By David Pendered
When homebuyers start looking to purchase a place in the communities to be built over the next five years along Atlanta’s Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway, they’ll discover a corridor that didn’t fall as far as some others and is already on a path toward recovery.
A happenstance alignment of public and private investments helped support, during Atlanta’s decades of urban decay, a road that stretches some six miles between Northside Drive and I-285. These investments include a MARTA rail station, two major health clinics, and a scattering of vibrant commercial and industrial sites.
In addition, the parkway abuts areas that have already been retooled, including the phalanx of mixed use developments emanating from the vortex of Howell Mill Road and Marietta Street.
In terms of reported crime, the crime rate in the area spanning a quarter-mile on either side of the parkway dropped in 2017 compared to 2016, according to a report the Atlanta Police Department produced for SaportaReport.
The incidence of major crimes is down 10 percent during that period. Car thefts and thefts from vehicles dropped significantly. Rape is one category of crime that increased, and the rise accompanied a new definition of rape. The FBI has expanded the definition from penetration of a woman by a man, to penetration of a woman or man by a man, woman or foreign object.
Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway probably benefits from having been on the minds of planners for years. The Atlanta Regional Commission has funded at least one study by the city, and the Georgia Department of Transportation did an evaluation that resulted in intersection and sidewalk improvements. Atlanta now is conducting meetings to improve the streetscape, according to signs posted on poles.
Georgia Tech graduate student Christy Dodson has recently released a paper that offers this insight of past plans: So many of them do a great job looking at silos, such as transportation or parks, but they forget the bigger picture – “The consideration of the daily lives of people within the communities and the need for a vibrant, active, accessible public realm.”
Dodson points to the refurbished intersection of the parkway and Marietta Boulevard as an example of a road project that’s a great improvement for the truck drivers passing through the neighborhood. But, as Dodson contends, it is tone deaf to the needs of most anyone who spends any time in the area.
On Monday, trucks had no trouble turning on and off the parkway, likely traveling between I-285 and the warehouses near the railroad yards. Drivers honked at a man on a motorized wheelchair as he crossed the parkway in a crosshatch. A pedestrian had no trouble crossing the abutting North Avenue, which is lightly traveled at this edge of Maddox Park.
Many commercial buildings lining the parkway are old, some so old that their dates of construction aren’t listed on Fulton County property records. But many are well maintained – buildings are painted, asphalt lots are swept clean. Storefronts are open and customers come and go without giving signs of milling about or wandering down the street to loiter.
The parkway benefits from its proximity to the renewal programs sponsored by the Westside Future Fund, which is retooling two neighborhoods closer to Mercedes Benz Stadium. Likewise, the parkway is to benefit from the Atlanta BeltLine, which is to cross the parkway a short distance east of MARTA’s Bankhead Station. The future water reservoir and BeltLine park, to be built at the former Vulcan rock quarry, is a short distance north of the parkway.
The public entities that have helped maintain the parkway include MARTA’s Bankhead rail station and a neighborhood health center operated by Grady Health System, the Asa Yancey Health Center. Private entities include the gas stations, restaurants and retail shops that flank the eastern end of the parkway, and the industrial trucking and trash facilities located near the I-285 interchange.
Not to be overlooked is the Good Samaritan Health Center, which on a webpage offers the following sobering thought: “The average life expectancy for someone living in the communities we serve is 13 years less than that of their neighbors in other areas of Atlanta.”
The center’s founder is pediatrician Dr. Bill Warren, a great-grandson of Coca-Cola founder Asa Candler. He started offering health services in a Downtown church in 1998 and the growing service moved in 2009 to the facility on Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway.
The parkway formerly was known as Bankhead Highway and was renamed to honor Civil Rights leader Donald Lee Hollowell. He may best be remembered for his major role in the desegregation of the University of Georgia, and he also was involved in lawsuits to desegregate Atlanta Public Schools and to free the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. from jail following King’s arrests for protests.
The parkway’s current development posture doesn’t suggest that it’s on the verge of blossoming overnight into something akin to the neighborhoods around the Historic Fourth Ward Park. Prices there have skyrocketed over the past dozen years. The land along Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway isn’t at that stage.
As residential developer Steve Brock said last month, land prices along the parkway are low enough that he can sell condos at the pending The Finley development at a price less than that of the same size and quality of a unit at his company’s Westside Station development.