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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.