Sale of state’s transit site at Atlantic Station fuels interest in new Georgia Tech study of Northside Drive corridor

By David Pendered

Public interest in a fresh Georgia Tech study of the Northside Drive corridor in Midtown is being fueled by the proposed sale of state-owned land at Atlantic Station that was purchased as the site of a major transit station to serve northwest metro Atlanta.

SRTA land

The state now intends to sell this site along Northside Drive, located near Atlantic Station, that once was intended to be developed as a transit hub. Credit: David Pendered

The 6.5-acre site was put on the block by the State Road and Tollway Authority, according to several officials who spoke Monday. Gov. Nathan Deal serves as SRTA’s chair. SRTA bought the site when then-Gov. Roy Barnes envisioned it as a transfer hub for future buses to and from Cobb County, commuter rail service, and possibly an Amtrak station.

Tech’s study of Northside Drive may already have influenced city policy. Moments before preliminary results were presented Monday to a crowded room, Atlanta’s transportation planner, Josh Mello, announced the city has decided to include Northside Drive as a transit corridor in the soon-to-be-concluded update of the comprehensive transportation program, Connect Atlanta.

Tech’s study encompasses several significant land plays that could dramatically alter the fabric of Northside Drive:

  • The sale of the women’s softball field on the north side of Georgia Tech, overlooking Atlantic Station. The deal with a developer who plans to build a few hundred apartments is expected to close within two months, according to several speakers at the Monday event;
  • The new mini city to be built downtown near MARTA’S Five Points Station, the so-called Multi Modal Passenger Terminal to be built around an area called the Gulch;
  • The proposed football stadium;
  • The SRTA site, located on the IKEA side of Atlantic Station at the corner of Northside Drive and 17th Street.
Student presentation

Georgia Tech students present their ideas for retooling the intersection of Northside Drive and Hemphill Avenue. Credit: David Pendered

Discussions of all these potential developments unfolded in a scenario that typically generates scant public attention – a student studio in Tech’s School of City and Regional Planning.

The class is taught by Michael Dobbins, a Tech professor of practice and former Atlanta planning commissioner. Dobbins’ last Atlanta studio won state and national awards for its insights into redeveloping Fort McPherson.

Instead of attracting a handful of listeners, the presentation Monday attracted a crowd that included development lawyers, GRTA and GDOT staff officials, Clark Atlanta University representatives, civic leaders, and two state policy makers – Rep.-elect “Able” Mable Thomas (D-Atlanta), and Emory McClinton, who represents the Fifth District on the state transportation board.

McClinton and Dobbins have talked for more years than either cares to remember about retooling the section of Northside Drive from I-75 to I-20.

Dobbins describes Northside Drive in terms of its potential for reconnecting the city’s historic neighborhoods on the east and west sides of the central business district.

These communities have been separated by construction of the Downtown Connector and institutions such as the Georgia World Congress Center, Philips Arena, Georgia Dome – and the large parking structures built to accommodate passenger vehicles.

McClinton has tended to speak more forcefully about Northside Drive as a potential reliever for the traffic congestion that hounds the Downtown Connector. A revived Northside Drive also could be connected to I-20, which would ease gridlock near Turner Field while improving the economic viability of neighborhoods near a possible interchange.

 

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.

11 replies
  1. atlurbanist says:

    As for the section of Northside near Atlantic Station, I would really like to see a nice city park go somewhere in that zone. Something with a playground and a big field. Other than the pretty small greenspace around the little lake in AS, there’s no major park anywhere near the area stretching from AS over to White Provisions. Residents and visitors could make good use of one.Report

    Reply
    • TylerBlazer says:

      @atlurbanist I agree- I live in this area and know that some plans mentioned through the Beltline overlay/master plan for this area include the assumed removal of Tech Parkway and re-aligning the Northside Dr/Marietta Street intersection. This would allow space to create a public park in congruence with the Civil War marker/plaque that denotes the area where the City of Atlanta surrendered to Union forces.
       
      I just hope they do not assume to make Northside Drive a “freeway-like” corridor and improve pedestrian crossings/connections as it already seems to serve as a lobotomy of the neighborhoods as it currently exists. There’s a lot of interest in the area already given the current development, but I think some infrastructure/transportation/access/urban connection improvements would help to serve all the needs addressed in the article without making it a “reliever of traffic congestion” via a highway-style design.Report

      Reply
  2. writes_of_weigh says:

    Hopefully, recent revenue increases(tax intake) at the state can all be directed to Norfolk Southern, so that they won’t have to go begging for money to build a replacement  Brookwood(Peachtree) Amtrak depot (Amtrak can’t afford it) here or at the gulch area MMPT(whenever it may be envisioned/constructed).  Remember, the current Amtrak station rests on Norfolk Southern freight train weakened “footings” which some contend may cause a collapse of the facility, unless expensively remedied sooner rather than later. As to the “vision” of either Governors Barnes or Deal, which must have occurred during some bizarre sweat lodge ritual, or perhaps a transportation seance(crystal ball not included, presumably), I predict, that if Carter ever develops this site for any type of Amtrak related rail service, the wailing and gnashing of teeth which will occur once it is discovered that the facility can NEVER be used by say Macon-Atlanta commuter rail services or Clayton or Rockdale county connected commuter trains, simply because such trains would REQUIRE either a reverse move(Amtrak policy, nationwide, has been to prohibit reverse moves into terminals/stations/depots due to safety considerations) from/to Howell Jct.(about half a mile west of this site) or purchase of more expensive cab-control commuter cars or additional motive power(locomotives) for dual operational direction of the train, and red faces aplenty. What a shame that these “facts” weren’t taken into consideration when these visions(nightmares?) were occurring and your tax dollars were being tossed around for such property purchases(you know, to solve the transportation mess created during and across several governors terms). Otherwise, to construct even a “temporary” Amtrak station at this site, for the current Crescent service, and with slim chance that Atlanta-Gwinnett-Gainesville commuter trains or Atlanta-Athens-Charlotte H-S-R will ever utilize this proposed Greyhound/bus/Amtrak facility, constitutes sheer flim-flammery in the name transportation solutions, at it’s worst. But, all the consultants, and transportation professionals knew this already. Right. Sure wish I could tap into the e-mail stream right now. Oh, that’s right. I can. That, too, is for sale, at the right price. Best of luck, GOV. Next.Report

