Atlanta City Council panel balks at $20.5 million for three acres of Piedmont Park expansion

By Maggie Lee

A tough cross-examination looks likely at Atlanta City Council for a plan to spend up to $20.5 million for about three acres of a proposed expansion of Piedmont Park and the Atlanta Botanical Garden.

Piedmont ABG expansion plan to Piedmont and Monroe

A sketch shows an idea for how to build out a Piedmont Park expansion for which the city intends to buy property at Piedmont and Monroe. Credit: Maggie Lee

Council members who heard the details of the proposed land purchase from Atlanta Parks and Recreation Commissioner Amy Phuong and other staff on Tuesday didn’t turn it down, but the Community Development/Human Services Committee didn’t endorse it either.

After nearly an hour-long hearing, the committee sent it to full Council with a lot of questions and no recommendation.

“I believe it will be a transformational and consequential project for Piedmont Park itself, that serves several neighborhoods across the city,” said Phuong.

But committee Chairwoman Natalyn Archibong and some of her colleagues suggested that city staff gather up and share more information explaining why up to $20.5 million, including sales taxes raised for sewer works, should be spent on one transaction for a single park.

What Phuong and others presented was an idea to spend that money to acquire nearly three acres of land near the south corner of Piedmont Avenue and Monroe Drive. About half the money would come from Atlanta’s transportation sales tax. The rest would come from the BeltLine, parks impact fees and the city’s sewer sales tax.

Though the city wants the entire south corner of the intersection, the transaction on Council’s plate only speaks to acquiring two parcels that underlie most, but not all, of the retail on the corner. The little shopping center that it covers would stay open for the moment, with the city as landlord.

As part of the proposed expansion, the private Atlanta Botanical Garden also wants to expand onto several parcels further southwest on Piedmont Avenue.

In committee on Tuesday, leaders of both the garden and the Piedmont Park Conservancy gave short testimony in favor of the proposed city spend and the expansion in general.

The idea of an expansion of Piedmont Park and the Atlanta Botanical Garden was first announced by then-Mayor Kasim Reed late last year. That expansion would “lift the curtain” on the park and the Atlanta Botanical Garden, giving them a “visual stage” that they never had before, Reed said at the time.

He said at the time that the works would cost $100 million and that philanthropies would contribute $80 million. The city would pay the balance, $20 million.

Mary Pat Matheson, president and CEO of the garden, said the expansion would include an opportunity to do a regional butterfly house.

In committee on Tuesday, Council Member Joyce Sheperd said she loves Piedmont Park and the Atlanta Botanical Garden and visits them often.

“But we also have to look at … what’s equity for everybody,” she said, urging a look at making sure there are great destinations all over town so everybody doesn’t have to go to Midtown for events.

She suggested that with less than $20 million, Lakewood Amphitheater in her part of town could get an overhaul that would make it a major destination too.

And indeed, that was one theme of the questioning from several committee members: since money’s not endless, what makes the purchase of commercial land in an expensive part of town a better deal than any one of a number of other projects in other places?

One answer is the philanthropic matching money. Reed said in December that not doing the deal risks leaving $80 million in philanthropic money on the table.

When Reed announced the idea last year, the then-mayor-elect Keisha Lance Bottoms appeared at his side to endorse it, saying that generations of Atlantans would be able to enjoy an expanded park. But she’s also among those who have pointed out that some parts of Atlanta have more parks than others — her own Cascade-area NPU has no parks at all, she said on the campaign trail.

The full Council could take action on the proposed transaction as early as Monday.

A video of the committee hearing is online; the Piedmont and Monroe portion begins after about two hours.

Maggie Lee is a freelance reporter who's been covering Georgia and metro Atlanta government and politics since 2008.

11 replies
  1. jenna blows says:

    she may not have any parks in her neighborhood but she has some of the best streets in the city. Oh yeah…..she lives in Kasim Reeds (old) neighborhood where the streets get paved every other year….Report

    Reply
    • Jenna really blows says:

      sounds like a great way to spend money. Buy 3 acres in for the biggest park in Atlanta. Use the beltline budget that’s earmarked for a project thats intended use affects the entire city. A+ for who came up with this one. Can someone please pay attention to any neighborhood south of 20?Report

      Reply
  2. Chris Johnston says:

    There is already a regional butterfly house just 84 miles away at Callaway Gardens. Why is another needed?

    This article highlights a trust issue between City government and citizens. Moneys raised for sewers, transportation, and the BeltLine would be commandeered to buy park land. Why would any sane person trust one word these politicians utter?Report

    Reply
  3. Skdkwkksk says:

    How about investing the money in the new Westside Quarry Park, giving more green space balance to a city full of inequalities when it comes to residents of a certain income. Piedmont Park is doing just fine without the money.Report

    Reply
  4. SR says:

    How does Botanical Garden end up with some of this 2.94a for their butterfly project? Didn’t see this addressed in the ordinance/did I miss it? If the property is acquired for the “greenway, beltline, and parks” purposes as stated in the ordinance, it in essence becomes public park property, no? Which then, the City would be selling, transferring, or gifting a portion to a private entity (ABG)? Hmmm. A lot like the Zoo 5 acre Grant Park giveaway. Meanwhile, the income earned on the commercial portion would go to the Piedmont Park Trust Fund when the City will be tasked with managing or paying for management of this commercial property. Shouldn’t “we” (taxpayers) be reimbursed for expenses? Not liking this arrangement OR the funding sources OR the price tag OR this project, for that matter. (Also, of note, Beltline already has access point where it crosses Piedmont.)Report

    Reply
  5. Moses says:

    On tenth and Monroe the city is planning on selling 1.5 acres for 2.5M to a developer that will demolish a bunch of homes and build an 11 story hotel and 4 story condos with a grocery store. Why would they sell their acreage for 2.5M to support rezoning and demolishing half a street of historic homes and old oak trees to turn it commercial while buying twice as much acreage for ten times the price turning it from commercial to city property.Report

    Reply
  6. Saa says:

    100% agree- kill a commercially viable area for $20mm per acre instead of creating green space where it make sure more sense and financially feasible. The west side park by the quarry will cost $95,000 per acre and be bigger than piedmont park so there’s no need to invest $20mm in a tiny parcel. I fully support turning 10th /cresthill and monroe into green space though rather than tear down 9 single family homes, trees and existing green space to build a 11-17 story tower, 600-750 parking spaces, etc. please call /email your city council members asap if vote could be as early as Monday!!Report

    Reply
  7. Prince Jereme says:

    Take that $20M and put it somewhere else. There is not a need to expand Piedmont Park right now.
    People are so selfish. Keep your matching funds.Report

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

What are your thoughts?