Piedmont Park opens welcomed new attractions, but it must never forget that it is a “public” park

Few spaces evoke as much emotion in Atlanta as Piedmont Park.

As the premier green space in the Atlanta region, Piedmont Park belongs to all of us. And as such, we all take ownership – which is a good thing for the city and Piedmont Park.

The last couple of weeks have been important ones for the park. On April 12, it opened the new Promenade along with the new Legacy Fountain – strikingly similar in design as the Olympic Fountain at Centennial Olympic Park.

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On Sunday, a warm spring day, families and children had discovered the fountain – prancing around in bathing suits as they dodged in and out of the fountain’s water shoots. It was delightful to watch, reinforcing the feeling that the fountains were a wonderful addition to the park.

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Not far away, the two new basketball courts next to the tennis center were in full use. Dozens of basketball players — ranging in age from pre-K to adults — were enjoying the new courts that were unveiled on April 21 by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed , Julius “Dr. J” Erving and City Council President Ceasar Mitchell, thanks to a partnership with Converse Inc.

A basketball court had long been overdue at Piedmont Park. At one time, some neighborhood residents objected to having basketball courts in the park for fear it would become a hangout for kids and adults. It was a pleasure to watch basketball being played at Piedmont Park.

Part of the park’s 53-acre expansion also has just opened — providing new paths and boardwalks past the “six springs” wetlands and along Clear Creek connecting the historic part of the park as it stretches to the north towards the intersection of Piedmont and Monroe near Ansley Mall.

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Yvette Bowden, who has been president and CEO of the Piedmont Park Conservancy for nearly three years, said the first phase of the expansion is nearly complete. The park still needs to raise nearly $2.5 million to finish the northern end of the park and open up new access points from Ansley.

The total expansion is expected to cost $72.5 million. Already $41 million has been raised for the first phase — which included the investment of much of the below ground infrastructure improvements for the expansion. That also included fixing poor ground conditions underneath the fountain, which meant having to put up a retaining wall for extra support.

“That ate up every bit of the contingency, and then some,” said Bowden, explaining why an additional $2.5 million is needed to finish out the first phase, preferably by the end of the year. “Those new entrances are very important from a public access perspective.”

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For the past several months, I’ve been walking the woodlands expansion area with my dogs witnessing the progress of the project before it officially opened to the public.

Arbors have been built. Lighting has been installed. New trees have been planted. And the vistas showing the beauty of Clear Creek are now on display.

The park was especially beautiful during the Atlanta Dogwood Festival from April 15 to 18. The addition of a Ferris wheel and carousel added a fanciful flavor to the normal festival flair with dog Frisbee competitions, artist booths and the food and drink stands.

The second phase of the 53-acre expansion will include several other amenities — a community garden, an outdoor classroom, a visitor center and a carousel.

“This is the most aggressive project the Conservancy has ever undertaken,” Bowden said. “We have to stay focused to finish this successfully.”

As much as I applaud several of these additions, as a neighbor “owner” of the park, it is important that we don’t forget that first and foremost Piedmont Park is a public park.

Sometimes it feels as though Piedmont Park has been turned into a special event space for hire. The former swimming pool bathhouse — now called the “Greystone” — has been turned into such a special event space, off limits to the general public.

Luxembourg Gardens in Paris. Piedmont Park could have had such a café. (Photo by Maria Saporta)

This is not the vision that the community, working with the Piedmont Park Conservancy, had for the historic building.

Instead, a citizens group had outlined a vision to turn the building into a café with internet access, and then the rest of the building could serve as a community center with a variety of daily programs, such as yoga classes and other events. That vision would not have precluded the “Greystone” being rented out for special events, but it would have made it open to the public seven days a week.

When plans showing that the “Greystone” would not be turned into a café, residents were told that cappuccino carts could be brought in on nice days. Not only was that not a satisfactory solution, it has yet to occur.

