West End and southwest Atlanta: Tweaking Northside Drive could spur growth in areas skipped by last boom
By David Pendered
The Georgia Tech study of Northside Drive offers some interesting prospects for the next chapter of Atlanta’s West End and other neighborhoods south of I-20.
The study offers a solution that it contends is a relatively easy way to reconnect West End with downtown Atlanta via Northside Drive. The solution resolves the impasse created by I-20.
The proposal is significant because, if implemented, it could prime southwest Atlanta for the next wave of intown redevelopment. Fort McPherson’s planned conversion to civilian uses could benefit from the improved access, as well.
Tech’s study suggests tinkering with the streets that jam together as they wind south from downtown, trying to feed either onto I-20 or south of I-20.
As the roadways now function, a collection of Y-shaped intersections result in unwary drivers being surprised at where they may emerge south of the highway. Fixing that isn’t a big deal, according to Michael Dobbins, a professor of practice at Georgia Tech who’s leading the study.
“To get to the West End business district from downtown Atlanta, as well as getting on I-20, proves to be not too hard a project,” Dobbins said.
“The bending of Northside Drive into Peters Street, into west Whitehall … completely eliminates the transit and transportation disconnect that exists on Northside Drive at its intersection with I-20,” Dobbins said. “That makes Northside a rational link to I-20, based on the frontage road. And it supports the idea of strengthening the multimodal concept at the West End MARTA station, to be a link to Cobb Community Transit.”
This connectivity is just what West End advocates were hoping for when they supported construction of I-20 along the northern fringe of their neighborhood. They backed construction of MARTA’s West End Station for the same reasons, according to West End’s application to the city for historic designation. The city granted the request in 1991.
The improved access did not translate to an economic bonanza for West End.
Now, West End civic leaders are working again to bolster the area.
The way Kay Wallace, a community organizer, describes the effort, all of southwest Atlanta would benefit from an improved West End – because West End is the gateway from southwest areas to the city proper.
“I call this area the nexus of Atlanta because of all the things that connect in West End [and] all the initiatives that could come together here,” Wallace said. “With some forward thinking, some urban planning, and a way of looking at the community not as rooftops and solely as Census data … there’s the perfect opportunity for the mayor, for Invest Atlanta, and for the current commercial property owners to get innovative and change the landscape.”
One project nearing completion is the formation of a community improvement district. CIDs enable property owners to agree to pay higher property taxes, and allocate the extra money for any number of improvements such as streetscapes, transit, green space, or security. The West End CID is to be the first CID in south Atlanta.
In another development, Mayor Kasim Reed told the West End Merchants Coalition in November that Atlanta will restore emergency service in the area. Fire Station No. 7 will not reopen as a full service fire station, but will provide emergency services to the community and I-20. The facility will provide meeting rooms for community groups.