Commentary: Reopening of the Children's Museum of Atlanta

Original Story on WABE by Maria Saporta

The Children’s Museum of Atlanta reopened Dec. 12 after being closed for several months to undergo an extensive renovation and expansion.

The Children's Museum in downtown Atlanta recently reopened after closing for extensive renovations.

The Children’s Museum in downtown Atlanta recently reopened after closing for extensive renovations.

When the Children’s Museum opened in 2003 across from Centennial Olympic Park, it was the only attraction in that area of downtown Atlanta.

Soon it was joined by the Georgia Aquarium, the World of Coke, the Center for Civil and Human Rights and the College Football Hall of Fame.

But after a decade in business, the leaders of the Children’s Museum felt their attraction needed to be refreshed. So they took a fresh look. Were they in the right location? Were they serving the right ages: children ages 8 and under?  Did they have the right exhibits? Were they big enough?

The answer to most of those questions: “yes.” But they also recognized they needed to expand and offer more opportunities to learn Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math through play. So they raised more than $8 million to add a mezzanine level.

The Children’s Museum has just reopened. The centerpiece is called the “Gateway to the World.” It is a blue globe where children can climb up inside and actually spin the Earth.

A farm-to-table exhibit shows how food is grown, harvested, shipped and delivered to a Waffle House-type diner.

There’s a sand table where children can create different landscapes and, through special effects, see how that impacts the environment.

Children’s Museum CEO Jane Turner says it is all about innovation and giving children opportunities to solve problems. Studies have shown that play sparks a child’s creativity.

The Museum also reinforces downtown Atlanta’s role as a place for people of all ages to come visit and enjoy. Now the area around Centennial Olympic Park has a variety of attractions bringing new life to the heart of the city.

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.

Atlanta vying for more federal funds to extend Streetcar line

The city of Atlanta is vying for a federal grant to help it extend its streetcar route to the BeltLine.  Credit Alison Guillory / WABE

The city of Atlanta is vying for a federal grant to help it extend its streetcar route to the BeltLine.
Credit Alison Guillory / WABE

The city of Atlanta is applying for a $29.3 million federal TIGER 7 grant to extend the Atlanta Streetcar to the BeltLine. Although Atlanta will be facing tough competition for those federal dollars, city leaders believe they have a good case.

The city has been pretty successful in getting funding from the Obama administration. It received $47 million for the first phase of the Atlanta Streetcar, which started operating Dec. 31.

Now the city hopes it will succeed again.

Mayor Kasim Reed has been focused on extending the streetcar line from its current last stop at Ebenezer Baptist Church in the King Historic District to the Eastside Trail of the Atlanta BeltLine near the Krog Street Market.

The 1.8 mile-streetcar-loop would connect the popular tourist destination of Centennial Olympic Park with the transformative BeltLine, a redevelopment corridor that is gaining national notoriety. The extended line will cost a total of $65.4 million and will include two new streetcars, three new station stops and a new power substation.

It also would continue Atlanta’s investment in its streetcar network, which today is limited at best.

Michael Geisler, the city’s chief operating officer, said the vision is to have a 50-mile streetcar system connecting the key areas of Atlanta. But such a vision will have to be built mile by mile.

Critics will argue that investing in the streetcar does little to solve Atlanta’s transportation challenges and that it costs too much for too few riders.

But streetcars could be viewed as only one part of the city’s transportation ecosystem. They can play a key role in providing residents, workers and tourists options to travel in the city — be it on foot, on a bicycle, on a bus or a MARTA train. Streetcars contribute to a walkable city, where one can easily hop on or off, and experience the town in a most personal way.

Streetcars are not just about transportation. They are about a way of life. That’s why there has been an investment of nearly $850 million in development along the streetcar corridor since the route was announced in 2010. And that investment shows no signs of slowing.

The federal government will announce the winner of the TIGER 7 grants in October. If Atlanta were to be a winner again, the more we would be able to show how a streetcar system can transform a city. It’s already happening. We just need more.