Morris believes the project can attract big-time investment banks because it has already shown potential to draw users and businesses. Over the past eight years, public and private donations to the Beltline total more than $360 million, yielding about $1 billion in development.
Best known for its Eastside Trail, the Beltline has captured the hearts of joggers, cyclists and ogling tourists who flock to the path that begins near Piedmont Park. Since opening last year, the Eastside Trail attracted close to a million visitors, Morris said.
Kent Rowey, head of Allen & Overy law firm's public-private partnership practice, believes such partnerships can be good for cities because private companies assume the risk of construction cost overruns — and sometimes the costs of maintenance and operations, too.
The city usually assumes the risk of ridership revenue and agrees to make payments back to the investor after the streetcar system is operating, Rowey said. Because transit systems often operate at a deficit, cities typically chip in money from other sources such as TADs or their general fund.
Emil Frankel, a transit expert with the Bipartisan Policy Center, said key to the success of such deals are the upfront terms the public entity must iron out with the investor.
"I think if the agency is well equipped to manage this process effectively, you can get higher quality," he said.
Many residents, like Karan Meilhan, are wary of any changes to the Beltline. Meilhan said she worries the streetcars could make her beloved Eastside Trail "a little too bustling."
"I knew they were trying to bring in some kind of trolley or train system, but I'm really not into it," Meilhan said.
Kate Colpitts, who was exercising near Ponce City Market recently, was uncertain if private investors would be a good thing, but likes the idea of using streetcars to link intown neighborhoods.
"It would be nice to have transit get you where you want to go and not take all day," Colpitts said.
Streetcars, which are making a comeback as a way to spark urban renewal in cities across the U.S., have their detractors.
Baruch Feigenbaum, a policy analyst at the conservative think tank Reason Foundation, says buses would be a far more practical and less expensive investment for Atlanta.
"For the amount they are spending, they could really improve the bus network, which helps all Atlantans out," Feigenbaum said. "The Beltline is only a good thing if you live on the Beltline."