Two Atlanta sites now open – BeltLine gateway and College Football HOF

By Maria Saporta

A few years ago, Atlanta’s du jour was “Every day is an opening day.”

Well this past week, the slogan actually could have been brought out of retirement.

Two major attractions — both quite different yet significant in their own right — opened this past week — the new Eastside Trail Gateway connecting the Atlanta BeltLine to Historic Fourth Ward Park and the new College Football Hall of Fame.

Ribbon cutting of Gateway on Eastside Trail (Photos by Maria Saporta)

Ribbon cutting of Gateway on Eastside Trail (Photos by Maria Saporta)

The Eastside Trail Gateway opened Friday morning as dignitaries braved the 90-degree heat to mark yet another milestone in the development of the Atlanta BeltLine — a project that continues to redefine the city.

Charlie Shufeldt, chairman of the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership, said that the effort has raised more than $50 million in private donations. From now on, Shufeldt said the plan is to raise money on a project-by-project basis, as opportunities present themselves.

Just 10 days ago, Ryan Gravel – the visionary godfather of the BeltLine — gave a talk at the 5th Annual Living Walls conference, which was holding a lecture series at the Center for Civil and Human Rights, itself an attraction that just opened a couple of months ago.

People gather for opening of Eastside Trail Gateway

People gather for opening of Eastside Trail Gateway

Gravel spoke about how he grew up in Chamblee — a suburban community that resembled those of so many others of his generation. But now the momentum is bringing people back to the city to a different lifestyle – one that is less dependent on the automobile and one that is friendlier to people on foot or on bicycles.

“My daughter’s world view will be shaped by the BeltLine as my view was shaped by I-285,” Gravel said. “What if we took the BeltLine to where it really needs to go? What if we owned it?”

As Gravel spoke, it reminded me of the original gateway connection between the BeltLine and Historic Fourth Ward Park. A few renegade BeltLine activists took it upon themselves to build steps on the steep slope that separating the former rail corridor from the new park.

Some of the first people walking along the Gateway

Some of the first people walking along the Gateway (see more photos below)

The steps, made out of wood and whatever materials could be found, were clearly a basic get-from-here-to-there endeavor. But they served a purpose.

But Atlanta BeltLine Inc. removed those handmade steps, saying they were not ADA (American Disabilities Act) compliant.

So on Friday a new fully-ADA compliant winding ramp weaving its way up the steep terrain was opened with the official ribbon-cutting. Bicyclists, pedestrians and people walking their dogs were quick to find the new way to access both the BeltLine and the park.

Dan Cathy stands in front of the new College Football Hall of Fame

Dan Cathy stands in front of the new College Football Hall of Fame

The opening of the College Football Hall of Fame had its own pizzazz as marching bands and cheerleaders helped get the crowd of eager first-time visitors in the mood for one of the nation’s favorite past-times.

Crowds started gathering at 9 a.m. on what was already turning out to be a very warm day. Coca-Cola was giving away free iced-cold drinks. Kia was showing off come of its latest cars. And Chick-fil-A, literally attached to the new Hall of Fame, was open and ready for business.

For Dan Cathy, CEO of Chick-fil-A and the largest corporate donor of the Hall of Fame, it was a day of celebration. Cathy, however, didn’t sit on the speaker’s platform. Instead that honor was given to Steve Robinson, the Chick-fil-A executive who was instrumental in putting the project together. Others on the platform included Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed; John Stephenson Jr., president and CEO of the Hall; Steve Hatchell, president and CEO of the National Football Foundation; and Bill Curry, who coached both Georgia Tech and Georgia State University football teams and who gave the invocation.

On the podium (left to right): Steve Hatchell; Mayor Kasim Reed; Steve Robinson and John Stephenson Jr. (standing)

On the podium (left to right): Steve Hatchell; Mayor Kasim Reed; Steve Robinson and John Stephenson Jr. (standing)

Several inductees to the College Football Hall of Fame also were present for the opening — sitting on a row below the podium. They included former Georgia Tech players Joe Hamilton and Randy Rhino; former University of California and Atlanta Falcons quarterback Steve Bartkowski; as well as University of Georgia players Bill Stanfill and Kevin Butler.

As soon as the $68.5 million attraction opened, people flowed in – predictably mesmerized by the multi-story wall of helmets from 767 schools that have college football teams.

Dan Cathy of Chick-fil-A and Mayor Kasim Reed at opening of College Football Hall of Fame

Dan Cathy of Chick-fil-A and Mayor Kasim Reed at opening of College Football Hall of Fame (more photos below)

For those who had registered their college on their ticket, the helmet from their school shined extra brightly – creating a colorful display of which fans were the first visitors to the Hall.

Although Hatchell and Stephenson had been quite careful about declaring Atlanta the capital of college football in the country because they wanted to show a sense of measured respect to other major centers, Mayor Reed had no such hesitation.

“The College Football Hall of Fame makes the City of Atlanta and the State of Georgia the center of college football in the United States,” Reed boasted. “The City of Atlanta is a city of dreamers and doers. Here we have another extraordinary attraction in our city.”

After the official opening, Reed was asked what would be the next opening in Atlanta’s future.

“I don’t know,” he laughed, before adding that first he needed to get some sleep.

A crowd gathers on the southern end of Historic Fourth Ward Park for Gateway opening

A crowd gathers on the southern end of Historic Fourth Ward Park for Gateway opening

ABL gateway 4

Mayor Kasim Reed says the BeltLine is one the most significant achievements in the past 50 years in Atlanta

Shows how the Gateway winds up the hill

Shows how the Gateway winds up the hill

Another view of the trail

Another view of the trail

Anna Foote with her dog experiencing the new connector

Anna Foote with her dog experiencing the new connector

The entrance to the Gateway connector from the BeltLine

The entrance to the Gateway connector from the BeltLine

Crowds gather in front of College Football HOF

Crowds gather in front of College Football HOF

Atlanta City Councilman Kwanza Hall with his wife, Natalie Hall. Dan Cathy in background

Atlanta City Councilman Kwanza Hall with his wife, Natalie Hall. Dan Cathy in background

The opening attracts wide media coverage

The opening attracts wide media coverage

Hall of Famers are cheered on by the crowd

Hall of Famers are cheered on by the crowd

Oh happy day. Opening of the Hall receives warm applause

Oh happy day. Opening of the Hall receives warm applause

And more applause

And more applause

Cheerleaders and marching bands make the opening more festive

Cheerleaders and marching bands make the opening more festive

Despite 90-degree temperature, warm hugs are shared by all

Despite 90-degree temperature, warm hugs are shared by all

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

What are your thoughts?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.