A café in Luxembourg Gardens in Paris. Piedmont Park could have turned the Greystone into such a space. (Photo: Maria Saporta)

Bowden, however, does make a valid point.

“I think the park is more available than it’s ever been,” she said. “More people are using the park today in a number of different ways.”

Partly because of all the special events, cars are being given unprecedented access into the park — supposedly one of the few car-free areas in Atlanta. It’s especially disconcerting when police cruisers and huge city garbage trucks circle around the park — becoming a danger to the pedestrians, cyclists, skaters, runners and strollers.

As improvements are being made in the expansion area, two of the most-heavily used entrances into the park are uninviting and unattractive. The entrance from Charles Allen Drive on 10th Street and the entrance from Park Drive have these ugly metal bars instead of the ornamental gates that adorn the 12th Street and 14th Street entrances.

Going forward, the inter-relationship between Piedmont Park and the Atlanta BeltLine, which borders the eastern edge of the park, will be critical. The Conservancy’s new pathway is not bicycle-friendly, and the need exists for a multi-purpose path that would connect the Northeast section now under construction (from 10th Street south to Decatur Street) to the Ansley Mall area.

Pedestrian access also is paramount. There should be no signs in the park that make areas off limits to pedestrians, especially along the extended driveway from Monroe Drive to the parking garage.

I purposefully have refrained from mentioning the garage, a building that I still find highly objectionable in the middle of Atlanta’s version of Central Park. But that fight was lost, and I’m trying to live with that reality.

Lastly, Piedmont Park recently has lost dozens of its century-old trees. We must do everything we can to reforest the park so that future generations can enjoy it as much as we have.

So we welcome the recent improvements that have been made. We hope the “public” remains paramount in future decisions about our park.

After all, Piedmont Park belongs to all of us — which is a good thing.

 

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14 comments
DellightFull
DellightFull

"I remember clearly that during the NPU hearing process the parking deck supporters said the only reason some people in the community were against the parking deck was because they were a bunch of racists. So you conservancy apologists are getting off message with your comments upstairs. Say it with me: people who prefer less concrete on their green space are RACISTS!"

One person saying that does not mean that "parking deck supporters" think that. Just like one parking deck detractor not wanting 'certain parts of the public' to come to the Park does not mean that's how "parking deck detractors" think. I live in Midtown, 1/2 block from the park, and I bought the land and lived there since 1984. The part of Midtown that, in the 80's, was grungy. Not the yuppie part. I supported the parking deck. I still do. I think the park now is nicer than ever (except for that tinge of nostalgia for the grunginess before the yuppies). They paved a small portion of the park, and subsequently opened up more greenspace than ever.

And while you accuse the NPU/City/Conservancy of ignoring you, realize that your own neighborhood association does it. Midtown is the only neighborhood association in the city which doesnt have public (to neighbors) vote on land use, specifically so that the message from MNA can be controlled by those who founded it and have power . I will repeat--the only neighborhood association in the city without a public vote on land use. And, I believe, the only one that requires paying dues to be involved in land use. There were a lot of people who supported the parking deck in the neighborhood, but there is no point since there is never a public vote among neighbors in the MNA.

Is there more usable greenspace now in the park, or 10-20 years ago?
Is the park safer now, or was it safer 10-20 years ago?
Is the park more utilized now or 10-20 years ago? (and as a public park, it should be utilized)

I dont like the private events anymore than you do, but to say you are "ashamed of what the park has become" makes it fairly clear that either you dont have any idea what the park was like 20 years ago, or else are so blinded by the hate of the parking deck that you wont admit the park is, by all objective measures, much better-- safer, with more usable greenspace, and more accessible-- than it used to be...

Martha Porter Hall
Martha Porter Hall

Maria, thank you for your thorough response to Loyal Piedmont Park Donor and User. Those of us who remember Ike's vision and passion - and yours - know how much your family is dedicated to the preservation of the Park. I agree with you about the deck; I never thought it would destroy the park, wish it could have gone in someplace else, but agree with you that it's time to "live with that reality." Very well put.

