Enjoying the Atlanta Jazz Festival
Thousands of people gather on Sunday for the Atlanta Jazz Festival in Piedmont Park's meadow, a space that would have become a lake next to a sewage treatment plant (Photo by Maria Saporta.)

Seeing thousands of people enjoying the Atlanta Jazz Festival this weekend reminded me of the disaster that could have been.

Back in 1990, the city had plans to build a sewage treatment plant along 10th Street near Monroe Drive. The adjacent meadow would have been turned into “Georgia Lake.”

A 1990 plan called for this stretch of Piedmont Park along 10th Street to have been a multi-story sewage treatment plant (Photo by Maria Saporta.)

The City of Atlanta was under a court mandate to deal with its combined sewer overflow (CSO) system. The plan to turn the southeastern edge of Piedmont Park into a sewage treatment plant was convenient because the city already owned the land. The proposal was supported by the Piedmont Park Conservancy and powerful business and civic leaders.

But a group of environmentalists — led by my late father, I.E. “Ike” Saporta, and Bill Eisenhauer — could not imagine Atlanta’s signature park being turned into a sewage treatment plant.

Every weekend, Papa, Eisenhauer and scores of young environmentalists would gather signatures for a petition that called for Sewage Treatment Out of Park (STOP).

They collected thousands and thousands of signatures to kill the project.

Piedmont Park along 10th Street
People walk along 10th Street to go to Atlanta Jazz Festival along a stretch that would have been a sewage treatment plant. (Photo by Maria Saporta.)

Papa and Eisenhauer then asked for a meeting with then-Mayor Maynard Jackson to present him with the petitions. They told the mayor how shortsighted it was for the city to destroy its signature park with this misguided plan.

While they were still in his office, Jackson called the commissioner in charge and told him to put a stop to the project, which was already out for bid. Mayor Jackson spoke at my father’s memorial service, calling him the conscience of Atlanta.

Interestingly enough, Norman Koplon, the longtime head of Atlanta’s Bureau of Buildings, would tell me half-laughingly that my father had cost the city a lot of money. The city had to buy a parcel of land off Monroe Drive — just alongside the drive that goes to the parking garage — to build the sewage treatment plant.

The Sewage treatment plant is tucked out of sight as one enters the parking garage entrance from Monroe Drive. (Photo by Maria Saporta.)

The current site of the plant is tucked mostly out of public view. That elegant solution obviously was worth the extra cost, saving one of our city’s most valuable green spaces.

What’s the lesson? 

When looking for the best place to house a facility — be it a sewage treatment plant or a public safety training center — we should not limit our options to property the city already owns. We need to seek the best location without compromising our existing public spaces.

It’s hard to imagine a sewage or stormwater lake in Piedmont Park’s meadow, especially seeing how many people were able to enjoy the Jazz Festival in the meadow over the weekend as well as numerous other events throughout the year.

View of existing sewage treatment plant tucked away in a seldom visited parcel next to Piedmont Park. (Photo by Maria Saporta.)

That story had a happy ending. Others, not so much. 

As many SaportaReport readers know, I was against the building of the Atlanta Botanical Garden’s parking garage in the middle of Piedmont Park. I urged the city and the Garden to work with the community on alternatives that could have generated greater consensus.

All but one of the city’s Neighborhood Planning Units voted against the garage. As a way to circumvent the process, then-Mayor Shirley Franklin established a special task force that pushed through the garage. Also, a vicious legal battle between the Botanical Garden and Friends of Piedmont Park ended up silencing — and financially devastating — the very people who should have been part of constructive deliberations.

Feel free to draw whatever comparisons you would like to current disputes, be it the construction of “Cop City” or the Botanical Garden’s plan to build an invasive four-story storage unit facility on Monroe Drive right next to the main entrance to the Atlanta BeltLine, despite strong objections from the community. 

Motorized vehicles only
Pedestrians and cyclists are not allowed along the roadway in the middle of Piedmont Park. (Photo by Maria Saporta.)

We should always strive to make our city as good as it can be.

On that note, I strongly would recommend two refinements that would improve the presence of the parking garage in the middle of Piedmont Park.

Recommendation one: 

Do not exclude pedestrians from the roadway that leads to the garage. The Botanical Garden and the city should have included sidewalks along that drive, so people would not be forced to walk on the street among cars. It is bad form to restrict pedestrians from using a thoroughfare in our public park.

Adding sidewalks along that road would improve Piedmont Park and help remedy a design oversight made years ago.

Recommendation two: 

The Botanical Garden claimed that by building the garage into a hill, it was hardly seen by people using the park.

Improve ABG garage by removing top level
The entrance to Atlanta Botanical Garden’s parking garage shows the potential of the space without the top level of concrete. (Photo by Maria Saporta.)

Unfortunately, it built a level of the garage above the sight-line entrance into the Atlanta Botanical Garden. That extra level is rarely used, and it adds more unnecessary concrete to the garage and the view.

Imagine if the Garden were to remove the top level of the garage and turn the adjacent space into an open-air plaza with landscaping that could be used for special events overlooking the city.

Such a project would turn an eyesore into an amenity for the Atlanta Botanical Garden, the park and the city.

The top level of the ABG parking garage could be removed – creating an amazing public plaza space. (Photo by Maria Saporta.)

As the daughter of an architect and city planner, I am always looking for ways to improve our city’s urban design and public spaces. I’m a fervent believer in public participation. Input from a variety of voices can lead to greater consensus when we’re making major decisions facing our community. We can do a better job incorporating different viewpoints when working on constructive solutions. 

Mayor Franklin has often said the decisions we make today should contemplate where the city will be 50 years from now. Similarly, the seeds we plant today will provide shade from trees long after we’re gone. 

It’s been more than 30 years since Papa and his band of environmental activists (Eisenhauer is still at it) successfully killed a sewage treatment plant in Piedmont Park. Today that space is one of Atlanta’s most special places enjoyed by millions of people who may never know or appreciate the fight waged decades ago by activists wanting what’s best for our city.

As a city, let’s settle for nothing but the best.

A space with a view
Close up view of the garage shows the view of downtown buildings in background. (Photo by Maria Saporta.)
Roadway leading to ABG parking garage prohibits pedestrians and cyclists, but on May 13, people walked in the middle of the street to go to an event showing the need for sidewalks. (Video by Maria Saporta.)

Maria Saporta, executive editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state. From 2008 to 2020, she wrote weekly columns...

Join the Conversation


  1. Excellent article. I share your passion for protecting green space and local treasures like Piedmont Park. Thank goodness for people like your father who had the foresight and conscience to advocate for preserving the park. Keep up the good work Maria. Thanks for all you do. Atlanta needs you.

  2. Thank you for the history. I don’t know about the feasibility of the deck removal and extra amenity on top. Interesting that we’ve now seen the same pattern twice with Piedmont and Grant Park…protests over parking deck proposals, very well used decks that are much better use of space than surface lots and neighborhood overflow, and… top decks that end up vacant.

    Hopefully your feedback (and support) is added to the conversations about the redevelopment of Amsterdam Walk. The whole entrance street from Monroe seems likely to be redone and reconfigured in the project goes ahead. Adding a sidewalk would seemingly be the bare minimum.

  3. Great article…up until the Garden Parking Deck conclusion. It’s a genius solution that reduced surface parking (the lot just below the tennis courts and Magnolia Hall is now a field) and increased access to two public institutions and reduced demand for parking in our neighborhoods. The deck is all but covered in healthy, green growth and the Park continues to thrive. Recall that opposition to the Deck was tied to improvements to the Active Oval and Oak Hill…both of which are in far better shape than before.

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