Hundreds attend ground-breaking of Atlanta BeltLine’s Westside Trail

By Maria Saporta

As a crowd of 500 people gathered for the ground-breaking of the Atlanta BeltLine’s Westside Trail – a three-mile corridor that has received $43 million and will take two years to build.

While giving the invocation, Gerald Durley, pastor emeritus of Providence Baptist Church, summed up the sentiment of many in the audience.

“This is the day that God has set aside for this part of town,” Durley said with a booming voice.

Dramatic ground-breaking equipment welcomes crowds at BeltLine's Westside Trail (Photos by Maria Saporta)

Dramatic ground-breaking equipment welcomes crowds at BeltLine’s Westside Trail (Photos by Maria Saporta)

The ground-breaking was held at what will become a key entry point to Westside Trail – at Ailene Avenue and Catherine Streets right next to where the Urban Farm will be developed.

Angel Poventud, a resident of Adair Park who lives in a house that is sandwiched between the BeltLine and the historic neighborhood park for which the community is named, was impressed by the turnout.

As far as he knows, there hasn’t been a gathering of 500 people for a special event along the BeltLine in recent memory.

All number of dignitaries were present including a large number of City Council members; Fulton County Commissioners Joan Garner, Liz Hausmann and Emma Darnell; several Atlanta Public School board members as well as major donors, civic leaders and community residents.

Sarah Kennedy and Nancy Rigby of the James M. Cox Foundation are joyful at the event

Sarah Kennedy and Nancy Rigby of the James M. Cox Foundation are joyful at the event

“This is the largest infrastructure investment above ground in this side of Atlanta in 30 years, and it’s the largest expansion of the BeltLine ,” Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.

Speaking directly to Fulton Commissioner Darnell, Reed said the Westside Trail was proof that the BeltLine project would serve all sections of the city. It is a perfect counter balance to the 2.5 mile Eastside Trail, which opened a couple of years ago.

“So Commissioner Darnell, today we are headed to the Westside,” the mayor said. “Today we are making a $43 million investment in that promise.”

As he spoke, a MARTA train passed by in the background leaving the West End Station.

Mayor Kasim Reed speaks at ground-breaking

Mayor Kasim Reed speaks at ground-breaking

“I love that theme music of trains in the background,” Reed said. “Transit is coming to the BeltLine.”

Reed also thanked the philanthropic community for raising $10 million to help the city qualify for the $18 million federal grant.

The James M. Cox Foundation contributed $5 million. Other donors included Delta Air Lines CEO Richard Anderson, Wells Fargo’s regional executive Mike Donnelly, Kaiser Permanente, the Georgia Power Foundation, AGL Resources, Ray Weeks Jr., Richard and Susan Dugas Family Foundation, Cousins Properties Inc., Georgia-Pacific Foundation, Morgens West Foundation and SunTrust Trusteed Foundations.

Jamie Kennedy tells the crowd how the BeltLine gives Atlantans an opportunity to get out of their cars

Jamie Kennedy tells the crowd how the BeltLine gives Atlantans an opportunity to get out of their cars

Jamie Kennedy, son of Cox Enterprises Chairman Jim Kennedy, spoke on behalf of his family and the company. As someone who lives along the Eastside Trail, Kennedy said the BeltLine provides an opportunity for Atlantans to get out of their cars and walk.

Atlanta BeltLine CEO Paul Morris said the three-mile trail would unite 10 neighborhoods that had been divided by an industrial rail line.

“We can hardly wait to get started,” Morris said, adding that the BeltLine will then look to extend the trail to the south in months to come so they can begin to close the loop. The city already owns a majority of the right-of-way along the 22-mile corridor.

Doug Hooker, executive director of the Atlanta Regional Commission, said the BeltLine and the city are the heart of the region. In addition to connecting neighborhoods, Hooker said the BeltLine is becoming its own community uniting all the people who use it.

Hundreds of people attend ground-breaking in Adair Park

Hundreds of people attend ground-breaking in Adair Park

“It’s amazing how people have come together around the BeltLine,” Hooker said. “So goes Atlanta, so goes metro Atlanta.”

A couple of controversial elements of the Westside Trail do exist.

