Aerial view of the proposed Five Points MARTA station redesign showing the prominence of buses and bus bays encircling the station. (Special: MARTA's March 7 board presentation.)

By Maria Saporta

MARTA currently is planning to spend $259.4 million to rebuild the downtown Five Points station with more than $200 million coming out of the limited More MARTA revenue.

But key stakeholders are describing the redesign as “mediocre,” prioritizing buses rather than creating a lively, pedestrian-oriented downtown place that serves as MARTA’s crossroads for its east-west, north-south rail lines.

Former Atlanta Planning Commissioner Tim Keane, now planning director in Boise, Idaho, wasted few words about the proposed redesign.

“It’s horrific,” Keane said in a telephone interview on Sunday. “What’s being proposed for the Five Points MARTA Station right now should not be built. It’s better to do nothing than to do what MARTA is proposing.”

A rendering of the current proposal to redesign MARTA Five Points Station. (Special: MARTA.)

Keane is not alone in his criticism of the proposed redesign for the Five Points MARTA station.

A.J. Robinson, president of Central Atlanta Progress, sent a letter to Collie Greenwood, MARTA’s general manager on March 7, copying a host of city officials and MARTA board members, explicitly stating that “we are not supportive of the design that is currently being circulated.”

Also, Atlanta City Councilmembers Amir Farokhi and Jason Dozier sent a letter to Greenwood and Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens, voicing concerns with the proposed design because it is prioritizing buses rather than pedestrians.

“The design has seven on-street bus bays (four on Alabama Street and three on Forsyth Street),” the letter stated. “These on-street bus bays threaten the overall vibrancy and pedestrian-orientation of the area.”

In separate interviews with Robinson, Farokhi and Dozier, they each expressed that they continue to have concerns despite various communications with MARTA officials.

Another rendering of the proposed Five Points MARTA Station redesign. (Special: MARTA.)

Dozier did say that after meeting with MARTA officials, he felt better, “but I still am concerned about the bus bays.”

Robinson and Farohki, however, remained steadfast in their opposition to the proposal.

“You’re spending a lot of money creating this beautiful plaza with a new canopy, and now you’re ringing it with bus bays,” Robinson said. “We haven’t seen any evidence justifying that kind of prominence for buses.”

Farokhi took it a step further.

“To place the buses around the exterior of the property is not in line with a vibrant and safe street life in the center city,” Farokhi said. “This feels mediocre, and our ambition for Five Points should be world-class. We should take the time to get it right. Most of us at the city have world-class expectations for Atlanta, and we need MARTA to share those ambitions.”

Up until a year ago, MARTA was working with the city on a drastically different design for the Five Points station.

Keane was working with MARTA on a request for proposals on a design that would reconnect Broad Street as a city street, reinstating the original street grid.

“When the station was first built, it was like having a spaceship land in the middle of Broad Street,” Keane said. “It broke up the city’s street grid.”

Greenwood sent a letter on Monday to Farokhi and Dozier saying that MARTA has determined it “is not feasible” to restore the street grid because “it would require lowering the roof of the existing concourse level to a point that would be impractical for its current use” and that “fare gates and other services would need to be relocated at great expense.”

To that, Farokhi said MARTA’s “credibility is low” in light of recent public presentations about More MARTA.

As recently as late 2021, the city and MARTA were advancing this conceptual idea for the Five Points station redesign that would have reconnected Broad Street and set aside two sites for transit-oriented development. (Special.)

According to the 2021 RFP, two tracts on the south end of the Five Points station would be set aside for transit-oriented development (TOD), sites to spur economic development that could generate both new revenue and ridership for MARTA.

“There’s no station better suited for transit-oriented-development than the hub station,” Farokhi said.

The current plan does not identify sites for TOD at Five Points. One idea for TOD has been for MARTA to relocate its headquarters to the center of its system at Five Points. For decades, Robinson and others have urged MARTA to base its headquarters at Five Points rather than its current location at the Lindbergh Station in Buckhead.

For Keane, the question Atlanta should be asking is whether the Five Points investment will create a stronger and more vibrant city.

“What’s being proposed will actually diminish the quality of that space,” Keane said. “How can you spend hundreds of millions of dollars to create an inferior place?”

At its board meeting on March 9, MARTA officials stood firm with their plans to move forward on their proposed design – saying that if construction started in August, the project could be done by March 2026, in time for the World Cup. But Greenwood did temper that timeline by saying supply issues could delay that timetable.

To Farokhi and Robinson, that raises a red flag that the station could be under construction during the World Cup.

“My gut tells me this is a half measure, that we’re touching up the existing Five Points station for the World Cup,” Farokhi said. “Right now, this proposal does not reflect what we should build.”

Robinson agreed.

“Let’s not use the World Cup as a reason to spend so much money and not get it right,” Robinson said. “Let’s get it right.”

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...

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  1. 259.4 million to replace a cement roof with a glass one because they want to be open in time for the World Cup? Maybe they can add one of those serpentine pedestiran pridges like the one at the Mercedes Benz stadium to get past the bus bays. Seriously, though this is not something that needs to be or should be rushed.adding meaningful TOD and connectivity should be the priority.

  2. Why have bus bays at that location at all? Marta should build its headquarters over the station. Those 2 steps would go a long way to revitalizing that [part of town!

    1. MARTA is mainly a transit system of buses. I and lots of other Atlanta residents ride the bus to Five Point Station. Some like myself work downtown, others transfer to the train. We need a way to provide a great transit experience for bus riders downtown. However, the proposed ring of buses at ground level is not it.

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