A final frontier in Atlanta: Northside Drive plans complete – Buckhead to Falcons stadium area, to West End

By David Pendered

Editor’s Note: This is the first of two stories on framework plans by Georgia Tech students for the Northside Drive corridor in Atlanta.

The final piece is in place of a framework plan by Georgia Tech students that could guide development along the frontier of an historic Atlanta industrial corridor.

The AUC and West End would better connect under a plan by Georgia Tech students to uplift the area and bolster the Northside Drive corridor. Credit: Donita Pendered

The AUC and West End would better connect under a plan by Georgia Tech students to uplift the area and bolster the Northside Drive corridor. Credit: Donita Pendered

Just like Buckhead, the West End neigbhorhood that’s at the heart of the newly released plan developed around a tavern – Charner Humphrie’s two-story White Hall Tavern. West End’s beginnings as a travelers’ rest stop date to 1835, three years before Buckhead was established.

The latest plan provides a method to link the shops, homes, parks and places of worship of West End with the Atlanta University Center – the nation’s largest concentration of historically black colleges and universities.

This plan is the third of three that address the Northside Drive corridor from I-75, at the southern tip of Buckhead, to West End, just south of I-20. A fourth plan focuses on Fort McPherson, located two miles south of West End and a quarter-mile west of Northside Drive. The latest plan has recently be delivered to Atlanta city officials and could, like its predecessors, find its place in the discussion about revitalizing a major north-south corridor through the city.

All the studies have been conducted by Tech students under the guidance of Mike Dobbins, a Tech professor of practice and former Atlanta planning commissioner.

For starters, the latest plan approaches the West End/AUC area much like Tech and Midtown, with the goal of weaving together the campus and neighborhood in hopes that both will benefit from the connection.

The first challenge in reweaving the AUC and West End is turning the Lee Street bridge, built in 1962, into a more pleasant place for those not in vehicles. Credit: Donita Pendered

The first challenge in reweaving the AUC and West End is turning the Lee Street bridge, built in 1962, into a more pleasant place for those not in vehicles. Credit: Donita Pendered

In addition, the plan strongly recommends rerouting Northside Drive to adjacent roads in order to reduce confusion created by a web of roads near the vortex of Northside Drive and I-20.

The potential comparison between Tech and West End/AUC stems from the adaptive re-use of bridges across interstate highways.

At Tech, the creation of a pedestrian-oriented Fifth Street bridge, above the Downtown Connector, has fostered Tech’s expansion into Midtown. The ample sidewalks and seating on the bridge create an experience of traversing just another tree-lined street that links Tech’s campus and Midtown.

At West End, Lee Street bridge, above I-20, has a similar potential to link the AUC with West End’s tree-lined streets, MARTA rail station, and an active commercial core.

The Mall West End anchors the retail area and the Tech students report that 90 percent of its space is occupied. Nearby, a fairly new condo building and retail center were bustling over the weekend, as was the Wren’s Nest, where a jazz festival was underway at the former home of Brer Rabbit author Joel Chandler Harris.

The Mall West End is a destination that's 90 percent leased, according to the Georgia Tech report. Credit: Donita Pendered

The Mall West End is a destination that’s 90 percent leased, according to the Georgia Tech report. Credit: Donita Pendered

To establish Lee Street as a walkable street, the first step would be to close ramps that connect Lee Street and I-20. The alternate is just a quarter mile away, at Joseph E. Lowery Boulevard.

Once traffic on Lee Street is reduced, the wide bridge could be developed with its own set of ample sidewalks and seating, according to the framework plan.

The rerouting of Northside Drive was identified in a previous framework plan as the “single-largest and most cost-efficient and time-effective improvement that could be made to reinvigorate the area and create positive effects for the adjoining areas.”

The confusing nature of this area is evident to many drivers who pass through.

The solution students suggest in the report is:

  • Reroute Northside Drive to follow Peters Street and West Whitehall Street. This would eliminate the required turns onto Chapel Street and then onto Peters, which becomes Whitehall Street.
Atlanta's West End neighborhood includes tree-lined streets and well-maintained homes. Credit: Donita Pendered

Atlanta’s West End neighborhood includes tree-lined streets and well-maintained homes. Credit: Donita Pendered

The report doesn’t pull any punches in predicting its possible implementation. The appetite may be limited.