First, the trail will not be on its own right-of-way as it goes through the West End neighborhood – using instead existing sidewalks that are doubling as multi-use paths. The railroad right-of-way is being set aside for transit, if and when there is money to build that transit line.

Also for that corridor to be wide enough to include both transit and a multi-use trail, the city would have to acquire several industrial buildings that are currently being used.

The second major short-coming with the current plan centers around the plans for how the Urban Farm will connect with the trail and the future transit corridor.

The row of trees on the right are slated to be cut down to make a little more room for the urban farm

The row of trees on the right are slated to be cut down to make a little more room for the urban farm

As currently planned, a narrow row of large attractive trees that serve as a retaining wall for the grade difference between the farm and the transit corridor are supposed to be cut down. The BeltLine will then need to build a retaining wall to keep that ridge in place, adding substantially to the cost of the project.

Unfortunately, Morris, a landscape architect who could understand what’s at stake if he had an open mind, was not willing on Wednesday to see the situation for himself and hear directly from residents in the community about their ideas and concerns.

All Morris would say is that the BeltLine would be planting many trees along the corridor.

I continue to believe that we will never live up to our full potential as a city if we are not willing to listen to constructive ideas of how to improve the plans for our public spaces and projects.

Yet Atlanta seems to have lost the art of embracing public involvement and community input – policies that the late Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson, a populist and activist at heart, had tried to instill at City Hall 40 years ago.

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.

5 replies
  1. Burroughston Broch says:

    “The BeltLine will then need to build a retaining wall to keep that ridge in place, adding substantially to the cost of the project.”
    The first change order of many. The final cost will far surpass the publicized $43 million and the final time will exceed the publicized two years. It will follow the footsteps of The StreetCar, which still isn’t operating.Report

    Reply
  2. jm says:

    “Yet Atlanta seems to have lost the art of embracing public involvement and community input – policies that the late Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson, a populist and activist at heart, had tried to instill at City Hall 40 years ago. ”

    I disagree.  The city listens too much to the NIMBY people.  Which is why the Beltline and a variety of other things that would help Atlanta and Georgia grow at a faster place instead take eons to occur.
    Atlanta and Georgia’s unemployment rates are in part a direct result of listening too much to people who don’t know very much.  If Georgia wants to improve and grow, it should start listening to business more and NIMBY people less.Report

    Reply
  3. Equitable says:

    Burroughston Broch which of course means it shouldn’t be built. The community should never organize to do anything new because a timeline might not be met and a budget might be exceeded. Best to stay home, watch Fox, and nurse bitterness.
    Big complicated projects like the Beltline take time. And yes, @jm , they require citizen input, even when it slows things down. Maria is right that planners need to listen and explain why sometimes the “public’s” (aka Maria’s) ideas aren’t practical. The Beltline is being built with transit in mind. As long as that’s the long range vision, they should minimize long-term cost by not paying twice to process the same ground. Big trees are lovely and it’s important to do what we can to keep them and keep them healthy. Big trees also have life spans. We shouldn’t not do a long-term project correctly to save what’s left of the life span of one row of trees. It’s not like this is a pristine old-growth forest. Nor are we starved of trees in this part of town.
    Godspeed Beltline project managers and PATH Foundation workers!Report

    Reply
  4. Burroughston Broch says:

    Equitable “The community should never organize to do anything new because a timeline might not be met and a budget might be exceeded.”
    I haven’t had as good a laugh in a long time.
    In every City of Atlanta project, the cost and time to completion are deliberately underestimated to make the project an easier political sale. The politicians operate on the principle that an ounce of forgiveness is worth more than a pound of permission, After all, who picks up the extra costs? The taxpayers, of course, while the politicians cut ribbons and pat themselves on the back.
    The Streetcar is a prime example. The original budget was $69.3 million and the latest estimate exceeds $100 million; we will probably never know the final cost because it might start a riot. The promised operation date of late 2013 is now the end of 2014, and it might be delayed into 2015.
    You seem willing to throw cost and schedule to the wind because it’s something new. I think you are unusual amongst City of Atlanta taxpayers, who are tired of being fleeced for every politician’s dream.Report

    Reply

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