Mike Starr, who served as president of the Georgia Cities Foundation since its inception in 1999, died Saturday, April 6, 2019 following a brief illness. Under his leadership, the Foundation grew from a low-interest loan program for downtown projects to a robust organization that provides training, consulting and design services and a variety of resources for cities.
Mike was born in Roanoke, Va, to the late Rev. George and Ruby H. Starr. He received his undergraduate degree from UNC Chapel Hill and held an MBA from Wake Forest University. Mike’s career was in banking with Wachovia Bank, working in both Winston-Salem and Atlanta. Aside from being President of the Georgia Cities Foundation for 20 years, he also served as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Fernbank Museum of Natural History and Chairman of the Board of Directors of The Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation. Mike is survived by his wife Susan M. Starr of Atlanta, and brother and sister-in-law, Ed and Vicki Starr of Gastonia, NC. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to The Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation, Reynolda House Museum of American Art in Winston-Salem, NC, or Hamilton Gardens at Lake Chatuge in Hiawassee, Ga. A memorial service is being planned for a later date.
“His passion for strong cities, vibrant downtowns and historic preservation were evident to all who knew him,” said Perry Hiott, director of GMA’s Community and Economic Development.
GMA Executive Director Larry Hanson called Starr’s role in revitalizing Georgia’s downtowns “transformational.” “That’s the impact his leadership had for downtown development,” he said. “Mike truly understood the good that occurs from private and public investments and partnerships.”
When the Foundation began in 1999, the Foundation held annual bus tours to downtowns around Georgia, showcasing what cities have done to create vibrant downtowns and thriving partnerships. Starr and his wife, Susan, were enthusiastic participants on the tours, with Susan documenting through photos the many projects the tour visited. In later years, the bus tour became a training event, with city officials visiting one city to learn about downtown development in-depth.
Under Starr’s leadership, the Foundation was designated a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) by the United States Department of Treasury. The designation gave the Foundation greater flexibility as a lending institute.
In a recent Q&A with Georgia’s Cities, Starr noted how the Foundation changed and grew over time. “If you return to the downtowns of the late 1990s, you would find downtowns that were suffering from underutilization, economic decline, and in some cases, there was almost total abandonment. The initial mission of the foundation was to address these issues through partnerships with city leaders. GMA, through its partnership with GCF, set out on a journey to improve Georgia’s downtowns. Currently, the Foundation not only serves as a partner in providing capital, it also provides technical assistance, training and advocacy on behalf of Georgia’s downtowns. In cooperation with the Department of Community Affairs, the Georgia Downtown Association, the University of Georgia and others has expanded our reach.”