Primarily, AUC officials and developers may not be interested in improving the linkage to West End. They appear to have their own plans for future developments on the AUC side of I-20 that precludes their interest in extending to the south, according to the report.

The report notes:

  • “Talking with local developers and reviewing the Choice Neighborhood comprehensive plan proposal for the Atlanta University [has] given the impression that Morehouse College, Spelman College and Clark Atlanta University are currently focusing on an infill redevelopments strategies within the existing AUC boundaries rather than expanding south toward the West End.”

Incidentally, the Choice Neighborhood Initiative grant would have provided $30 million to help revitalize the AUC area. Atlanta learned in July that its application was passed over by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Brown Middle School, in West End, has served generations of students. Credit: Donita Pendered

Brown Middle School, in West End, has served generations of students. Credit: Donita Pendered

This latest report appears to complete a body of work for the Northside Drive corridor by Tech students working under Dobbins’ guidance.

Previous plans provide frameworks for the future development along a road that’s part of U.S. 41. The highway’s construction was started in 1926 now it and links Miami, Fla. with the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Tech’s previous plans include:

  • Northside Drive from I-75 across I-20 to West End;
  • The Falcons stadium area, at the crossroads of Northside Drive and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive;
  • Fort McPherson, which technically is not along Northside Drive but is located a quarter-mile west of Northside.

Dobbins now is leading a studio focused on the Memorial Drive corridor, from near the state Capitol to the Atlanta city limit, at Candler Road. Students have presented their initial findings, and expect to have their report complete by the end of this year.

The White Hall Tavern served as a travelers rest and was described as unusual because it was painted, at a time most structures were unpainted. This view was painted by Wilburn Kurtz. Credit: Atlanta History Center via tomitronics.com.

The White Hall Tavern served as a travelers rest and was described as unusual because it was painted, at a time most structures were unpainted. This view was painted by Wilburn Kurtz. Credit: Atlanta History Center via tomitronics.com.

Certain streets on the AUC campus can be closed to vehicular traffic to improve safety for pedestrians, as this one was on game day near the football stadium. Credit: Donita Pendered

Certain streets on the AUC campus can be closed to vehicular traffic to improve safety for pedestrians, as this one was on game day near the football stadium. Credit: Donita Pendered

Trees shade brick sidewalks on the AUC campus near the Lee Street bridge, which leads to West End. Credit: Donita Pendered

Trees shade brick sidewalks on the AUC campus near the Lee Street bridge, which leads to West End. Credit: Donita Pendered

Looking north on Lee Street, toward the AUC campus, traffic backs up at the corner near Mall West End. Credit: Donita Pendered

Looking north on Lee Street, toward the AUC campus, traffic backs up at the corner near Mall West End. Credit: Donita Pendered

West End's commercial corridors show signs of care and investment. Credit: Donita Pendered

West End’s commercial corridors show signs of care and investment. Credit: Donita Pendered

West End's commercial corridors also need attention, as is evident along this street that intersects Lee Street near the photo above. Credit: Donita Pendered

West End’s commercial corridors also need attention, as is evident along this street that intersects Lee Street near the photo above. Credit: Donita Pendered

The West End MARTA station, across Ralph David Abernathy Boulevard from this parking lot, serves bus and rail passengers from the station beyond this park. Credit: Donita Pendered

The West End MARTA station, across Ralph David Abernathy Boulevard from this parking lot, serves bus and rail passengers from the station beyond this park. Credit: Donita Pendered

The Wren's Nest, the home of Brer Rabbit creator Joel Chandler Harris, remains a popular destination in West End. Credit: Donita Pendered

The Wren’s Nest, the home of Brer Rabbit creator Joel Chandler Harris, remains a popular destination in West End. Credit: Donita Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

2 replies
  1. Micah says:

    Please note that the street James P. Brawley Drive is not closed to vehicular traffic just on games days, as the photo caption implies. It has been closed to vehicular traffic for years.
    The plan sounds logical, but seems under-researched.Report

    Reply

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