lodging, restaurants, sight-seeing, etc. An estimated $4.3 million in tax revenues went to the state and local governments as a result of event-related spending for Tomorrowworld 2013, the equivalent of hiring 80 full-time school teachers for one year at a salary of $53,000. Labor income for workers in the Atlanta and the state of Georgia increased by $34 million thanks to the direct and indirect work needed to support the impact of the event and the visitors. Tomorrowworld employed the equivalent of 749 annual full time jobs.

22.5% of visiting attendees stayed for additional days in Georgia, adding additional impact on tourist attractions and exhibitions.

Tomorrowworld organizers say the Bouckaert family farms in Chattahoochee Hills, was hand-picked for the beautiful landscape reminiscent of sister festival’s, Tomorrowland, home in Belgium. Upon choosing Georgia as the home of the international festival, Tomorrowworld organizers devoted efforts to providing ways to stimulate growth in the local economy and promised to do so for years to come.

Tickets are now on sale for the second edition of Tomorrowworld in the USA; scheduled for 26 - 28 September 2014. Visit tomorrowworld.com for details.

Democrat-leaning Poll: Whites & Hispanics Oppose Expanding Medicaid in Georgia; Blacks For It

Public Policy Polling, a Democrat-leaning polling firm, is out with a new survey of 628 Georgia voters.

The survey says most Georgia whites and Hispanics oppose expanding Medicaid in the state.

Among Hispanics, 58% say Georgia should not expand Medicaid. In addition, 71% of Hispanics say they are less likely to vote for Democrat Jason Carter in the November General Election if he supports Medicaid expansion in Georgia.

48% of whites and 12% of blacks oppose expanding Medicaid in Georgia.

Below are the complete polling results:

Georgia Medicaid Polling Results

Atlantans More Likely to Believe Folks with Tattoos are Deviant, Unhealthy, & Less Spiritual

The Harris Poll asked 2,102 adults, ages 18 and older and living in the top ten American metropolitan areas by population, how they felt about tattoos and people who have them.

(A new poll says Atlantans are more likely to believe folks with a tattoo like the one shown above are deviant, unhealthy, & less spiritual. Image courtesy BMEZine.com/Shannon Larratt)
The survey says Atlantans view folks who are tatted up more negatively than individuals in other major U.S. cities.

According to the poll, Atlantans are more likely than those in any other market to feel that people with tattoos are more likely to do something most people would consider deviant. In addition, Atlantans are least likely to see those with tattoos as strong, sexy, and attractive.

Finally, Atlanta residents are most likely to see those with tattoos as less healthy and less spiritual.

Mia Moore, a Cobb County resident with one tattoo, dismisses the poll, saying, "People have always thought those things with people who have tattoos."

"The first tattoo I got was a shamrock, because I'm Irish and proud of my heritage," Krissy Walsh, a Newton County resident said. "70% of tattoos have spiritual meaning," Walsh said. "Most people with tattoos are making a statement about who they are, not what society thinks."

Walsh says she four tattoos.

The Harris Poll questioned adults in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas/Fort Worth, San Francisco, Boston, the District of Columbia, Atlanta, and Houston.

According to the study, Americans in two California markets – Los Angeles (26%) and San Francisco- are more likely than those in any of America's other top ten markets to have at least one tattoo. On the other end of the spectrum, residents of Atlanta are less likely than those in any other major market to profess having at least one tattoo.

For crosstabs and demographic breakdowns, visit harrisinteractive.com

Study Says Georgia Voter Turnout Dropped Below National Average in 2012

A new study from the Pew Charitable Trusts says the Georgia experienced a 4% decline in voter turnout between the 2008 and 2012 elections.

According to the Pew study, Georgia voter turnout was 62.73% in 2008. Four years later, turnout was 58.45%. Overall, Georgia's voter turnout placed it 34th in the nation.

In addition, Pew says Georgia voters faces some of the longest wait times to vote in the country. Georgians spent about 17.8 minutes waiting to vote in 2012 While that's a sharp decline from the 37.6 minutes Georgians spent in voting lines in 2008, the state still ranked near the bottom (42nd) for voter wait times.

The Pew Charitable Trusts looked at seventeen indicators as wait times at polling locations, availability of voting information tools online, rejection of voter registrations, problems with registration or absentee ballots, rejection of military and overseas ballots, voter turnout, and accuracy of voting technology in all fifty states and the District of Columbia to produce the annual Election Performance Index.

