Nearby Atlantic Station develops, impacts students
The continuing development of Atlantic Station is effecting the Home Park Community, which is located just north of campus and filled with Tech students, with increased traffic congestion, pollution and property values.
By Peter Jensen / STUDENT PUBLICATIONS
Atlantic Station is currently under construction and is easily viewed from many of Atlanta’s major arteries. Leasees are scheduled to begin their occupancy in July 2003; the 17th street bridge will open in January 2004.
Looming directly west of the downtown connector at the northern end of Midtown, the Atlantic Station mega development promises significant changes to the habits of Georgia Tech and surrounding residents. Heralded as the poster child of “smart growth,” the new city-within-a-city is expected to house ten thousand people and provide offices for over thirty thousand, directly impacting population and mobility trends within the in-town area.
Born as the brainchild of developer Jim Jacoby in the late 1990s, the project is the largest “brownfield” development in the country, so noted for rehabilitating a polluted industrial zone for use as viable real estate. The land on which Atlantic Station currently rises once housed the Atlantic Steel Hoop and Barrel Company from 1901 until it forged its last strand of steel wire in 1995, when it existed as an industrial anachronism against the backdrop of contemporary office skyscrapers.
Now on that same land, the new project calls for 1.6 million square feet of retail, restaurant and entertainment space, and six million square feet of office space in a series of towers and mid-rise buildings. By comparison, Lenox Square is just under 1.5 million square feet of retail space, and the square footage of the Bank of America tower, One Atlantic Center, and Sun Trust Plaza have a combined total about half of what Atlantic Station is expected to hold. It additionally will contain large numbers of apartments and condos in various forms that range from high-rises to row houses.
As far as tenants, Atlantic Station has, to date, either talked with or been rumored to have had discussions to hold a state-of-the-art United Artists cinema complex, a Virgin Records mega store, a Johnny Rocket’s restaurant, a Barnes and Noble bookstore and a storefront by The Limited Inc.
Additionally, South Trust bank has signed on to lease space in the project’s tallest tower, vacating its current offices on North Avenue. But unlike traditional office parks or malls, Atlantic Station is being hailed as an urban Valhalla amidst a sea of monotonous suburbia encircling the city. It will be composed of city blocks with dense development: retail on the ground floors with housing or offices above. Parking will be provided only in parallel spots on the street and in hidden two-story underground decks that span the entire eastern portion of the project. And unlike the traditional suburban model that separates residential, office, and commercial uses, Atlantic Station will pack all of this into one “mixed-use” area that can rival the population density of many of America’s best downtowns.
The area is expected to look and feel like a city, connected to midtown by a new 17th Street bridge (to be completed in late 2003) that will extend the road to Northside Drive and potentially by a rail transit line that could connect with the Arts Center or North Avenue MARTA stations.
This mega development, although currently isolated from Midtown, directly abuts the Home Park neighborhood, which runs north from 10th Street to 16th and roughly from the Interstate west to Northside Drive. Its borders encompass a mixed group of people that have lived for several years in the shadow of the dormant Atlantic Steel mill. As the mill’s production wound down in the ‘90s, the demographics of the area began to shift from working class millers to Tech students and other citizens either intrigued by the subdivision or unable to afford mortgages elsewhere in the city.
It is these residents who have banded together to form the Home Park Community Improvement Association (HPCIA), a civic group founded to focus and communicate the neighborhood’s interests.
When news first broke in 1998 of Jacoby’s intent to acquire and redevelop the Atlantic Steel property, the HPCIA took notice, but it worked with his company to settle on solutions that could keep both the Association and Atlantic Station happy. As plans for the project have further developed, however, the HPCIA has occasionally been at odds with Jacoby due in part to the considerable vehicular traffic the development is expected to produce.
Jacoby’s current plans for Atlantic Station call for extending State Street north of 16th Street and into the project as a major arterial road and maintaining the connections to Mecaslin, Atlantic, Fowler and other streets that run perpendicular to the regraded and widened 16th. Though medians will be in place to prevent traffic from turning into the neighborhood from westbound 16th Street, many neighbors would like the project to install cul-de-sacs limiting cross-through traffic.
Many students and city residents have grown concerned that the project will lead to a gentrified Home Park that will be unaffordable to and incompatible with its current dwellers. However, Public Policy undergrad Daniel Crook, whose family owns a house at the southern edge of the neighborhood, remains sanguine.
He noted that, “Home Park is full of smaller houses designed for working-class mill employees. For it to be attractive to the same people who are looking to buy at Atlantic Station’s townhomes and condos, they’d have to demolish and rebuild much of the neighborhood.”
He continued, “If that were even to happen, it would take years to finish and raise property values.” In fact, the HPCIA is aiming to prevent any such massive reshaping of the area, drafting covenants to protect its cozy single-family nature.
Because of the potentially sudden shift in development patterns as one walks or drives from Atlantic Station into Home Park, Jacoby has promised to donate two trees to every home in the subdivision to improve the air quality and aesthetics of the area. Current plans also call for a linear park to be built along Mecaslin Street from the new development south to 14th Street.
Although much of the current interest centers around Jacoby’s plans for the reconfigured land, additional future proposals are in the works for the “West Midtown” area to become more pedestrian-friendly.
The HPCIA has mulled ideas to improve Northside Drive and Hemphill Avenue with better urban development, and the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority has engaged in initial studies to connect the area around Atlantic Station to downtown, Emory and Athens via a commuter rail link.