CIM needs to include plans for a multimodal station in its Gulch development

By Maria Saporta

As we enter a public-private partnership to redevelop the Gulch in downtown Atlanta, we can’t forget our city’s origins – a city created by the intersection of three railroad lines.

The very heart of who we are as a city is physically rooted in the Gulch – the place once known as Terminus.

After being dormant for decades, we now have a real prospect to redevelop the Gulch. The CIM Group, which includes Richard Ressler – the brother of the majority owner of the Atlanta Hawks Tony Ressler, has presented ambitious plans to redevelop the area into a thriving center for retail, entertainment, housing and office.

A development in that part of the city would go a long way towards weaving together our south downtown areas – connecting the government district and Underground Atlanta with CNN Center, Philips Arena, Centennial Olympic Park, the Georgia World Congress Center and the new Mercedes Benz Stadium.

Gulch view

A view of the Gulch today (Special: City of Atlanta)

For decades, there have been plans to redevelop the gulch – nearly all of them included a multimodal station at the heart of the development – but those plans never materialized for a variety of economic and political reasons.

Now we have the most serious development prospect that the city has seen for the Gulch – with CIM proposing to build retail, entertainment, housing and office in the big hole in the heart of our city. What CIM’s plans don’t currently include is a multimodal station, and that’s unfortunate.

In order to building its multi-billion dollar development, CIM is asking state and local governments to help publicly finance the project by extending the Westside Tax Allocation District until 2048 and through Enterprise Zone bonds.

Gulch Development Plan Presentation (8.21.18)

Because the increased property value and sales taxes generated in CIM’s gulch development would be attributed to CIM’s investment in the project, it is not tax handout. The dollars generated by the TAD and the Enterprise Zone bonds – estimated to be up to $1.75 billion – also would be invested into public infrastructure into the project.

Gulch development

A conceptual drawing of CIM’s gulch development (Special: City of Atlanta)

And that’s where the public entities should have a say on how the project is developed.

As currently envisioned, the development would build up the hole in the gulch with a parking deck of 8,000 spaces (think Atlantic Station on steroids).

CIM has stated the project would encourage alternate modes of transportation, but that is not in sync with the project it is proposing – one heavily dependent on automobiles.

By including a multimodal station in its plans, CIM then could honestly say it is dedicated to alternative modes of transportation.

A multimodal station could serve intercity buses, intercity rail (such as Amtrak), commuter rail and passenger rail to cities across the state.

In short, the public infrastructure question facing the city is whether we should develop a project in the heart of the city that is focused on cars or on alternative modes of transportation.

metro Atlanta rail map

The metro Atlanta rail map shows how rail lines converge in the heart of the city (Special: Georgia Department of Transportation)

CIM would be smart to use its unique location – the heart of a city founded by three rail lines – to be a showpiece for Atlanta’s history. That would elevate the project to a special place unlike any other development in the region.

Creating a crossroads development – emphasizing that it is the real intersection of Atlanta – would give the CIM development a brand that could not be replicated in any other spot.

As the Atlanta City Council debated whether to extend the Westside TAD, the issue of a regional rail hub came up. Councilmember Matt Westmoreland asked CIM whether there was any provision for regional rail included in its plans.

Shannon Crowell, CIM’s vice president of real estate development, said it was “not a consideration.”

The Atlanta City Council and Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms should make their support of the CIM financing deal contingent on including a multimodal facility as a central part of the deal.

If CIM is not in a position to build the multimodal station on its own, its development should not preclude the ability to build one at a future time.

With Atlanta’s anticipated growth, there’s increased awareness that we should plan for a city that’s not dependent on automobile transportation. That’s especially true for this site – the rail hub of our city.

Terminal station

A postcard featuring Atlanta’s now demolished Terminal Station could trigger the imagination of CIM

A grassroots effort is underway to push for the CIM development to incorporate a multimodal station in its plans. ThreadATL has written several stories. Please see the links below.

Central Atlanta Progress also has endorsed the idea that the CIM development not preclude the building of a multimodal station at some point in the future.

We need to make sure the CIM development respects Atlanta’s past as well as its future – by making plans for a multimodal station a condition in the approval process.

Incorporating a Grand Central Station in the project would be in the best interest for our region, our city and, most importantly, for CIM

Let’s act now before it’s too late.

ThreadATL’s pieces on the Gulch and rail:

What’s permanent about pouring billions in Atlanta’s Gulch for HQ2?

Gulch plans knock passenger rail off track

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 stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

28 replies
  1. Steve Hagen says:

    As a newcomer to Atlanta, I can not imagine why a passenger rail hub would not already be in the plans for the gulch area. I live in Tucker and hope to live long enough to get on the Athens Atlanta rail in to downtown Atlanta. I have heard it was once proposed as the Brain Train.Report

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  2. Greg Hodges says:

    Much agree with your call for a multimodal station to be built in the gulch, Maria. And it would be great to have it situated near the Zero Mile post…the very spot where Terminus , then Marthasville, and finally Atlanta had its very beginning. BTW, as a youth, I boarded trains at the old Terminal Station as shown in the story photo, for destinations like Washington, New Orleans, and NYC. And no, those horse and buggies were NOT there then….but the statue of Samuel Spencer certainly was. Hmmmmm….now those trips were back in 19 ????????.
    Carry on.Report

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  3. Will says:

    I liked the historic post card. On a side note: The powers to be are going to do what ever they want to anyway. Those with the most $ signs run Atlanta.Report

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  4. DJS says:

    Steve Hagen, I hope you’re really young if you want to see that.
    Those of us that have been here 20+ years continue to wait and wait and wait….we’ve been hearing this song for a long time and haven’t seen anything happen yet.

