New Winship Cancer Center in area between downtown and Midtown
Atlanta and Emory leaders were all smiles on May 2 for the ribbon-cutting of the Winship Cancer Institute's new center next to Emory University's Midtown hospital (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Midtown Atlanta welcomed the opening of Emory University’s new Winship Cancer Institute in May – a $440 million investment right at Peachtree and Linden.

The new glass building is connected to Emory University Hospital Midtown (formerly Crawford Long) with a two-story bridge – solidifying Emory’s investment in the heart of central Atlanta.

“This is a great place – to have this facility be right here in the heart of the city of Atlanta – accessible by MARTA, highways,” Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens said before the ribbon-cutting. “This is going to be transformational.”

The new Winship Center is just the latest investment in Atlanta’s colleges and universities in the central city. In addition to Emory, there’s Georgia Tech, Georgia State University and the Atlanta University Center – which includes Morehouse College, Spelman College, Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse School of Medicine, Morris Brown College and the Interdenominational Theological Center – all located within a 3-mile radius. Nearly 100,000 students are enrolled at those institutions.

“Atlanta truly is a higher education destination,” said Tracey Brantley, executive director of the Atlanta Regional Council for Higher Education. “I don’t think the general public understands the diversity that’s here – our top-tier research institutions, women’s colleges, medical schools and top HBCUs. It truly is phenomenal.”

Brantley added that Atlanta should be viewed on par with other top academic cities, such as Boston and Philadelphia. According to the Metro Atlanta Chamber’s research, based on 2021 data, about 295,000 students are enrolled in more than 70 colleges and universities in the Atlanta and Athens region.

But, for whatever reason, Atlanta still is not recognized as a college town in national circles.

“In order for our learners to reap the benefits of all our investments, we need to increase our collaboration to ensure seamless opportunities for our students,” said Valerie Montgomery Rice, president of the Morehouse School of Medicine, on May 22.

She added that includes students being able to take “classes at our respective institutions” and that “we need to make sure our universities are collaborating and forming partnerships.”

The Metro Atlanta Chamber has been branding Atlanta as a hub for talent – fueled by its institutions for higher learning.

“The strength of our research institutions is a powerful catalyst for the metro Atlanta region,” said Abby Turano, Metro Atlanta Chamber’s vice president for strategic communications. “The Atlanta region’s concentration of world-class colleges and universities is one of our greatest strengths. Today, often it’s business that follows the talent – talent that is right here in metro Atlanta.”

Selling Atlanta as a college – complete with a thriving, youth-oriented street life – could change our central city.

A view of the connecting bridge between the new Winship Center and Emory University Hospital (Photo by Maria Saporta)

IEnvision a golden triangle.

Georgia Tech is on the north end in Midtown with SCAD-Atlanta nearby; Emory is on the border of downtown and Midtown; Georgia State is downtown; and the Atlanta University Center is on the Westside. 

Imagine if there were physical connections to bridge these institutions – from better sidewalks, pedestrian-oriented street retail and transit connections between the colleges and universities. A concerted effort by Atlanta’s top leaders and organizations could transform downtown, Midtown and the Westside.

The potential is to no longer think in silos. It’s to think of Atlanta as a vibrant college community where students, faculty, administrators and visitors would bring a new vitality of our city.

That means having stores, businesses, restaurants and shops at street level rather than developing a building like the Emory Proton Therapy Center with its mostly blank walls all along its boundaries (Peachtree, North Avenue and Courtland) – diminishing the potential for street life in that super important block in Midtown. (There is one storefront on Peachtree – currently leased by H&R Block, but does little to contribute to a pedestrian-friendly experience on Atlanta’s signature street).

Dramatic sculpture at new Winship Cancer Institute
A two-story sculpture of Two strands of DNA adorned the plaza of the new Winship Cancer Institute center in Midtown (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Fortunately, the new Winship Cancer Center has an inviting entrance from Linden, featuring the dramatic DNA helix sculpture that reaches to sky through an opening in the plaza’s roof.

The ribbon-cutting featured top Atlanta leaders celebrating the presence of a model in-patient and out-patient center for cancer patients focused on their needs.

“It is an example of how we are going to transform healthcare,” said John Rice, chair of the Woodruff Health Sciences Center. “If you know anything about cancer, it’s the ultimate in multidisciplinary work. You have to cut through all the silos.”

Emory President Greg Fenves highlighted the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation, which donated $200 million, which “transformed this dream into a reality.”

Fenves then explained why it is called the Winship Cancer Institute – a story of a son’s love for his mother.

Robert Winship Woodruff, who later became head of the Coca-Cola, was born to Ernest Woodruff and Emily Winship Woodruff in 1889.

In 1937, Woodruff’s mother – Emily – was dying of breast cancer, and she had to travel to New York for treatment because she was unable to get care in Atlanta.

Opening of new Winship Cancer Institute
Emory President Greg Fenves chats with Woodruff Foundation’s Russ Hardin and Emory’s Ravi Thadhani before the ribbon-cutting of the new Winship Cancer Institute’s center in Midtown (Photo by Maria Saporta)

That’s when Robert Woodruff’s generosity to Emory began – donating funds to create the Winship Center to treat cancer.

“She died before the cancer center opened,” Fenves said. “Mr. Woodruff wanted to make sure patients didn’t have to travel far for cancer treatment.”

The need exists today more than ever. Ravi Thadhani, Emory’s executive vice president for health affairs, said the Southeast has some of the highest rates of cancer and some of the highest mortality rates.

As a research institution, Emory integrates the delivery of healthcare with education. In recent years, Emory has been increasing its investment in the central city – branching out from its campus in DeKalb County. 

Emory also owns the buildings that used to house the Peachtree-Pine homeless shelter – across the Peachtree Street from the medical tower that adjoins Emory Midtown hospital. It is not yet known what plans Emory has for those historic structures.

But the challenge will be stitching together downtown and Midtown to create a seamless academic corridor – a vision that Central Atlanta Progress with plans to “Stitch” over the Downtown Connector by capping the interstate between the Civic Center MARTA Station and the Civic Center.

Mayor Dickens said that creating a college town environment depends of Atlanta promoting its physical and academic infrastructure.

“You have the academic infrastructure that makes us a top city for talent development,” Dickens said. “With Winship’s world-class cancer research center, there’s the hope for the eradication of cancer. All that in the middle of our city.”

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news...

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  1. SCAD should also be included in this context. Its Atlanta campus is home to 2,500 university students, all studying in the field of creative arts. The institution has a remarkable faculty, drawn from different parts of the country and around the world. And the campus, located near the Amtrak station, provides a great infrastructure with well-equipped dormitories and spacious classrooms.

    1. Great article. Excellent comment to suggest SCAD as well.

      Shame the “Brain Train” wasn’t built a decade or two back to connect UGA to this mix, with a stop at the Emory main campus, CDC, and the Clifton Corridor.

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