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Cousins graduated with a Bachelor of Business Administration (B.B.A.) in 1952 from the Terry College of Business at The University of Georgia in Athens. He and his father started their real-estate company in 1958. During the 1960s, Tom Cousins moved from real-estate to property development and sports franchising.
He developed buildings such as the CNN Center, the Omni Coliseum, 191 Peachtree Tower, the Pinnacle Building in Buckhead and the first phase of the Georgia World Congress Center. He and competitor John Portman completely remade downtown Atlanta in the 1970s and 1980s.
He also helped revive and redesign the home course of golfing great Bobby Jones, East Lake Golf Club, which had fallen into disrepair. He hired Rees Jones (no relation to Bobby) to redesign the golf course, which has since hosted the PGA Tour's season ending Tour Championship several times, and become one of the leading golf courses in Atlanta. Cousins and his family financed the project to the tune of about $25 million. This was part of a greater revitalization of the East Lake Meadows housing project in the East Lake neighborhood around the golf course.
He stepped down as head of Cousins Properties in January 2002.
In 1995 Cousins founded the East Lake Foundation in Atlanta. The Foundation partnered with the Atlanta Housing Authority to build a mixed-income apartment block in a local low-income area with a high crime rate and put additional resources into education options and job provision for the tenants. Columnist Leonard Pitts Jnr. noted that these changes saw "violent crime down 96 percent" and "78 percent of kids passing the state math test when only 5 percent could do it before".
Based on the results of the East Lake Foundation project, Cousins, with partner Warren Buffett, created the Purpose Built Communities organization which is currently attempting to replicate the project at a site in New Orleans.
In April 1968 purchased the Hawks basketball team and moved them from St Louis to Atlanta, renaming them the Atlanta Hawks. At the time Atlanta did not have pro-ball facilities, but Cousins was building a local arena complex. Cousins also owned the Atlanta Flames until he sold them in 1980 for approximately $16 million to a consortium from Calgary. He purchased the original Atlanta Chiefs soccer club of the North American Soccer League from the Braves in 1973, during this time they were renamed the Atlanta Apollos.
In 1993 Tom Cousins was the recipient of the Bill Hartman Award which recognises former varsity athletes from the University of Georgia who have demonstrated excellence in their profession. On March 8, 2010, Cousins was awarded with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2010 Atlanta Sports Awards for his role in promoting sports in Atlanta.
Awards & honors
- 2012 Georgia Trustee. Given by the Georgia Historical Society, in conjunction with the Governor of Georgia, to individuals whose accomplishments and community service reflect the ideals of the founding body of Trustees, which governed the Georgia colony from 1732 to 1752.
- House by House, Block by Block: The Rebirth of America's Urban Neighborhoods Alexander Von Hoffman.
- Billy Graham and the Rise of the Republican South Steven P. Miller, 2009, p. 169
- History Makers - The 45 greatest Atlantans of the last 45 years Rebeccca Burns and Bill Warhop, Atlanta Magazine May 2006, p. 111
- Economic Revitalization of Atlanta's East Lake Community, Selig Center for Economic Growth, Terry College of Business, University of Georgia
- City Park NOLA
- A mixed-income housing miracle Leonard Pitts Jr., 8 March 2010, accessed 15 March 2010
- St. Bernard site holds potential for holistic redevelopment, visitors say Katy Reckdahl, The Times-Picayune 2 March 2010, accessed 15 March 2010
- Full Court: The Untold Stories of the St. Louis Hawks Greg Marecek p.201-202
- The Business of professional sports Paul D. Staudohar, J. A. Mangan, 1991 p. 206
- Bill Hartman Award accessed 15 March 2010
- Tom Cousins gets Lifetime Achievement honor in Atlanta Business Chronicle March 3 2010, accessed 15 March 2010
- House by House, Block by Block: The Rebirth of America's Urban Neighborhoods Alexander Von Hoffman, 2004, Oxford University Press p. 190-200