Proposed $6 million track a focus of debate over Decatur’s plan for former children’s home

By David Pendered

The ink is barely dry on Decatur’s “unified concept plan” for retooling the 77-acre site the city purchased from the United Methodist Children’s Home, and already there’s a lively online conversation about which aspects of the plan should developed first.

short term unified plan

Some Decatur residents would like to see a proposed $6 million competitive track appear on this short-term plan, rather than on the long-term plan. Credit: Kelly Jordan

The development plan envisions about $2 million in improvements such as roads and parking, creative village, farmers market, an arboretum and meadow, playgrounds, nature trail and cross-country running trail. The timeline is 5 years to 10 years.

The one long-term project – and the one sparking conversation – is a competitive track priced at $6 million and a related parking area priced at $245,000. The timeline is 15 years to 20 years.

According to a commenter named Myoakhurst8, who wrote on the website the city created for the project:

  • “With the exception of the track, all of these are ‘nice to have,’ but they fail to address Decatur’s critical need: outdoor recreation facilities. Let’s be realistic – would anyone really drive to UMCH for a farmer’s market and artist village? Those are downtown amenities. I’m saddened to see our tax dollars spent on redundant facilities.”

To which Angela F. Threadgill responded:

  • “With an estimated $6M price tag, the Track & Field and its associated parking, is considered a long-term project that requires significant funding partnerships.”

Prompting Myoakhurst8 to observe:

  • “$6M is bonkers, first of all, but I thought playing fields were in Phase 1.”

At which point Porcelainberry sought to provide historic context to the notion of Decatur serving as master planner and developer of the site that could have been sold for a mixed use development:

UMC children's home, 4

Decatur’s ‘unified concept plan’ for retooling the former United Methodist Children’s Home into a public facility includes plans to retain existing structures. File/Credit: Kelly Jordan

  • “Considering COD [City of Decatur] just paid $40 million to purchase the property, even a $500K project seems unrealistic to expect so abruptly. What I really don’t understand is the obsession with the track. … You don’t need an expensive track to go out and enjoy outdoor recreational activities. The property can be used for all those things NOW. You can run, walk, play soccer, walk your dog, throw a Frisbee, kayak, canoe, play basketball now as the property is. If you really want to run, you’ll run. You won’t need a $6 million track to do so.”

The “unified concept” sparking this conversation was crafted from community responses to three prior proposals. The latest version is still out for public comment to those who complete an online survey.

The UMCH board agreed in January 2017 to sell the property, located at 500 South Columbia Dr. It had served as a children’s home for 143 years. Before that, the home had operated for two years in Norcross.

The board describes the purpose of the sale as “unlocking resources” in order to meet current and future needs of UMCH clients.

The home had served about 240 individuals a day, John Cerniglia, then the vice president of philanthropic development for the UMC home, said in January 2017. Proceeds from the sale are to enable the home to serve an additional 63 individuals a day across an expanded territory, he said. Investment income from the proceeds will enable the home to serve about 300 persons a day in perpetuity, Cerniglia said.

 

unified concept plan

Decatur’s proposed ‘unified concept plan’ for retooling the site of the former United Methodist Children’s Home into a public facility seeks to build on public comments to three prior plans. Credit: Kelly Jordan

 

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The 77 acres that comprise the United Methodist Children’s Home is to become Decatur’s next public greenspace. File/ Credit: Kelly Jordan

 

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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