The much forgotten part of town is finally starting to show signs of life.
For years, all of Atlanta’s development energy has been in Midtown, and along the Beltline. From mega projects like Centennial Yards, to adaptive reuse efforts from Newport, to seemingly small – yet important projects like the Downtown Resurfacing program,(which more importantly brings a web of protected bike lanes to South Downtown) things are heating up. Several times over the past few months, I’ve mentioned that if I had money to invest in land or property that it would be in South Downtown.
The area is ripe with potential from blank slate parking lots, to beautiful 19th and 20th century buildings. Coupled with the prime location, transit, connectivity, and relatively low land values when compared to other parts of the city, the only way is up.
I recently polled Twitter users on which mega development will have the biggest impact on Downtown a couple of decades from now. While Centennial Yards eked out the victory, all three projects received significant votes.
Centennial Yards aims to transform roughly 50 acres of sunken parking lots and rail lines better known as the Gulch into a thriving extension of Downtown Atlanta. Proposed plans include 8 million square feet of mixed-use development. The first few elements which included an overhaul of a historic warehouse, a pedestrian bridge, and Downtown’s first brewery are ready. A number of ground up builds are in progress now including apartments and hotels adjacent to Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
While there’s hope that “significant completion” of the project takes place before the World Cup in 2026, that remains to be seen and seems ambitious. Current plans also seem a bit skewed toward office rather than residential which will have to change given the economic landscape currently.
Newport RE has assembled over 50 properties in South Downtown Atlanta and is transforming the long blighted area into the walkable, livable, inclusive, and connected neighborhood it deserves to be. Plans feature new build and re-use residential, office, commercial and more. Hotel Row, on Mitchell Street has been beautifully restored and new shops and restaurants have already started to move in.
Soon to come are 650 ground up apartment units plus 70,000 sq ft of retail in what will breathe further life into the neighborhood. Hopefully this will soon bring Downtown’s first grocery store since Kroger shuttered nearly two decades ago near City Hall.
The Stitch is one of several planned and proposed highway caps and mitigations in the region. Out of all the proposals, the Stitch is the one with the most funding, movement, and likeliness of happening soon. The project will cap approximately 3/4 mile of the Downtown connector creating a platform for 14 acres of greenspace and countless new buildings effectively “stitching” together Downtown and Midtown.
This area is currently a dead zone chocked off by the massive 14-lane freeway that has been left behind from the development boom of Midtown and the business hub a bit further down Peachtree.
Other Major Projects that get me excited about Downtown’s future
MARTA has received funding to overhaul the system’s signature station. Main goals include Transit Oriented Development and restoration of the urban fabric by reconnecting several city blocks. MARTA received a $25 million RAISE grant to help move things along.
It seems like we’ve been talking about Underground Atlanta’s overhaul for years now but according to the leasing site, we may be getting close to an actual vision.
One station south of Five Points, Invest Atlanta is looking for developers to transform a parking lot into mixed income housing. As Newport’s South Downtown transformation continues, I bet we’ll see more and more of these parking lots get snatched up.
Housing construction / Office conversions
With the Office market still struggling and many companies looking for Class A space in Midtown or along the Beltline, many office buildings remain empty. While there are rumors of many proposed transformations, a major one at 2 Peachtree Street is getting ready to get underway. Hundreds of other ground up units are also currently under construction scattered throughout Downtown.
Stretching from the Capitol, over the Connector and over to Oakland Cemetery, the Memorial Drive Greenway would be a linear park bridging the gap leaving Downtown to the East. There hasn’t been movement on this in a few years, but most of the required land is cleared. If the park aspect of the is dead, the opportunity for dense housing and and the cap over the connector should happen ASAP.
The Downtown Resurfacing project is underway. The bigger aspect of this project will be the additon of protected bike lanes to multiple South Downtown streets, dramatically increasing multimodal access in advance of the Summerhill BRT line.
The regions’ first BRT will be starting construction soon. It will link South Downtown to the Beltline along Hank Aaron Drive. Many eyes will be on the system as there are multiple other corridors planned.
The Atlanta Streetcar extension to Ponce is going to happen, for better or for worse. In my opinion, we can’t let the failure of the initial line which went nowhere and served little purpose prevent us from constructing the extension which will service high impact locations and finally directly connect the Beltline to a heavy rail station. I also discount the fears of it changing the feel of the Beltline for the worse due. Ever been on Charlotte’s Rail Trail anyone? Grass guideways and slower speeds may even eliminate the need for fencing which has been the main concern of the feeling of the Beltline being “cut-off” even though you can’t really enter and exit the Beltline as you please now due to grade differences.
Maybe as time goes on we can convert parts of the existing line to dedicated Right of Way along Edgewood creating a Transit mall. Even further out, as rail is developed along the entire Beltline (one day, right?), the streetcars used on Edgewood will be independent of the Beltline streetcars which would increase reliability. I’ve previously explored other ways I’d improve MARTA as well.
I’m still not over how the pilot was shuttered but hopefully the full build version can happen soon. Atlanta’s Main Street deserves it.
Things I think Downtown should do to thrive
Create dense, seamless, and safe multimodal corridors between Downtown and the Beltline
I spoke about this a good bit here – but there is a great need for the area between Downtown and the Beltline to feel cohesive and safe to exist outside of a car. Key corridors for up zoning and multimodal uses should be along Memorial Drive, Decatur Street (complete streets project underway), Edgewood Ave (streetcar corridor), Irwin Street, Highland Ave, Ralph McGill, Angier Ave, North Ave (future BRT Corridor), and Ponce.
Freedom Parkway Interchange Simplification
The Freedom Parkway Interchange with the Downtown Connector is vastly overbuilt since Freedom Pkwy was originally planned to be an interstate out to Stone Mountain. Removing the flyovers, eliminating the ramps to / from Highland and Erwin, reconstructing some of the grid, and two-way restorations of Young and Ellis, as well as a wide 5th street style landscaped bridge will go a long way.
Other ways to mitigate the Downtown Connector’s affects on Downtown should be explored. The grade works in our favor for the most part with many of the cross streets crossing above the Connector making for easier capping possibilities.
Build the Housing!
Downtown needs residents. Every city and privately owned lot should be explored for getting dense mixed income housing into the core.
For Atlanta to truly become a world-class city, Downtown needs to be the heartbeat of the City. I think we’re on the right track and can’t wait to see how things turn out. What are you looking forward to in Downtown Atlanta’s future?
I’ll see you all in a couple of months after a brief hiatus to focus on my upcoming PE exam!
Opinions and insights are my own and are not representative of my employer or any organization. Any ideas displayed on this site are purely that – just ideas to help improve the future of the built environment and begin discussions.