Exploring the Beltline’s downtown Connector corridor and what it could mean for Atlanta

Recently acquired “critical link” aims to open Beltline and downtown access for English Avenue, Bankhead, beyond

It’sIt’s a drizzly afternoon at a place most Atlantans have never been: an elevated, abandoned railroad corridor directly west of Bank of America Plaza, the city’s tallest building. Given the corridor’s narrow width, height above neighborhood streets, and skyline views across rooftops and graffiti-strewn warehouses, it feels a bit like New York City’s High Line, in some nascent early phase before the tourist influx.

Closer to the corridor than Midtown sky-rises, however, are scenes indicative of economic activity (and disparity) most Atlantans are very familiar with. Along Northside Drive, a 12-acre, mixed-income redevelopment of Herndon Homes led by Atlanta Housing Authority looks like a rolling pasture of red clay; it’s meant to be a catalyst for future development but also a beacon of diversity. Meanwhile, even closer, the exterior wall of a film production studio is being enlivened with a Greg Mike mural, in collaboration with Porsche.

It’s the disparate forces of a changing Atlanta commingling, and this railroad corridor—a future Atlanta Beltline link that leaders call crucial—is right in the middle of it.

In February, Beltline officials announced they’d closed a deal with church-led Bethursday Development Corporation to use $5.1 million in TSPLOST dollars and acquire a former rail segment described as a “major piece” and “critical link” to the grand scheme of multi-use trails across Atlanta.


The dotted blue line shows the most recently purchased path area. The bold purple section represents the “kudzu line” and a planned Beltline section branching north.

Atlanta Beltline Inc.

Stretching three-quarters of a mile, the corridor had been owned by several religious groups and colloquially known as the “church line.” It starts where Northside Drive meets Joseph E. Boone Boulevard, across the street from the Georgia World Congress Center.

From there, it extends northwest to Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway, through an area with an unsavory, drug-addled reputation known as “the Bluff,” before linking with another nicknamed segment: the 1.8-mile “kudzu line,” which will eventually be incorporated as part of the Beltline’s Westside Trail.

If that’s confusing, take heart in knowing the pastiche of trail monikers is going away soon.


A closer look at the kudzu line (in blue), which was purchased by the Beltline for $6.3 million in August, and the planned mainline Beltline it would link to.

Atlanta Beltline Inc.

The entire three-mile trail will be known as the Westside Beltline Connector. And it will allow anyone at, say, Centennial Olympic Park to bicycle, ride e-scooters, jog, or simply walk from downtown, via protected lanes, to the mainline Beltline and under-construction Westside Park at Bellwood Quarry, planned to be the city’s largest green space.

More importantly, project leaders say, the collaboration between the Beltline and PATH Foundation will lend transportation options and trail connectivity to neighborhoods—namely English Avenue, Bankhead, Knight Park, and Howell Station—that have thus far been largely cut off.

“You talk to folks in English Avenue and Vine City, and they feel a little disconnected to the Beltline, because they’re not neighborhoods that are right on it,” says Beltline spokeswoman Jenny Odom. “This will connect them into the Beltline, very directly.”

When the latest corridor purchase was announced in February, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottom described it as helping pave the way “for a more unified and accessible Atlanta.” We recently ventured with project officials into the swampy corridor, following a string of stormy days, for a firsthand look at how this unification vision might play out.


“We’re going to make this trail a showstopper,” predicts PATH Foundation executive director Ed McBrayer. “I hope the Westside is ready to get something really cool.”

As they have with projects spanning from Proctor Creek to the wildly popular Eastside Trail, PATH is collaborating with the Beltline to make the Connector piece a reality. McBrayer describes it as a means of traveling paved trails and bike lanes from around Ponce City Market and points east to downtown, the Westside, and potentially all the way to the Silver Comet Trail.

Along the way, the Connector trail will bisect English Avenue, which the New York Times described in 2017 as one of the poorest neighborhoods in the Southeast, where roughly 40 percent of residents were living in poverty. Alongside neighboring Vine City, police data showed English Avenue as being the city’s most high-crime area for years, in terms of calls for assistance and violent offenses; but since 2016, crimes across all categories have plunged by more than 40 percent, thanks to the installation of surveillance cameras, homes reserved for officers, and the broader philanthropic efforts of groups such as the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation and Quest, according to the Atlanta Police Foundation.