"We know common-sense solutions to improve elections exist. States are pioneering innovations that make a real difference in the efficiency and accuracy of their elections operations while also saving money," said David Becker, director of Pew's election initiatives project. "The Election Performance Index allows policymakers to pinpoint what's working while also identifying areas where improvement is needed."

Visit www.pewstates.org/epi to see the complete study.

07 April 2014

For #MusicMonday, "Silence" (the Airscape Remix) by Delerium featuring Sarah Mclachlan

"Silence" (the Airscape Remix) by Delerium featuring Sarah Mclachlan

Black Georgia Democrat Abandons Obama, Votes to Repeal ObamaCare's 30-hour Workweek Provision

Last week, the United States House of Representatives passed H.R. 2575; a bill to redefine a "full-time employee," for purposes of the mandate requiring employers to provide health care coverage for their employees, as an employee who is employed on average at least 40 hours of service a week.

(2nd district Georgia Congressman Sanford Bishop was the only black Democrat to vote in favor of repealing the 30-hour workweek provision of ObamaCare. )
Presently, under ObamaCare, businesses must provide health insurance to employees who work at least thirty hours a week.

Republicans say ObamaCare's 30-hour workweek provision creates "an incentive for companies to cut worker hours to less than 30 per week, to stay below the threshold," according to a report in The Hill [Kasperowicz (3 April 2014). House advances bill to end ObamaCare's 30-hour workweek. The Hill. Retrieved on 7 April 2014.

Georgia Congressman Tom Price echoed those sentiments, posting on Facebook, "This bill helps protect Americans from seeing their work hours and wages cut because of Obamacare.

"Under the health care law’s employer mandate, a full-time employee is defined as one who works 30 hours per week. This legislation would prescribe the traditional 40 hour work week. The need for this bipartisan action by Congress is further evidence that the president’s health care law is not only bad health care policy, it has troubling economic consequences for hard working Americans – particularly those earning an hourly wage and living paycheck to paycheck. This legislation is part of a broader effort to increase economic opportunity and financial security for American families," Price wrote.

The floor vote on H.R. 2575, the Save American Workers Act of 2014, contained few surprises as every Republican voted for the bill and most Democrats voted against the bill.

However, one vote that may raise eyebrows among the liberal chattering class in Georgia is that of 2nd district Congressman Sanford Bishop.

Bishop was one of eighteen Democrats who crossed party lines and supported the Save American Workers Act of 2014. Bishop was the only black Democrat to vote for the bill as well, putting him at odds with the White House who said President Obama would veto the bill if it made it to his desk.

Democrats John Barrow and Sanford Bishop joined all eight Georgia Republicans in voting for H.R. 2575. Hank Johnson, John Lewis, and David Scott voted against the Save American Workers Act of 2014.

Former Georgia Democratic Party Chair Under Investigation by Gwinnett County District Attorney

Mike Berlon, the former Georgia Democratic Party chairman who resigned after nearly bankrupting the organization, faces a criminal probe from Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter.

The Daily Report revealed last week that Berlon "admitted he took nearly $1 million from former clients."

Gwinnett District Attorney Danny Porter said . . . that his office is investigating Michael Berlon, though Porter would not disclose what specific criminal accusations are involved.

"There is a pending investigation based on a referral from the State Bar that we received about two months ago," Porter said.

The bar's general counsel, Paula Frederick, confirmed that the bar contacted the DA's office after receiving a complaint of alleged attorney misconduct. The substance of the complaint is confidential because it is under review by the bar's disciplinary board, she said.

"The investigative panel of disciplinary board has asked us to report illegal conduct to proper law enforcement authorities when we come across it," Frederick said.

Joyner (4 April 2014). $1M Judgment And Criminal Probe Dog Gwinnett Lawyer. Daily Report. Retrieved on 7 April 2014.

Berlon's legal troubles became public when Georgia Unfiltered reported Berlon had his law license suspended and received a reprimand from the state Supreme Court last May. Berlon initially vowed to remain in office, despite calls for his resignation from prominent Democrats. Ultimately, though, Berlon quit before the state Democratic committee could start removal proceedings against him.

