Hiding in Plain Sight: Transforming A Historic Corner into a Public PlazaA view of the future Commercial Row Commons space from Peachtree Street.
By Dan Hourigan, Director of Transportation and Sustainability, Midtown Alliance
This week, Midtown Alliance is starting construction on improvements to a historic block of Midtown, transforming a handful of on-street parking spaces into a small public plaza and creating wider sidewalks.
At the corner of Peachtree Street and Peachtree Place, nestled against the historic Commercial Row building and across the street from the iconic Palmer and Phelan condos, we saw an opportunity hiding in plain sight to create a small plaza and green space for all to enjoy. The most livable cities have public parks and plazas of all shapes and sizes — Paley Park in New York and John F. Collins Park in Philadelphia are two of the best examples of intimate public gathering spaces with an outsized impact.
Beyond its sidewalks, the commercial core of Midtown Atlanta currently has few public spaces, and it’s clear that the public wants more. In our 2019 Midtown Community Survey, 95 percent of respondents said they’d like to see more small parks and plazas. With the cost of land at stratospheric levels, opportunities to create new and functional open spaces are extremely limited.
Currently dubbed “Commercial Row Commons,” this new public space on Peachtree Place between Peachtree Street and Crescent Avenue checks a lot of boxes. It creates a safer environment for people on foot by realigning the intersection through Peachtree Street and addresses visibility issues; it widens the sidewalk on both sides of the street, creating more space for people walking to the Midtown MARTA Station; and it creates a small public gathering space by repurposing parking spaces.
Part of the intersection’s realignment includes rebuilding the existing hardscaped median with more permeable space to allow new oak trees to thrive. Existing overhead utilities will be buried and new decorative lighting will illuminate the sidewalks and plaza to increase safety and aesthetics.
In keeping with our Heart of the Arts initiative, Midtown Alliance is committed to programming the site with permanent and temporary art installations. This includes the addition of a new sculpture donated by the City of Atlanta called The Sole Sitter by Willie Cole. The new plaza space will also include a mesh system that allows 3-D art and lighting to be strung overhead, creating an intimate gathering space.
Many stakeholder groups informed this project, including the Midtown Neighbors Association, residents, local merchants, daytime users, and transit riders. We listened to all of these groups during the scoping phase to get their ideas and opinions on the future plaza space.
The plaza was approved by the City of Atlanta and is fully funded by the Midtown Improvement District, a self-taxing district created by Midtown commercial property owners to augment public resources and catalyze economic growth. Midtown Alliance, which provides the staff and day-to-day management of the Midtown Improvement District, is implementing the project and will maintain it.
Commercial Row Commons is an example of what we can accomplish when the community establishes a vision and different entities work together toward a common goal. As a result of this teamwork, we all win.
Watch this space. Over the next six to eight months, you will see it transform into a safer, more beautiful and welcoming place for residents, workers and visitors in Midtown to enjoy.