But despite a retention strategy—including an Anti-Displacement Tax Relief Fund for homeowners that launched in 2017—the area’s population continues to dip, and just 17 percent of residents in the broader Westside are homeowners, as officials told Curbed Atlanta earlier this year.

In places, the Connector piece provides the flipside view of Atlanta than what Eastside Trail patrons see: landmarks such as Westin Peachtree Plaza and the Coca-Cola Headquarters sweep off to Atlantic Station’s high-rises at left. From a socioeconomic standpoint, a place like English Avenue might be the flipside of tony neighborhoods such as Virginia-Highland, but that doesn’t mean residents won’t have a voice, as project leaders stress. McBrayer says community feedback in forthcoming meetings, likely beginning with NPU-L this month, will dictate what the trail becomes and how it’s used.

“We’re already done the survey, gotten it back, and we’re going to propose an alignment with illustrations and seek neighborhood feedback,” McBrayer says. “If they want a connection to a particular street, then we’ll try to work that in. If they don’t want railing on a particular overlook, then we can change.

“We want to assimilate into the neighborhood as best we can,” he adds. “There will be plenty of places to get on the trail, and it’ll become an integral part of the neighborhood.”


PATH has recently installed a cycle track leading out of downtown on Marietta Boulevard and, two years ago, bike lanes that span over Ivan Allen Jr. Boulevard.

Where those meet Northside Drive is where the new Connector segment will begin.

Next, an existing tree-lined park space across Northside Drive from the GWCC could act as a respite for trail patrons.

Renderings for the Connector trail’s southernmost beginnings are too tentative to publicly share, but plans generally call for the path to boomerang around these GWCC beehives (below) and then bridge over Joseph E. Boone Boulevard, the gateway to Vine City.

Due to the proximity of a substation and transmission lines next door, Georgia Power has to sign off on trail plans here, and that process is ongoing, says Stacey Patton, the Beltline’s vice president of real estate.

A complete streets makeover is underway on Joesph E. Boone Boulevard, a couple of blocks east of the forthcoming, $45 million Rodney Cook Sr. Park.

The abandoned railroad corridor is visible at right (below), and a new trail bridge planned to cross over this street will have to meet higher clearance standards than one demolished years ago.

“The pedestrian bridge we’re going to be building will have extraordinary views of downtown,” says McBrayer. “And we’re going to have a plaza up on the hump, if you will, where everybody’s going to be taking photos of downtown and everything. It’s unobstructed views from the Westside.”

Next is a view from Jones Avenue, looking back toward Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Engineers are assessing now whether this bridge—and another three blocks north at Jett Street—can be refurbished and reused.

The railroad spur, when active, serviced industrial properties on both sides of the corridor. This section has been dormant for two decades, says Patton.

The bridge over Jones Avenue, from below, as the trail heads toward Meldrum Street.

Next the trail will dip back to street-grade and cut behind the Northside Village Apartments, which face Northside Drive. Plans call for widening an existing sidewalk and slinking behind the building here.

Beyond the apartments, the trail corridor rises again, where work to clear trash—including more than 300 tires to date—and vegetated debris is ongoing.

“It is so sweet,” says Patton of the views from this vantage. “One of the nicest [Beltline] elevations.”

At Jett Street, as seen from the sidewalk below, is the second old railroad bridge undergoing an engineering analysis.

Beyond that is a bridge-less section over Cameron Madison Alexander Boulevard—the second of three elevated gaps where bridges will have to be rebuilt, all still in design. PATH’s McBrayer downplays bridge construction as being any sort of significant hurdle.

“We’re on about our 80th bridge,” he says. “Bridges are no big deal.”

Over a lost section of Meldrum Street, where a campsite has replaced vehicle traffic, another gap is visible.

Beyond this point, the Connector trail will swoop down to ground level again and remain there, via more recently decommissioned railroad lines, until reaching the future mainline Beltline.

The cleared corridor, as seen from North Avenue, looking toward Travis Street, is no longer elevated.

Abutting the trail is Grace Midtown, one of six churches along the trail, where a renovation that installed picturesque outdoor seating areas is expected to wrap in coming weeks.

Just across Travis Street from the church, with a side lot fronting the trail, is rapper T.I.’s newly opened Trap Music Museum and Escape Room, where weekend entry lines sometimes span the block.

Continuing northwestward on the trail, the Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway bridge is reflected in puddles along the corridor.

