Work begins on new Downtown master plan

March 24,2017

Source: Amy Wenk, Atlanta Business Chronicle

A new master plan is unfolding for downtown Atlanta just as more people move back to the city’s core and major new projects pop up, including Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Central Atlanta Progress (CAP) and the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District have kicked off the process, with the goal of completing a plan this fall before a new mayor is elected.

It’s been about 14 years since the last master plan, Imagine Downtown.

“We’ve had so many changes downtown,” said A.J. Robinson, president of CAP. “Everything that was talked about in that plan in terms of development has happened. We are becoming a much more livable, walkable, 24/7 environment.”

In fact, since the last plan, there’s been around $4 billion in new real estate development, said Jennifer Ball, vice president of planning and economic development for CAP. There’s also been the addition of the Atlanta Streetcar, Atlanta Beltline, park enhancements and new bike lanes.

“The momentum is continuing, and there’s new money for infrastructure,” Ball said. “It’s really the ideal time to step back and think about all these things.”

Among the big ideas that could be included in the plan is “The Stitch,” which would cap the Downtown Connector with a three-fourth-mile platform from the Civic Center MARTA station to Piedmont Avenue. It’s an ambitious project that could cost around $300 million.

“The Stitch is definitely on our planning map,” Robinson said.

CAP looks soon to put out a request for proposals to hire a project manager to oversee the plan, Ball said.

“We’ve dedicated some funding to help fund the next phase of due diligence — engineering, design,” Ball said, which is around $500,000. “Everyone acknowledges the Connector is not the best part of downtown.”

Another focus of the master plan could be to connect large redevelopment projects including the former Turner Field, Underground Atlanta and the Atlanta Civic Center. “How do they not exist in silos?” Ball said.

The master plan could also help define future Streetcar and Beltline routes.

Areas of downtown such as Memorial Drive, which has seen a surge of new development in recent years, could have more focus in the new master plan, she added. The area around Mercedes-Benz Stadium also is of high interest.

The plan could suggest ways to support the arts community, especially in south downtown where there’s a collection of creative organizations such as Eyedrum Art & Music Gallery. Some of those groups have felt threatened by the plans to redevelop Underground Atlanta.

Ball said she’s heard lots of comments about bringing more housing, restaurants and entertainment to downtown.

The study area is about four square miles, bordered to the north by North Avenue, south to Interstate-20, east to Boulevard, and west to Northside Drive.

Philadelphia-based urban design firm Interface Studio LLC is the lead consultant on the master plan, working with Stoss Landscape Urbanism and Kimley-Horn and Associates LLC.

At an open house on March 21, there seemed to be a lot of support for more pedestrian-friendly streets, a multi-modal passenger terminal, pop-up markets at MARTA stations, and even a trail network underneath the Connector.

“One of the main priorities is basic infrastructure improvements, especially regarding sidewalks and streetscaping,” said Joe Stewardson, president of the Old Fourth Ward Business Association. “I think that’s low-hanging fruit. I think the city — now with the TSPLOST and the [infrastructure] bond — has the opportunity to address these things.”