A major development called “The Stitch,” aimed at reconnecting the city of Atlanta’s downtown connector, is looking for community feedback as designers start creating the project master plan.
Constructed in the 1940s and 1950s, the connector displaced and destroyed several communities in downtown Atlanta. The Stitch project leaders describe the remaining area as “disconnected” and hope to repair the damage with a massive civic infrastructure investment.
The key investment is a “cap” that will span the three-quarter mile space over the downtown connector between Ted Turner Drive and Piedmont Avenue. Functionally, the cap will connect both sides with 14 acres of green space, including parks, plazas and pedestrian-friendly streets.
The $713 million project is still in the early planning stages, led by a broad team of consultants and the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District. So far, city, state, and federal governments have committed $15 million in funding to the Stitch. The project will look to philanthropy and tax allocation for future funding as the plan is revised and costs are updated.
At a November 15 community workshop at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, residents were welcomed to see the first steps of planning for the Stitch and provide feedback directly to consultants.
The meeting broke down the Stitch into different goal areas, including affordable housing, mixed-use development, a reconnected street grid, affordable access to jobs and resources, a community-focused park, sustainability and a diverse community.
It’s the first step in an eight-month process of creating a holistic master plan for the project. Jack Cebe, the project’s development manager, said the goal is to gather big ideas and goals from people.
“This is our first big community engagement kickoff session, and this is hoping to set the stage,” Cebe said.
The November session will help the team see what needs to be adjusted on a broader scale so they can eventually refine it into a master plan in 2024.
Cebe said the group will be looking at everything from policy, funding, and operations to maintaining the Stitch once it’s completed and “making sure the park can succeed once it’s built.”
From then on, the Stitch will be opened up in phases. Phase one will open by mid-2030, phase two by mid-2033, and the final phase by the end of 2036.
Project designers hope the Stitch will have rippling effects beyond the scope of the project that will reinvigorate downtown Atlanta. Mary Margaret Jones, a landscape architect on the Stitch, said the space will create social, economic, and ecological change.
“It can be a place for all ages, and all the people who live around it and visitors who come to Atlanta, it can also be a catalyst for change,” Margaret Jones said. “Rebuilding a neighborhood around this area, creating not just the park itself but being something that inspires change around it.”
During the community feedback session, residents looked both within and beyond the scope of the Stitch. One suggested that urban designers encourage downtown restaurants to add patio seating and evoke a “European street feel.”
Other residents expressed skepticism about the plan. One man, an avid cyclist, said he was worried the plan didn’t do enough to make roads safer for bicycles and pedestrians.
Some residents, like Taylor Borden, expressed concern that the project would fall to the wayside without secure funding. He said other downtown revitalization efforts have been abandoned before, and the maintenance costs must be considered if the project does succeed.
Urban designers for the Stitch said they are “thinking of policy tools to safeguard against that.”
Josh Turner, an urban designer for the Stitch, said his team wants to hear about peoples’ needs and desires for the Stitch.
“This plan is absolutely driven by your input, by your feedback,” Turner said.
The community feedback meeting was the first piece of an ongoing effort to hear from Atlanta. The Stitch launched an online portal on the project website where people can share their dreams for the Stitch as well as feedback on each of the focus areas. The online engagement platform is open until Dec. 31, 2023.
Development manager Cebe said the effort doesn’t stop there, though.
“We’re working with the team to meet people where they are,” Cebe said.
He hopes to travel door-to-door and participate in some pop-up engagement sessions at local events and festivals. That way, he can gain as many perspectives as possible. Those perspectives will create a plan to add greenery, public spaces, and housing that Cebe said the city desperately needs.
“The Stitch isn’t a panacea for all the problems in downtown Atlanta, but I think it’s a big piece of it,” Cebe said.