    Reply
    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

      @writes_of_weigh
       You make some excellent points.  Though, when it comes to trying to find money to build multimodal transit stations, like a replacement for the aging, but historic Brookwood Station and a brand new Multimodal Passenger Terminal at/near Five Points in Downtown Atlanta, the state and all concerned parties might do well to look to the private investment markets for the financing required to properly and fully fund the amount of infrastructure that is needed.
      Going to the private markets for funding will help get the needed transportation infrastructure built much quicker than a sole dependence upon public funding and tax revenues, which are both financially and politically limited in their availability.
       
      It is also quite possible that that current site of the aging, but historic Brookwood Station would (and should) remain in use (after being remodeled, upgraded and expanded, of course) under a scenario where high-frequency passenger rail transit service is implemented on the Norfolk Southern right-of-way that goes through it as the current site of the Brookwood Station is located immediately next to Peachtree Street, the most-famous, most highly-visible and most well-known (and most-important?) individual surface thoroughfare in the entire Metro Atlanta region and the State of Georgia. 
       
      You also make an excellent point that the proposed multimodal transit station site at Atlantic Station will be incompatible for use by future commuter trains traveling between the proposed MMPT at Five Points and Rockdale County and points beyond in the I-20 East Corridor.
      But the proposed multimodal station at Atlantic Station may not necessarily be incompatible for use by future commuter trains traveling between Atlanta and points south Macon, Columbus, Auburn, AL, etc) if future commuter trains traveling north from Macon travel THROUGH the area of the proposed MMPT in Downtown Atlanta and continue traveling north to major job centers on the northside of the Metro Atlanta region (major job centers at Buckhead, Perimeter/Dunwoody, Alpharetta/North Fulton, Norcross) instead of terminating at the MMPT Downtown.
       
      Also, seeing as though the site of the proposed multimodal station at Atlantic Station also lies on a route that was once bandied about for a proposed extension of MARTA from the Arts Center Station out to Cumberland Mall and beyond in Cobb County (out to the historic Marietta Town Square, if I am correct), it is also highly-conceivable that the proposed multimodal station at Atlantic Station could also be a stop on for future heavy rail passenger trains traveling between Midtown and Cobb County.
       
      Also, the concerns of Amtrak (or whatever is the future equivalent of Amtrak) and/or high-speed intercity trains traveling between New York and New Orleans and vice-versa having to make reverse moves into and out of the proposed MMPT in Downtown Atlanta may become insignificant if the proposed MMPT becomes the major passenger hub for the Southeastern U.S. that some expect to eventually become as it would become a major layover hub on par with major multimodal facilities in other major cities like Chicago (Union Station), Washington DC (Union Station) and New York (Grand Central Station and Penn Station) in which intercity trains always drive in with locomotives (or lead trains) on both ends in which conductors drive into the major layover stop in a lead railcar on one end of the train, deboard the lead railcar/locomotive, layover for several minutes and board and drive out on a lead railcar/locomotive car at the other end of train (a changeover for intercity train conductors between lead railcars at one end of the train to the other end).
       
      The presence of a new major station and major layover point in the form of the future MMPT at Five Points would make Downtown Atlanta a major layover point and hub in the way that Chicago’s Union Station is in the Upper Midwestern U.S. and Washington DC’s Union Station and New York’s Grand Central and Penn stations are in the Northeastern U.S.
      The presence of Atlanta as a major passenger rail/multimodal hub that is the Southeastern United States’ equivalent to New York’s Grand Central and Penn stations would mean that the current Amtrak Crescent intercity train line would likely be broken up into two smaller segments between New Orleans and Atlanta and between Atlanta and New York, likely effectively splitting the current Crescent route into two halves.
       
      Also, seeing as though the Atlantic Station area is a notable site for much dense retail, commercial and residential development, it would, at this point be highly likely that the proposed multimodal station at Atlantic Station would be a major stop on future regional commuter trains traveling between Atlanta (preferably, the Atlanta Airport) and Gainesville and Atlanta and Athens.
      Though as you alluded to, it would be possibly be less likely, but by no means out of the realm-of-possibility that Atlantic Station would become a major stop on any future intercity train service between New Orleans and New York or on any future intercity high-speed rail service between Atlanta and New York (by way of Charlotte, DC and Philly).
       
      Also, with the increasing lack-of-interest in wide-scale road expansion across the Atlanta region, it is quite likely that the train lines proposed to run through the future multimodal station at Atlantic Station that are now currently proposed to be regional commuter rail lines will likely at some point carry heavy rail-type passenger rail service between Atlanta and Gainesville, Atlanta and Athens, points south of Atlanta (Auburn, AL; Columbus; Macon) and the major job centers in North Metro Atlanta (Buckhead, Perimeter, Alpharetta, Norcross). especially when the increasing density of population and development in North Metro Atlanta along the rail right-of-ways in question (the Norfolk Southern railroad right-of-way between Atlanta and Gainesville and the CSX/Seaboard Airline railroad right-of-way between Atlanta and Athens) is figured into the logistical equation over the long-term.Report

      Reply

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