By Maria Saporta
With approvals from the Atlanta City Council and Invest Atlanta, the Los Angeles-based CIM plan to redevelop the Gulch is moving forward.
Now we can dream a little on how we can make the Gulch development a spectacular centerpiece for our city.
Atlanta City Councilwoman Carla Smith sponsored an amendment to the Gulch deal that required the developer to preserve the ability for commuter trains to serve the area and not preclude the possibility of having a multimodal station at that location.
This column is urging our state, regional and local communities to take it one step further.
Let’s convince CIM, and our soon-to-be newest corporate citizen – Norfolk Southern – to develop a multimodal station as part of the Gulch development.
Creating an architecturally elegant Grand Central Station for Atlanta – reminiscent of the now-demolished Terminal Station and the now-demolished Union Station – could become a signature anchor for the Gulch development. It would give the project great historical context – reminding everyone about the special significance of that site.
In short, including a multimodal station – one that would serve commuter trains, intercity trains, long-distance buses and other modes of transportation – would give the CIM-Gulch development a soul.
After last week’s Invest Atlanta meeting, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms was asked about the Gulch incorporating commuter rail and a station.
“As we have had our conversations, people are very mindful that nothing we are doing with this development will preclude rail – should that be a possibility,” the mayor said, adding that she would be willing to explore future transit options with the state. “Our partnership with the state has been very productive.”
If the CIM-Gulch development pivots more towards alternative modes of transportation, it would lessen the need to fill the hole with parking. Much of the public financing for the project is going towards infrastructure development. It would make sense to include multimodal transportation as part of that infrastructure package.
Now let me be clear. I’m not saying that CIM has to shoulder the cost for a new multimodal station on its own.
For decades, there have been a myriad of plans – most of them emanating from the state level – to put a multimodal station on that site. I could see a public-private partnership between federal, state and local governments working with CIM, Norfolk Southern and other private entities to create a unifying Grand Central Station in our city.
Better yet, CIM and the Gulch could market their development as a transportation hub for the Southeast.
What if MARTA were to move its headquarters on top of the Five Points MARTA Station? What if MARTA extended its proposed Clayton commuter rail line to the station?
What if we could co-locate the Georgia Department of Transportation, the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, the State Road and Tollway Authority, the ATL, the regional offices of the Federal Highway Administration and the regional offices of the Federal Transit Administration?
Imagine the synergies we could create by bringing all of these entities into close proximity to each other.
That is just one idea. Having a Grand Central Station would serve as a magnet for businesses and governmental entities alike. That could become an anchor for the proposed $5 billion CIM-Gulch project.
It’s no secret that the entire process that led to an 8-6 City Council vote on Nov. 5 was fraught with debate and angst as critics questioned whether there was enough residential development, that there was not enough affordable housing, that it was too rich in public financing or that it would reduce development in other areas of Atlanta.
Including a multimodal station as part of this development would elevate the project’s public purpose. It could generate great excitement in the community and possibly change naysayers into supporters.
A.J. Robinson, president of Central Atlanta Progress, has been a longtime advocate for a multimodal station in the heart of our city. As he sees it, a station was never built because there wasn’t a designated champion pushing to make it happen.
We came close several times, but changes in state leadership and city leadership often put those plans on hold.
But those plans still exist.
CIM – and all the public-private partners in this deal – can revisit those plans to see what can make sense for its development.
Let’s dream big.
As Chicago’s Daniel Burnham in the early 1900s:
“Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency.”