    Atlanta would be doing itself a serious injustice if they did not require some sort of multimodal hub in the Gulch….you’d have an Atlantic Station-like place that nobody would visit.
    It’s one thing to have sufficient parking once you get there but just getting there would be an issue. Imagine all those people on the roads in those surrounding neighborhoods….no thank you.Report

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  5. Marti Breen says:

    I agree that it should not go forward without plans for a multimodal station, I don’t believe the plans as presented at the City Council Working Session should go through at all. If this development is really such a great idea, why are they asking for an extension of the TAD to finance it? All the presentation includes is the upsides of the plan–what if the future isn’t as rosy as projected? Who will foot the bill–the taxpayers of Atlanta that’s who!Report

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  6. Steve Vogel says:

    Amtrak has always said that they have no interest in a downtown station, as the only trains that serve Atlanta would have a long backup move to get into or out of the station, adding at least a half hour to the schedule.Report

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  7. Jon Carlisle says:

    You’ve beaten this drum for years, Maria. Won’t happen until (first) we’ve a cleanse at City Hall. And that will be never – not enough jail cells for these shiftless local govt vagrants.Report

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  8. Matthew Rao says:

    Maria, Thanks for using your forum to express what so many of us are saying: how can we have a transit oriented development on the site of Atlanta’s founding without the transit component?

    For decades, a multi-modal terminal has been planned for this site. Why use public money to forward a plan that leaves it out and with 8,000 parking spaces, only increases the car-dependency and car-orientation of the street grid. How about far less parking and far more transit?

    In addition to the modes of rail you mention, don’t forget that the site has close proximity to two MARTA lines via 5 points station and two other MARTA stations, AND as part of the More MARTA expansion of the downtown streetcar to the west, there is the opportunity to DIRECTLY serve this site with LRT connecting it to the SW and the east and to the BeltLine.

    We’ll only have one chance to do this , and we under no circumstances should bury the past and the future of Atlanta underneath an unimaginative and backward-looking design. There is room for the future here: we must require it.Report

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  9. Matthew Rao says:

    Precisely! The catalyst part of this is left out in the conversation. When done right, new hubs create new life and new commerce in ways unimaginable before.Report

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  10. Matthew Rao says:

    Steve, Amtrak may only be imagining its current single Crescent train service. Who would operate future frequencies to Charlotte, Chattanooga, Savannah? As in California, it might be Amtrak. (Amtrak California is quite a successful state-Amtrak partnership.) And commuter rail alone is enough of a mode to have value in a downtown intermodal terminal.

    A similar “dead end”exists in downtown Denver today with the huge renovation of Union Station and there are solutions to it: more locomotives to attach to the end of the train that needs to depart the station. Denver Union Station is a huge success and a model for us.

    The reality of Atlanta’s sprawl and its international importance via Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport makes a single multimodal terminal encompassing all lines and serving all quadrants impossible. The MARTA Armour yard location on MARTA’s northeast Gold/Red lines comes closest. It also integrates the BeltLine into the equation. Armour and the international terminal side of the airport should be two intermodal termini in addition to the long-planned downtown station.Report

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  11. Greg Hodges says:

    Agree completely. Even the old Terminal Station had ‘backup moves’ for certain trains that served it. Just as important as future interstate rail service will be intrastate rail service that allows commuters and visitors to the city’s core to possibly utilize trains (MARTA ?) running on tracks along existing rail routes on shared right of ways. Thinking here about the proposed commuter route that would share the existing right of way of the old Central of Georgia Ry (now Norfolk Southern) coming in from the southeast…..through Jonesboro, Forest Park, Hapeville , and joining the existing MARTA line at East Point. Existing rail lines radiate out of (and into) Atlanta like a spider web, and it’s not out of the realm of possibility to visualize such a commuter rail system for the entire metro area.Report

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  12. Chris Johnston says:

    Why spend a fortune to build it now, when there are no trains other than Amtrak and Amtrak says it will not go to the Gulch.
    I for one do not want to pay for a Field of Dreams white elephant.Report

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  13. Matthew Rao says:

    There’s “final build” and there’s making provisions for the future. The MARTA station at Hartsfield airport was built 1978-1980 and it was 1988 before MARTA made it there. Had they not built it with the terminal it would have been that much more expensive to retrofit and perhaps impossible to do at all.

    Similarly, if the subterranean infrastructure locations for rail at the downtown site are covered over and the above ground provisions not made, it will never be possible.