Beltline officials provided this image and rendering depicting how the trail and adjacent properties could look at Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway.

Tentative plans for the Westside Beltline Connector as it would pass under Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway. [Images courtesy of Atlanta Beltline Inc.] A photo of a worn-down building bordered by a thick brush of green trees. In the background is the Atlanta skyline. and A rendering of an updated building with the word “Cafe” on it is superimposed over the photo of the dilapidated structure flanked by trees.

After crossing several other at-grade streets, the corridor enters what previously was known as the kudzu line, as seen here near Law Street.

The rail line through this area has been inactive for about five years, and CSX is expected to have all remaining infrastructure removed by May, Patton says.

Next the corridor passes beneath a Marietta Boulevard bridge and meets active railroad lines.

Patton says the Beltline bought a small, triangular parcel in this area to bring the trail up to Marietta Boulevard, where lanes to Huff Road are planned to be converted into the Beltline, providing a link between the existing Westside Trail and the future northwestern segment.

The hope is that PATH, at that point, will break west to link with the existing, 61-mile Silver Comet Trail.

As for a timeline, officials say Atlantans can expect to see construction on this more pedestrian-friendly Connector soon.

The Beltline’s TSPLOST-funded outlay of more than $11 million paid only for acquisition of the rail corridors, a means of securing the land. Cost estimates for the full three-mile Connector are pending design finalizations, but each segment is planned to open with lighting, cameras, and other infrastructure.

The Beltline is still working to buy a few necessary, adjacent parcels, while McBrayer says PATH is raising and contributing $5 million from the private sector.

The first planned section where Joseph E. Boone Boulevard meets Northside Drive is almost ready to enter permitting phases, McBrayer says. Following neighborhood meetings, construction to bring the trail from there to the Northside Village Apartments, a section of a few blocks, is expected to launch this fall and take about six months to finish, likely next spring.

Meanwhile, the former kudzu line section will enter design phases and ancillary property acquisitions. As McBrayers sees it, the whole Connector trail can be funded and built within three years, providing the missing link to downtown and vice versa.

“To have the connection to downtown—I think it’s amazing,” says Patton. “There were so many people down there at the Super Bowl; with an electric bike rental, they could have been at the quarry park.”

Global real estate giant pays $70M for revitalized West Midtown meatpacking plant

A West Midtown project that turned an old meatpacking into a home for corporate offices, a popular Italian restaurant and duckpin bowling has sold for $70 million.

Global asset management giant Clarion Partners LLC paid $69.7 million for the development known as Stockyards Atlanta, on the corner of 10th Street and Brady Avenue.

A joint venture between Maryland-based Federal Capital Partners, known more commonly as FCP, and Atlanta developer Westbridge Partners, was the seller. The project was designed by the architectural firms Ai3 and Gensler. It went on the market last year.

The property has deep roots on the city’s west side, the last of the historic buildings that made up the Miller Union Stockyards, said Chris Faussemagne, who co-founded Westbridge Partners.

Stockyards is one of several developments often referred to as adaptive-reuse projects, which have focused on remaining industrial buildings on the northwest edge of the city along a rail line and converted them to office, residential and restaurant space.

Westbridge Partners and FCP won praise for Stockyards from real estate think tank Urban Land Institute, which honored the project in 2018. The 142,478-square-foot development landed tenants from Red Bull and Fitzgerald and Co. to the Painted Duck and Italian restaurant Donetto. It was fully occupied within a year of its completion. Clarion Partners paid over $489 per foot for the mixed-use project.

Stockyards is surrounded by new mid-rise apartments and popular restaurants, such as Miller Union and The Optimist. Its sale to Clarion Partners offers more evidence that global private equity and asset management firms project long-term value growth in projects within emerging areas of the city, such as West Midtown and the Atlanta Beltline.

As new wealth pours into neighborhoods where the level of investment is unprecedented, it will highlight the complexities of gentrification. Atlanta is among the county’s most rapidly gentrifying cities.

Faussemagne, now a partner with Atlanta real estate development firm Third & Urban, was one of the first developers to see potential of historic preservation, renovation and adaptive re-use in West Midtown.

Third & Urban and FCP continue to seek similar projects in the area, such as a 275,000-square-foot warehouse on West Marietta Street that will be converted into a large creative office project. The development will link with the future path of the Atlanta Beltline.