Greg Streib
Greg Streib

Great article and discussion! Let me point out, though, that keeping the public out of the parks is a long-standing tradition here in the city. Take a look at Iverson Park and pedestrian access to the Candler Park MARTA station...also note that thousands are being spent there by the Candler Park neighborhood association and Park Pride on a public park that openly blocks transit access.

F Law Olmsted
F Law Olmsted

I remember clearly that during the NPU hearing process the parking deck supporters said the only reason some people in the community were against the parking deck was because they were a bunch of racists. So you conservancy apologists are getting off message with your comments upstairs. Say it with me: people who prefer less concrete on their green space are RACISTS!

Maria Saporta
Maria Saporta

Loyal Piedmont Park User and Donor,
As a Midtown resident and City of Atlanta taxpayer, I do support Piedmont Park and all the city's parks every year.
But more than that, after my father — "Mr. Piedmont Park" — passed away, I personally donated $10,000 to the park (a hefty amount for a journalist) to match $10,000 in gifts that people had made to the Conservancy in his memory.
The gift went towards three swings around the lake, the planting of two gingko trees and the planting of a field of lilies overlooking what we still call "the Saporta Meadow."
As you obviously do not know, my father, Ike Saporta, championed the effort to kill plans for a sewage treatment plant that was to be built on park property at 10th and Monroe Drive.
Not that I owe you an explanation, I had been a loyal member of the Conservancy (and the Atlanta Botanical Garden) until both organizations forced the parking deck down the community's throat.
As my column states, I still believe the parking deck was a bad idea. But what was worse was the way the community, the neighborhood planning process and Friends of Piedmont Park were treated during the flawed decision-making process and subsequent lawsuits.
One day, I might renew my membership to the Piedmont Park Conservancy. But first I have to see a much better relationship between the Conservancy and the surrounding neighborhoods on decisions concerning the park's operations and future plans.
So do not just take a snapshot of whether I am a current member of the Piedmont Park Conservancy. You will not find someone who is more passionate than me about the park or more concerned about its future.
And believe me, the Piedmont Park Conservancy benefits every time someone holds a special event in the park. And much of its staff is dedicated to renting out formerly public facilities, offering people vehicular access on streets that are supposed to be closed to cars.
Respectfully,
Maria

acer
acer

Wow LPPUD! Why don't you tell everyone how you really feel. I figured with all that money you are apparently floating around, you might be a little bit happier person! No?

And not to be petty, but a few things you should consider:
1. Know precisely what you are talking about before you spout off at the mouth.
2. Read articles and comments thoroughly so you understand exactly what they are saying.
3. Proof read you own comments before posting. We wouldn't want you to make yourself look silly. Oh wait...

Loyal Piedmont Park User and Donor
Loyal Piedmont Park User and Donor

Hi Maria,
I looked at Piedmont Park's Annual Report that I received at Landmark Lunch and YOU ARENT EVEN LISTED AS A DONOR. For someone that has such strong opinions, you think you would be more vested in your community (As the premier green space in the Atlanta region, Piedmont Park belongs to all of us. And as such, we all take ownership – which is a good thing for the city and Piedmont Park.). Obviously not. I care about Piedmont Park and I show it by donating my time and dollar. My opinions are always welcome when I call or offer them up.

Here are some other points for those of you that are too lazy to educate yourselves:
- The City of Atlanta permits festivals and weekend events. Not PPC. Try again.
- BIcycles are allowed in the park. Try again.
- Park is now car free. Try to drive in yourself and see what happens.

Take care everyone!

