A $100 million plan to expand Atlanta’s Piedmont Park is moving forward despite concerns over the source of funding and some misgivings about the project being prioritized over other infrastructure needs.
On Friday, the city of Atlanta closed on its portion of the plan — the $20.3 million purchase of 2.94 acres of land at the intersection of Piedmont Avenue and Monroe Drive as part of the project.
Former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed announced the expansion on his last working day in office on December 29, saying the project would “lift the curtain” on the park and the Atlanta Botanical Garden, and had the support of incoming Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.
At 185 acres, Atlanta’s premier urban park is dwarfed in size by other inner-city parks. Chicago’s Lincoln Park, for example, is more than 1,200 acres. The additional green space that the city purchased won’t add much to Piedmont’s overall size, but removing the buildings that buffer the park’s northern edge will provide another entry point to the city’s small but cherished outdoor space.
The council voted 13-1 on Monday in favor of an ordinance authorizing the initial purchase of land for the expansion.
Councilwoman Natalyn Archibong provided the lone dissenting vote.
“If we had a two-part question, do you support the concept and the expansion of Piedmont at Piedmont and Monroe, I would say absolutely yes,” Archibong said. “I’m uncomfortable with the funding sources.”
About half of the city’s $20.3 million comes from a special purpose transportation sales tax. The Beltline Inc. is providing $5 million. Another $5.5 million will come from the park’s department.
The property is currently operated as a retail development with commercial leases that generate income. The city will collect the rents to offset the land purchase until the leases expire. Then it will be developed into “pedestrian trails and trail connections and green-way access to the BeltLine,” according to the ordinance the council passed Monday.
The Beltline consists of re-purposed vacated railroad corridors that encircle the city and when completed will connect 45 in-town neighborhoods via a 22-mile main path and 11 additional miles of spur trails.
The ordinance does not say how much time is left on the leases, but overall the expansion has a long way to go.
The city expects that the remaining $80 million will come from the philanthropic community. Carol Tomé, chair of the Atlanta Botanical Garden’s board of directors and chief financial officer of Home Depot, is leading that effort.
The city also hopes to alleviate the concerns of residents in nearby communities who have lit up neighborhood forums with questions about the expansion.
Coralee Kight, who lives a couple hundred feet away from the park’s eastern side, called the expansion “a real travesty of priorities” and said she was concerned that some funding comes from the special transportation sales tax.
“We have terrible traffic issues and that money really should be used to solve traffic problems,” Kight said.
The special transportation sales tax, known by the acronym T-SPLOST, was originally billed as a funding source for multiuse trails that connect to the Beltline, among other things.
Initial renderings for the expansion depict modern buildings, what appears to be an outdoor theater with tiered grass seating and winding sidewalks that traverse a creek.
Kay Stephenson, also a nearby resident, was troubled by how the deal came about.
“As happens too often in our city, this deal was put together by Mayor Reed with no community input and without regard to any of the planning documents which have been developed in recent years,” she said. “City council compounded that problem by rushing legislation, again missing the opportunity for public feedback.”
A statement from Mayor Bottom’s administration on Friday pledged that the parks department would host a series of community meetings to incorporate public feedback into the park expansion and design of the pedestrian trails and access to the Beltline.
How Piedmont Park compares in size to other parks in major cities:
Atlanta’s Piedmont Park — 185 acres
New York’s Central Park — 840 acres
Chicago’s Lincoln Park — 1,208 acres
New Orleans’ City Park — 1,300 acres
St. Louis Forest Park — 1,300 acres
Source: city information and park websites