By Maria Saporta
Revamping Underground Atlanta and improving Five Points MARTA station are two top priorities that emerged at the final official meeting of the Downtown Development Technical Advisory Group (DDTAG) Thursday evening.
The task force, established by the Atlanta City Council, has included about 25 civic and community representatives who have spent the last five months taking an in-depth look at how to best stimulate new development, improved urban design and a better quality of life in the heart of the city.
A.J. Robinson, president of Central Atlanta Progress, said the major goal of DDTAG was to leverage $2.5 billion worth of planned investment into $5 billion worth of actual investment as long as it was consistent with the community’s plans and visions.
The big projects that are on the horizon in the downtown area include the new $1 billion Atlanta Falcons stadium; the possible revamping of Underground Atlanta; the redevelopment of the parking lots around Turner Field; the development of the Multimodal Passenger Terminal and the upgrading of the Five Points MARTA station.
DDTAG’s adopted vision statement is as follows:
With focused cooperation, Downtown South will be connected, vibrant and revitalized with more places to live, places to shop, places to be entertained and places to learn and work all catalyzed by strong civic leadership and the investment of private capital.
Built on its historic character and existing assets, Downtown South will be a unique, iconic and hip destination that is connected to its neighbors south, east and west by transit and walkable and bikeable streets.
Strategic investments at Turner Field, Underground Atlanta and the new Falcons stadium will ensure and grown Downtown’s position as the physical and symbolic center of the city and region for commerce, culture and governance.
A great portion of Thursday’s meeting was spent discussing how best to present the recommendations of the task force to Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and the Atlanta City Council. Also, the group discussed whether the task force or another group should be put in place to help implement the recommendations.
“We feel there needs to be an ongoing organization that keeps going,” said Robinson, but the group didn’t reach a consensus on whether that organization should be the continuation of DDTAG.
Keith Parker, general manager of MARTA, said the group’s recommendations should include a list of projects with proposed timelines on when they would be implemented. That would give direction to the next step.
Task force member Midge Sweet, however, questioned whether the group should continue. She thought it might be more effective to create subgroups that would focus on particular project areas.
When DDTAG was established, the Atlanta City Council allocated $500,000 to Invest Atlanta to support the implementation of the recommendations.
Based on the work plans presented at previous meetings, Robinson presented five “game changers,” which could transform downtown.
- City of Atlanta reposition Underground Atlanta either through existing manager or competitively make the site available for repositioning/refinancing/redevelopment/private capital investment;
- Invest significant capital and leadership to transform the appearance and operations of the Five Points MARTA rail station;
- City of Atlanta should become a champion for the implementation of the Multimodal Passenger Terminal;
- Implement the recommendations of the Community Benefits Agreement to ensure westside neighborhood revitalization; and
- Pursue aggressively redevelopment of Turner Field parking lots.
After a lengthy discussion, the task force decided it should focus its efforts in a couple of areas, and it felt that Underground and Five Points made the most sense.
Parker said that three factors tend to prevent the private sector from investing in that part of downtown — Underground, Five Points MARTA station and quality of life issues that could be enforced by the city, such as panhandling and loitering, building and zoning code enforcement, cleanliness and better cooperation among security agencies.
Milton Jones, a banker, pointed to how other areas have been game changers in Atlanta — Little Five Points, Midtown, Centennial Olympic Park. “Let’s draw an area and change it,” Jones said, adding that the decision should be driven by data rather than emotion.
Robinson said he email the final report to DDTAG members for their review before submitting it to the mayor and City Council.
Then Brian McGowan, president of Invest Atlanta, summed up his thoughts.
“I do think this group needs to focus on big catalytic projects like Underground and the MARTA station,” McGowan said. “And we can also focus on the low hanging fruit — the quality of life issues.”