PPC supporter
PPC supporter

As a frequent park user, I remember WAY more vehicular traffic around park drive before the garage was built and that tiny parking space was an accident waiting to happen Diane, I can contest to how dangerous things were when someone pulled out as my 3 year old was riding by on his bike. To Adam, the park does not LET just anyone drive in the park, this is why a gate was placed by Park drive. this gate is why there is less traffic there now than before. Gregg, I think that one would appreciate no pedestrians entering in on a tight road leading up to a PARKING deck. This is for EVERYONE's safety. Can you imagine what you would do if a person jumped out by those railroad tracks on a dark evening and you accidently hit them? Dirt lot, y not promote Piedmont Park as THE PLACE to be? As the article stated, the park belongs to everyone. I hope no one feels more entitled to the park than others. I often go to the park by my home, but when I am downtown or want to visit a world class park, i choose piedmont park! If the park never had activities, then ppl would complain about THAT. It is a FREE space. It seems that they work very hard to make Piedmont Park a great place, you can never please EVERYONE. If it were not for building like Greystone, maybe the new fountains and pool everyone is enjoying would not be possible...

Beth
Beth

One of the main reasons the pro-deck folks were frothing at the mouth for the parking deck was so that pedestrians and cars would be separated at the Park Drive entrance and the Park Drive residents would be spared the cars going to and from the Park. The Park Drive folks sold out so that the parking deck could be built. The problem at Park Drive and the Park with pedestrians and cars has not been solved, as many in the community predicted. (Historical note: the first letter in SAGE was for "safety" at the Park Dr. enterence!) The PPC has commercialized the park! There was never any pretense of increasing open space without huge parcels of the Park being devoted to Special Event space. The fountains, carrousels, Ferris wheels were ad hoc designs by a third rate planner, there was no community input. It is shameful what the Park has become. And in a City with so little community green space, it is criminal to pave any of the Park and allow cars, turcks and service vehicles to drive through so much of the Park. The people of Atlanta have lost this Park to the corporate and silk stocking crowd. By the way, where are the community meetings to discuss all the changes to the Park? The new CEO of the Park has thumbed her nose at the community and done nothing to involve the community in the Park's future and planning.

Dirt lot baby
Dirt lot baby

As a regular park walker, day in and night out, hot weather and near freezing at 8pm in January, it really seems that the PPC is trying to 'pimp' the park out on every possible weekend (which smells like a crass revenue generator). I am greatly concerned about its overuse and abuse of the lawns, trees, soil compaction and tree roots; in past drought years the grass has been in very bad shape by late summer, trees have been ripped at constantly, etc.
Further, the PPC pushing the park as THE place to go ensures that other parks around the City are underutilized - if more folks went to other, lesser known parks, maybe they'd get some more eyeballs on their poor conditions and other citizens would become motivated to set up their own conservancies (sp). Also, if folks realized there are other lovely parks around the City, it might help spur revitalization in those areas... young pioneers tend to like parks~

Tom
Tom

OK, I don't mean to whine, but, related to the "public" notion of a park - is that when festivals are underway, bicycles cannot be ridden through the park, one of the most important bicycle commuting connectors in Midtown (ask anyone who rides to work from the east-side to Peachtree north of 10th). A big inconvenience. And secondly, the way bike commuters were ignored with the revised design of the Botanical Garden entry should not be repeated. I think that the designers actually thought bicyclists were to share the wide sidewalk with pedestrians, baby carriages, etc. What a mess, especially when the Garden is busy...

Adam
Adam

I'm shocked that they allow regular people to drive inside the park. My children ride their bikes there and you always see these drivers who have no idea what they are doing driving inside the park.

And apparently the people who work at the tennis center just drive on in???

The park has never responded to any of my complaints about vehicular traffic.

Dianne
Dianne

And I find it amazing, though not surprising, that there is more vehicular traffic on Park Drive just inside the park than before the "green garage" was built. You'll remember that one of the selling points of the "green garage" to the community was that it ended the terribly dangerous pedestrian/ vehicular confluence there.

Greg
Greg

I'm hoping that as the final phase of the north expansion of the park gets completed they will rethink their anti-pedestrian stance on the road that leads to the parking deck. I find it amazing that they built that new road with no sidewalks and no provisions for such construction in the future.