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Commentary: Sprucing up park honors Atlanta Olympic history

Original story by Maria Saporta on WABE

Centennial Olympic Park water feature (photo: Britton Edwards)

Centennial Olympic Park water feature (photo: Britton Edwards)

The Robert W. Woodruff Foundation has awarded $10 million towards the rejuvenation of Centennial Olympic Park. A $25 million fundraising campaign to improve the park will launch in January, 2016 ─ all in an effort to mark the 20th anniversary of Atlanta’s hosting the 1996 Summer Olympic Games.

It’s hard to believe that 20 years ago, Centennial Olympic Park replaced acres and acres of parking lots and vacant industrial buildings.

The park, the most significant legacy from the Olympics, has become a new front door for Atlanta.

The park’s owner, the Georgia World Congress Center, wants to reinvest and refresh the green space that has transformed downtown Atlanta.

The $25 million  campaign includes the acquisition and demolition of the metro Atlanta chamber building and turning that into green space.

It also will create a new special events space and a new park’s maintenance facility next to the aquarium. Major entrances to the park will be more welcoming to visitors and residents. The amphitheater will be upgraded and expanded with a band shell, a stage and additional seating.

And perhaps most symbolic of all ─ Andrew Young International Boulevard will become a pedestrian plaza, connecting the Fountain of the Rings with the rest of the park all on one level.

The public will have a new opportunity to buy commemorative bricks that will be placed in the plaza’s pavement.

Ideally, the Georgia World Congress Center and the Atlanta business and philanthropic community will take this opportunity to highlight Atlanta’s Olympic legacy.

The Olympic exhibit could be moved to the park.  The flags of all nations that have hosted the Olympics since 1896 could decorate the green space.  And plaques could be placed around the park, informing people of the role the games played in Atlanta’s history.

Let’s be bold and creative as we begin to spruce up Atlanta’s front lawn.

Music Midtown Hozier

Commentary: Piedmont Park is being ‘loved to death’

Original Story on WABE by Maria Saporta

The 2015 Music Midtown just wrapped up Sept. 20 in Piedmont Park ─ the fifth time the music festival has been held in Atlanta’s signature park. Every year, Music Midtown and the surrounding neighborhoods struggle over a myriad of issues ─ from lanes being shut down to the area of the park being closed off before, during and after the festival.

True confessions: I love Music Midtown.

Music Midtown Hozier

Crowds listen to Hozier on Friday – with “Super VIP” area in background (Photo by Maria Saporta)

I have been to every Music Midtown since it began at 10th and Peachtree in 1994. It was such a disappointment when Music Midtown disappeared between 2006 and 2010 ─ leaving Atlanta without a signature music festival.

In 2011, Peter Conlon of Live Nation, announced he was bringing Music Midtown back to Piedmont Park.

Since then, crowds have grown from 35,000 people in 2010 to roughly 125,000 by 2013 – and Music Midtown expanded to three stages over two days

Festival-goers were not deterred in 2013 by a severe downpour that left the normally green meadow a mixture of mud and trash. Sections of Piedmont Park were closed for months as the grounds were restored and the grass took root.

The last two years, the weather has been near perfect. This year, the traffic flowed much smoother than in the past. Despite having four stages, the festival felt less crowded than previous years.

Conlon attributed it to the closure of 10th Street, having more police and learning how to improve it every year. But he did not share attendance figures or talk about what it might mean for Music Midtown in 2016.

Music Midtown - Panic

People listen to Panic at the Disco on Saturday at the Belk Stage (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Music Midtown is a lightning rod in some communities surrounding Piedmont Park. Maybe people resent having a gated, ticketed event that benefits Live Nation rather than Piedmont Park.

Some folks may have a “not in my backyard” attitude. But as someone who has lived within two blocks of Piedmont Park for more than 30 years, I can tell you Music Midtown can’t solely be blamed for stress on park grounds.

The city of Atlanta has allowed so many event permits in Piedmont Park, our special oasis of green often turns into a special events space where cars and trucks are supposed to be prohibited.

At one time, the city and Piedmont Park Conservancy had a strict policy to limit the number of events in the park because it was “being loved to death.”

We have beautiful parks throughout the city that can be used for events ─ and the city should invite organizers to try alternative spaces. We also need to ensure all funds from permit fees go directly into park maintenance and not into the general fund.

Sadly, we have few options to host mega festivals in Atlanta. So we’re left having to shoehorn Music Midtown into our precious and overused Piedmont Park.

Atlanta says, ‘We did drop the ball’ by skipping residents’ input in parks contract to oversee recreation center

A controversy over the management of an Atlanta recreation center illustrates the types of problems that can emerge when city departments function with an interim commissioner.

Some residents of East Atlanta are irate that the city didn’t contact them before moving ahead with a plan to extend a lease with East Atlanta Kids Club, Inc. to operate the recreation center at Brownwood Park.

The proposal was skating through City Hall until Atlanta City Councilmember Natalyn Archbong asked that it be tabled at the Sept. 15 meeting. Since then, Mayor Kasim Reed has nominated a parks commissioner, and the proposal regarding Brownwood Park is up for discussion at Monday’s city council meeting.

Adams Park in southwest Atlanta listed on National Registry of Historic Places for landscape, stonework

A portion of Adams Park, in southwest Atlanta, has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places in recognition of attributes including its landscape design and stonework.

The recognition is a reminder of the efforts underway in many of the city parks, in addition to headline-grabbing initiatives such as the Atlanta BeltLine and Buckhead Trail.

The Adams Park designation is the result of work by the Adams Park Foundation on behalf of a park that – like Chastain Memorial Park, in Buckhead – was originally intended to attract residents to the region by offering first-class recreational amenities. The same landscape company worked on Chastain and Adams parks.