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A Reversal in Georgia's Long War With Atlanta

Urban revival is drawing investment from the rest of the state

For 25 years the historic Sears building stood vacant just north of downtown Atlanta. It was a symbol of the city as an abandoned, unsafe place. This year the nine-story structure is scheduled to open as the Ponce City Market, a residential and commercial project that embodies the city in renaissance. Atlanta’s population has increased 6.6 percent since 2010, more than twice the growth in the rest of Georgia. Many of the arrivals are young professionals drawn by companies moving back into the city, including Coca-Cola and AT&T. Jobs and investment used to head for the suburbs. Not anymore. “Businesses are moving in a nontraditional direction,” says Mayor Kasim Reed, a Democrat. “It’s not one or two. It’s decision after decision.”

Changing demographics may help ease the racial and political tensions between the capital and the rest of the state. The Atlanta region is home to half the state’s population and accounts for 71 percent of its economy. But conservative rural and suburban lawmakers have long looked to starve Atlanta of funding for infrastructure and squash its liberal social policies. Georgians outside the city sometimes refer to Atlantans as “Yankees,” says George Hooks, a Democrat from a rural district in southern Georgia who retired from the state Senate in 2011. “They don’t understand how peaches are grown, or peanuts.”