Johnsonville Brats Bringing Its 65-foot Big Taste Grill to Atlanta's Sweetwater 420 Fest

Johnsonville Brats brings its 65-foot Johnsonville Big Taste Grill to Atlanta, 18 - 20 April, for the annual Sweetwater 420 fest.

(The Johnsonville Brats Big Taste Grill includes Atlanta on its 2014 tour. Photo courtesy Johnsonville Brats.)
The Big Taste Grill's Atlanta stop is part of a nationwide tour, bringing fresh grilled Johnsonville Brats to nearly every region in the continental United States.

The Johnsonville Big Taste Grill is not your average backyard barbecue. Weighing more than 53,000 pounds and measuring 65 feet long, this giant grill can keep 12 grillmasters busy cooking more than 750 brats at a time. A semi-truck pulls the grill cross-country and the whole system is self-sufficient with hot and cold running water, electricity, sound system, a prep station, and a refrigeration unit.

Johnsonville welcomes Tucker May as the Big Taste Grill's new tour manager and Grillmaster. Among other duties, Tucker, will keep a brat counter as he eats his way across the US, assisting charities with fundraising at each event.

To date, the Big Taste Grill program has raised more than $3.5 million for a variety of charities nationwide, many of them local community organizations. In 2013 alone, the Johnsonville Big Taste Grill raised more than $130,000 for different organizations nationwide and served 121,325 brats during its 9-month tour.

"For Johnsonville, The Big Taste Grill tour is an annual tradition that combines our love of grilling with our passion for local activism," said Ron Schroder, senior brand manager. "The tour not only brings Johnsonville sausage to grilling enthusiasts around the country, it also helps them support the charities that matter in their communities."

The Sweetwater 420 fest is a three day festival featuring live music, arts and more. The festival, now in its tenth year, is calling Centennial Olympic Park home for the first time. Three day passes are available for just $18.

South Fulton Firefighters Fighting Losing Battle Against Car Break-Ins at Local Fire Stations

Imagine this.

Imagine your job is to save lives at a moment's notice.

Imagine when the call goes out to save lives, you do your job and answer the phone each time and every time.

Then imagine finding your car vandalized and broken into, after you've returned from saving lives.

That's what is happening in unincorporated south Fulton County, and the county commissioner who represents the area has nothing to say about it.

WSB-TV first reported, 7 November 2013, thieves were "stealing from Fulton County firefighters by breaking into their cars parked outside the fire station. Thieves broke into cars parked outside Station 1 on Welcome All Road, Station 5 on Bethsaida Road, and Station 7 on Buffington Road. Police said they forced locks and smashed windows. In the most recent incident, a pickup was stolen" [Thieves target firefighters’ cars parked at fire stations
. WSB-TV. Retrieved on 7 April 2014.].

Fulton County Commissioner Bill Edwards had nothing to say.

Now, WSB-TV brings news that nothing has changed. Thieves are still targeting firefighters' cars, parked at the fire station, while the firefighters are out saving lives. And Commissioner Bill Edwards still has nothing to say about the situation.

“They can't put their vehicles in the bay. They can't secure them. They have to go on calls. They have to serve the public,” said Wayne Hines with the Fulton County Professional Firefighters’ Union. “And they're just open, easy targets. There's more burglaries going on down there around those stations. Those fire fighters car have been broken into again. Nothing's changed."

Firefighters say promised changes still haven't happened after car break-ins. WSB-TV. Retrieved on 7 April 2014.

This is an absolute shame, and the one person who could do something about it; the one person who could order the police chief to step up patrols around the targeted fire stations; the one person who could add money to the budget for necessary security upgrades to protect the people who are protecting us; this one person, Fulton County Commissioner Bill Edwards, has done nothing and has said nothing.

Nothing's changed in south Fulton with Bill Edwards in charge.

04 April 2014

Fulton County Officials Sign Off on Tough Mudder Obstacle Challenge at Bouckaert's Farm

Wednesday, the Fulton County Commission unanimously approved a permit to hold an endurance challenge at Bouckaert's Farm in Chattahoochee Hills.

The Tough Mudder event is described by organizers as a "hardcore 10-12 mile obstacle course designed to test an individual's all-around strength, stamina, and mental grit." From its inception in 2010, the Tough Mudder welcomed more than 1.3 million participants worldwide.

Over thirty Tough Mudder events are scheduled in the United States this year.

The Georgia Tough Mudder is set for Saturday, 26 April and Sunday, 27 April.