Let’s hop on board to build an iconic multimodal station in the Gulch

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.

MMPT station

A grand plan for a Multi-Modal Passenger Terminal was designed by Cooper Carry and FXFOWLE Architects in 2012 (Georgia Depoartment of Transportation)

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.

Multimodal

Another proposal for Multimodal Station in the Gulch. This one dates back to 2012 (Georgia Department of Transportation)

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.

multimodal

A rendering for a multimodal station in the Gulch dating back to 2012 (Georgia Department of Transportation)

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?

Terminal station

A postcard featuring Atlanta’s now demolished Terminal Station could trigger the imagination of CIM

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 picture of Atlanta’s now demolished Union Station (Wikipedia)

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.” 

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.

18 replies
  1. Mark B Rinder says:

    For too long, development has focused on Midtown and the Perimeter – sadly, I suspect, a legacy of Georgia’s fraught relationship with its African-American community that is centered in downtown and locales south of downtown. This development holds real promise of re-invigorating all of downtown, creating tens of thousands of jobs and catapulting Atlanta further into the top ten cities of the United States. Bravo, Maria, for your reporting. I do hope this comes to fruition.Report

    Reply
  2. Maria Saporta
    Maria Saporta says:

    Not sure what you meant by this comment.

    FYI: I’ve lived in the City of Atlanta my entire life with the exception of a four-year stint in Boston, where I attended Boston University and for the 15 months I was with the Macon Telegraph in 1980-1981.Report

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  3. brainstar8 says:

    The comment was intended for Mark Rinder. From my experience of City of Atlanta living (1978-present) is that people who love, love, love Atlanta and are thrilled to see development within the City, don’t live in the City – with the rising taxes, noise, bad streets and roads, rising crime, water rates, unrelenting traffic (fill in the blank). For a few weeks, if not months, Atlanta has most likely known it would not get Amazon HQ2. Bezos’ minions most assuredly did their homework on Atlanta.

    Maybe the Gulch is a consolation prize, or booby prize, and Ms. Mayor wants to strengthen her resume for bigger stuff. (As do some City Council members) She follows all the other mayors,with the exception of Franklin. They wanted to pivot on a national or world stage – instead of tending to dull old matters, such as infrastructure and crime. I appreciate the need for national exposure to attract jobs, but the succession of mayors we’ve had during my time in Atlanta has been all about the splash they could make.Report

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  4. Justin Wiedeman says:

    Maria,

    Keisha presented fake tax returns to the media and public in her Mayoral Campaign. Do you really trust anything that is being done in this deal? I’ve never seen a political candidate get away with what Keisha got away with. The press simply did not do there job and now we appear to be stuck with her. This project is an excuse to pay back her political friends and supporters and those will be the beneficiaries. So if we truly want a Grand Central Station, we simply need to do a Go Fund Me and collect a gazillion dollars for her campaign managers and supporters and it will happen. Otherwise, she can not be trusted with anything. But she can only hide from the truth for so long until she is figured out. And that day is coming….Report

    Reply
  5. jon carlisle says:

    Keisha is Kasim’s protege – acorn/tree – and he hosed Mary Norwood not once but in two elections (she conceded with class, as will ultimately ‘victim’ Stacey Abrams). But back to Keisha…new Gulch will be Underground on steroids, chock full of crime, more traffic and self-fulfilling prophecy of city govt. morons. Bezos punted and with good reason.Report

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  6. Steve says:

    Keep in mind that Amtrak has little interest in that location because the present route of Atlanta’s only train would require a long back-up move into or out of the station. We missed a good opportunity for a good location for a new Amtrak station in the Atlantic Station area. Another location that has been suggested and would also be good is adjacent to the Doraville MARTA station.Report

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  7. John says:

    I completely agree with Mark. And I, like Maria, live in “the City”. As with any major city — especially one in which more and more people are choosing it over the suburbs — there will be growing pains. But how else do you propose that we address these issues if we don’t leverage opportunities such as this BEFORE they take shape? Maria is presenting viable options for what could be a transformational project for a long underutilized area of our city. Maybe this time around you could embrace and even encourage positive change instead of complaining about political motives or traffic or the past in general. The ‘get off my lawn’ mindset belongs in the suburbs.Report

    Reply
  8. Robert Stovall says:

    An encouraging viewpoint, Maria! I was not a supporter of KLB during the election. IMO, Norwood was THE superior candidate! Given what we now know about Kasim and his administration, and his staunch support of Bottoms, makes that relationship just too cozy for my liking and trust. But she’s the mayor, and the council has approved the measures for CIM to take the reigns of the Gulch…And though, I too was on the fence about this deal, I now think all of metro Atlanta could be well served by this potentially transformative development! And I say, let’s get behind it! At this point, moaning and groaning about the politics of it all is almost a moot point. And if the continuing investigations by the Feds at City Hall reveal nefarious actions by KLB, then she will, and should, pay the price! But until then, the business of the city has to keep going. And this Gulch deal is business, important business! And there is no doubt in my mind that our strong Council President, Felicia Moore, and even those council members who did not support the original measure, will ensure close oversight and scrutiny moving forward. And kudos to MY District 1 Councilmember, Carla Smith, for her important amendment proposal. I hope ALL council members will support her amendment! If for no other reason than the area’s transportation history, a multimodal station located here would certainly be appropriate, and moreover, incredible! It’s a no-brainer and makes perfect sense. I’m a 57y/o, 4th generation Atlantan. And for the first time in my life, I’m pretty stoked about the possibilities that lie ahead for Underground and the Gulch. Always enjoy your reporting, Maria!Report

    Reply
  9. Kenbud says:

    Check out what San Francisco did with their bus terminal, called Transbay Transit Center and Salesforce Park. It’s a beautiful piece of art on the outside, and on top is Salesforce Park. The park is attached to several building with private entrances to corporate buildings, including the new Salesforce Tower. It’s just gorgeous and in the middle of the city.Report

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  10. Doug Alexander says:

    I led the team that looked at all potential locations for a new Amtrak station. The site in Doraville was number one, but Mayor reed was insistent that it be in Atlanta, so we picked the number 2 site, where NS’s tracks cross under 17th street. SERTA led the charge in trying to get a developer to build a tower there that would include room for an Amtrak station, but Mayor Reed could not have cared less once the spotlight move away from this issue. Instead of a tower, a low-rise, mostly residential mixed-use project is being built there. Back when Atlantic Station was being developed, we actually had a plan to put a new station right in the footprint of the development…and then the Target went in, and those plans were tossed out the window.Report

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  11. Joe says:

    Well said Maria and I agree with the premise. The NS and CSX lines that run through Duluth and Marietta respectively could support commuter rail much like the Long Island RR and Metro North lines coming out of Manhattan.

    The fact is, though, that the lines are not tasked for that now and implementing such a plan would take years of negotiation with the respective railroads as well as Amtrak or whatever authority was actually running the trains (presumably not MARTA). 80+ very long trains go through the Gulch daily, and routing additional passenger traffic through there would be complex.

    As for long distance buses, have you driven by the bus station? It could be its proximity to world famous Magic City as well as the city jail, but it is not an amenity for upscale development.Report

    Reply
  12. GTarch22 says:

    A new train station is a great idea – even if it’s downtown, the Doraville site is intriguing too. But a station at the Gulch could be a great anchor for downtown’s redevelopment.

    Please, please though let’s not make this thing try to look historic. History can be alluded to in many modern ways – you don’t need Corinthian capitals to have a building that speaks to the past. A new station should be energetic and also look towards our city’s future. Just two of many examples, look at Berlin’s hauptbanhoff or the modern interior of London’s St. Pancras station.

    There a plenty of contemporary architects who would be up for the task. Let’s not create a historicist interpretation of a long-gone structure.Report

    Reply

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