    Remember, our tax dollars are funding a portion of this.Report

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  14. Westerly says:

    I call BS! If transit in the Gulch was so important then the State should have gotten their act together and made it happen years ago! It’s uber wrong to insist CIM or anyone else do what the State failed to do!!! Screw a transit station in the Gulch at this point.Report

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  15. Matthew Rao says:

    Not wrong at all when public property and public money are concerned. In fact, if this were any other major city, it would have been in the requirements for the parcel in the beginning.Report

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  16. JoHoRo says:

    MMPT is not meant to address the past but build for the future. The State has screwed up many things. Should we just sit by ourselves mumbling about the past mistakes or aim for better and build for the future?Report

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  17. Michael from Marietta Street says:

    As a resident on Marietta Street who’s closely followed the multi-modal station over the last 25 years, I’ll tell everyone why this will never happen; there’s no room for a passenger line between the current Peachtree Amtrak station and downtown. “But there’s tons of rail lines between them” you say, “surely the rail companies can make room for a train or two!” Actually there are 6 main lines for much of the way with half owned by CSX and half owned by Norfolk Southern, but that is the busiest stretch of track in the state. Hundreds of trains haul freight through there everyday. Remote train controllers hold trains in this section as part of the synchronized ballet of getting trains through the crossroads of the gulch. Back in the 90’s, when the state was actively studying passenger rail, the conclusion was that the only option was to build a new dedicated line and only place to put it was next to Marietta Street. Unfortunately that meant most of the warehouse buildings along Marietta Street would need to be torn down. As a resident of one of those buildings, I was not a fan of this plan. Since the 90’s, the Port of Georgia and our dependence on freight rail has grown and the chances of CSX or Norfolk sharing a line has gone from zero to ziltch.Report

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  18. atlman says:

    1. The Atlanta Braves were nowhere near Underground.
    2. Underground Atlanta no longer exists. It has been sold to developers. https://atlanta.curbed.com/2018/6/22/17491216/downtown-underground-atlanta-grocer-movie-theater
    People like you are unaware that more people have moved to the city of Atlanta than into Cobb County or any other suburb since the end of the great recession.
    3. The Braves only left downtown because the city of Atlanta refused to give them nearly half a billion of taxpayer money AND fork over revenue from parking, concessions and redevelopment – that the Braves’ parent company would solely own and manage – that would displace local businesses and residents AND pay to extend MARTA directly to the stadium. Cobb County, on the other hand, was willing to do ALL those things and more power to them … even if the deal has resulted in nearly everyone who voted for that half a billion dollar giveaway (and that doesn’t even factor in the price to join MARTA, which is now all but inevitable) getting voted out of office. As for the city, they are going to get a lot more out of keeping the Falcons – which also got them Atlanta United – investing in the Gulch – which keeps the Hawks – and giving Turner Field to Georgia State – fast becoming one of the state’s biggest economic assets and is increasingly being publicized in the national media – than they ever would have gotten out of pacifying the Braves, who had been threatening to leave town to get more money and concessions from the city since the 80s. Not even getting two stadiums for free that they didn’t pay a dime for – Fulton County Stadium and Turner Field – could pacify them. They are better off in the suburbs where their fans can eat at Wahlburgers.Report

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  19. atlman says:

    The MMPT was an excellent idea, one that was consistently supported by Governor Deal. The problem: the city lacks the funds and the right of way to fund it on its own. And Deal’s legislature was loathe to provide either to a city that they regard as an ideological and economic competitor to their suburban power base. Had the legislature listened to Deal when he was trying to get this approved 4-6 years ago, that area would be in a much stronger position for their Amazon bid, and for other big economic development projects. Not to mention that the MMPT would have benefited the suburbs and the entire state indirectly even without Amazon. But when the legislature showed their old ways – being more concerned with harming the state’s urban revenue generator by coming up with excuses to block MARTA expansion (as they did in North Fulton) and stealing Hartsfield airport (which they haven’t contributed a dime to building or operating) than helping – Deal decided that backing the redevelopment plan that former mayor Reed negotiated with the new Hawks owner and other interests in the private sector was going to be the only way to move forward with the Gulch.Report

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  20. Peggy Powell Dobbins says:

    hmmm, maria. guess I’ve been facebooking too much. I didn’t know what “Report” meant. Thought “recommend” maybe. Wanting something like “like” to say “ditto” to some comments, and ignore others.

    Yes, I too appreciate your eye on the city of Atlanta, and the effort to see some sense of continuity from the past (acknowledging, not always celebrating, sometimes grieving) linking to visions, oft realized, of the future. A city (place + people) cultivates its culture incrementally. Sometimes I think you’re the only one with a rake and hoe. I fear we lost the multi-modal push for the gulch to the “you know what I’m so tired of…” (married as I am to the little boy people hear and try to fix with good will clothes not imperially fit).
    Now I’m thinking of idioms about trains leaving stations, closing barn doors, and running for the roundhouse, Nellie. But please, persist.Report

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  21. Steve says:

    Hello Matthew, good to her from you. You should know that any expanded Amtrak service from Atlanta is a pipe dream at best, given Georgia historical and continued attitude toward passenger rail. The proposed Atlantic Station station would have been near ideal, but you saw what happened to it.Report

    Reply

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