By Maggie Lee
Atlanta City Council voted to spend some $20.4 million on about three acres of Midtown land that’s part of a planned expansion of Piedmont Park and the Atlanta Botanical Garden.
“I realize it’s a large-ticket item that’s in front of us, but great cities have great parks,” said Atlanta Councilwoman Jennifer Ide, explaining her legislation to colleagues.
For the money, the city will get revenue-producing commercial land on the south corner of Piedmont Avenue and Monroe Drive — that’s some, but not all, of the retail on that corner. The shops will continue to be open, with the city as landlord.
They’ll be open at least until the city assembles the entire south corner, which it wants as part of a new front entrance to the park and garden. The city, park and garden also want an expansion onto more parcels further southwest on Piedmont Avenue.
Ide said Piedmont Park gets more events and more visitors than other parks, and the number of events is only growing. Hence a need for a little bit of a release valve.
She also said a tremendous amount of more density is coming and it’s necessary to plan for that and be thoughtful about it.
“This is a key project as the city grows,” Ide said.
The legislation got a tough cross-examination in committee last week. Councilmembers asked why it would be worth spending a rather large amount of money on one relatively small expansion of a park.
Councilwoman Marci Collier Overstreet said she met with a lot of people after that hearing last week. She said she does have concerns over equity, but they’re not going to be solved overnight.
She said she’s going to start seeking public and private attention for her southwest Atlanta parks.
“I will be fighting for Adams, Cascade Springs Nature Preserve, Melvin Drive Park,” said Overstreet. “I can’t honestly say that I would ever agree that Piedmont Park doesn’t have any beautiful entrances … I see several compared to what I see every day … But would I stand in the way of making sure it had another one? No I probably won’t,” she said.
Several councilmembers had questions — they paused for a half-hour or so to go into a private meeting about the real estate details. When they came out, Overstreet was among the 13 who voted for it.
Only Councilwoman Natalyn Archibong voted against. She said yes, she supports expansion. But it’s a two-part question.
“I’m having some angst over the use of $10 million from the TSPLOST pot,” she said, referring to a voter-approved transportation sales tax.
She said she understands the expansion will have bike, pedestrian and BeltLine access, but she had not seen it on TSPLOST project lists. She said it’s not something she presented to her voters as the purpose of the tax.
The rest of the cash for the three acres would be roughly split between the BeltLine and park impact fees.
(An earlier version of the bill would have used less in park impact fees, but included $1 million from a sewer sales tax, Archibong said during the Council meeting. A copy of the revised version of the legislation was not immediately available from Council staff.)
The idea of a Piedmont Park and Atlanta Botanical Garden expansion was announced by then-Mayor Kasim Reed in late 2017. He said that the total cost of the expansion would be $100 million, and that philanthropies and businesses would pay $80 million of that.
Ide said that leaders of some of Atlanta’s largest corporations and foundations have expressed strong support for the project.
After approving the spend, Council voted to send their document to the mayor’s office post-haste.