By David Pendered
A future Wal-Mart store and other civic projects are rekindling hopes for community renewal in a neighborhood west of the Georgia Dome in Downtown Atlanta.
The Wal-Mart is to open in the summer of 2012 in Historic Westside Village, a retail center located at 825 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. It’s located across MLK Drive from the original Paschal’s restaurant.
Wal-Mart is expected to bring more than decent groceries, a pharmacy, money center and jobs to the community, according to Tillman Ward, a community leader who was born in the neighborhood.
Local residents hope it will help catalyze other efforts already underway to lift up one of the city’s original neighborhoods, one that became home to Civil Rights icons.
“The residents have heard presentations discussing the economic studies have been done to justify the Wal-Mart development,” Ward said.
“That’s good, and what we in the community are saying is that, in addition, there are ways to improve the strength of the region around the Wal-Mart … to attract professionals to live in the area.”
Professional already have moved back to the area, attracted in part by a location that’s less than a mile west of Centennial Olympic Park.
Dozens of homes built about seven years ago near Washington Park sold quickly. The park was refurbished and now is well used by adult leagues and families out for a picnic. The Beltline meanders by the park’s western edge.
This momentum of residential infill was supposed to continue at a new condo development that’s part of the Historic Westside Village. But sales lagged at units that came on line near the start of the recession, said developer Jerome Russell, of Russell New Urban Development. Russell is developing the Wal-Mart for the retailer.
The sag harkons to the dismay when the original hopes went unfulfilled for Historic Westside Village. Back in the mid 1990s, the city-backed development was to jump-start the MLK corridor. That era ended in late 2009, when Publix finally closed its grocery store that anchored the retail center.
Now, Wal-Mart intends to take over the former Publix space and expand it by about 50,000 square feet. The result will be one of the chain’s new, smaller urban stores that cater to shoppers with annual household incomes of $30,000 to $70,000.
The future store is renewing quiet hopes that this time may be the time for Historic Westside Village and its environs to benefit from their close-in location.
There is a surprising amount of planning for future developments in and around this community. Consider just these examples:
- A new football stadium may be built on its eastern border;
- State Transportation Commissioner Emory McClinton said he intends to renew efforts to connect Northside Drive with I-20, which would create a north-south boulevard parallel to the Downtown Connector;
- Atlanta is poised to boost tourism through the formation of a new historic district on Sunset Avenue, which is a side street off MLK Drive where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and other notable Atlantans once resided.
- The locally famous Busy Bee restaurant on MLK Drive may be on the brink of international fame, if reports are true that it is selling a franchise to be operated at major venues including the Atlanta airport.
- Plans are in progress to create a “walk through history” in a proposed Vine City Promenade, which would link the Vine City and Ashby MARTA rail stations.
Ward’s conversation crackles with the opportunities that could be fulfilled as one or more of these proposals become reality.
All are based on the idea of building what he calls “the beloved community, which suggests respect, character, dignity, and the opportunity to contribute to dignity.
“People who have made a difference in history have spent time in that hallowed ground, right around what is going to be the Wal-Mart,” Ward said. “This is a unique, exclusive urban laboratory. Let’s make it best we can possibly make it.”