Stockyards Atlanta was FCP’s first commercial project in Atlanta. The company’s Atlanta area portfolio also includes eight multifamily properties with 1,924 units. Stewart Calhoun, David Meline, Mike McDonald, Samir Idris and Michael Moore of Cushman & Wakefield brokered the sale on behalf of the ownership of Stockyards Atlanta.

By  – Commercial Real Estate Editor, Atlanta Business Chronicle
Updated

Fresh renderings: Midtown’s 1105 West Peachtree is changing a full city block

The latest on Google’s commitment, a Sky Plaza, condo sales, and street retail

A rendering shows new towers jutting up in front of the Midtown skyline.
An earlier rendering of the multi-tower project underway now, as seen from the south.

Selig Enterprises

Specific timelines are emerging for a multi-pronged project that’s swallowing a block of prime Midtown real estate.

Sited along one of the subdistrict’s most active development corridors, Selig Development’s $530 million 1105 West Peachtree mixed-use venture is on the rise, with major construction milestones on the horizon.

Selig’s chief development officer Steve Baile told Curbed Atlanta this week that construction of the 3.5-acre, multi-tower project is on track to wrap in the third quarter of next year.

At the end of this month, though, the ninth-floor amenity deck—aptly dubbed the “Sky Plaza”—is set to top out, Baile said.

A rendering shows how the project’s multiple towers would convene around a ninth-floor amenity deck, which will feature green space and seating.
A fresh rendering of the amenity deck, the Sky Plaza.

Selig Development

Selig also confirmed recently that Google is set to make 1105 West Peachtree its Southeast headquarters, claiming five floors of the planned 31-story office tower.

The Smith, Gambrell & Russell law firm is also taking five floors for its new offices.

Also on the docket is a 178-key Marriott Autograph Collection Epicurean Hotel that Selig reps announced in October.

“We’re currently working with our hotel partners and retail team to fine-tune the office lobby food and beverage service, which will excite Midtown residents, office workers, and visitors alike,” Baile said.

A rendering shows retail space fronted by trees beneath the glassy office tower.
A new rendering of the ground-level retail space.

Selig Development

The development, located between MARTA’s Midtown and Arts Center train stations, will also include a 64-unit luxury condo tower called 40 West 12th.

Baile said the developer has been having some luck with condo pre-sales, although he did not provide specifics.

“We are pleased with the condo sales we have had thus far,” he said. “We believe 40 West 12th is hitting on the pulse of what intown Atlanta condo buyers are looking for, and that’s a high-end product that’s understated yet refined and has access to all the great amenities the project, and Midtown as a whole, have to offer.”

Lastly, at the ground floor, expect some 25,000 square feet of retail space.

Selig has tapped Rule Joy Trammell + Rubio as the design architect and architect of record and Brasfield & Gorrie as the general contractor.

By

How the trashy ‘Pit of Peachtree’ became Midtown’s most prominent pocket park

Grassroots activism helped turn an infamous dump at 10th and Peachtree streets into a gathering place, christened with a six-pack of Budweiser

Today, the pint-sized Midtown green space at 10th and Peachtree streets is a pleasing respite among so much concrete and glass. It hosts community events, curious tourists, and businesspeople on lunch break, often with a mix of large-scale art, Christmas lights, public corn hole, lounge chairs, and the fading leasing signs of longtime property owner Dewberry Capital. But four decades ago, the site was considered a trashy blight on Atlanta’s signature street—literally a dump.

That’s according to researcher Adam C. Johnson, the Midtown Neighbors’ Association’s History Committee Chair. Johnson, a Midtown resident, has conducted more than 40 interviews with residents and business leaders while poring over Atlanta History Center and Georgia Archives materials in an effort to tell the story of his neighborhood’s metamorphosis in a series of articles. The first installment below chronicles the “Pit of Peachtree” and its demise. Johnson writes:


By the mid-1970s, Midtown began an arduous recovery from the aftermath of the countercultural movement that had made it the South’s beleaguered version of Haight-Ashbury.

Many buildings along Peachtree Street sat abandoned, and more than 15 bathhouses, peep shows, and adult establishments had sprung up in the area. Trash was strewn about, boards covered windows, and garbage obscured some previously sought-after lots.

Midtown was a mess.

A black and white photo of a trash heap.
The “Pit of Peachtree” at its foulest.
“Tenth Street Dump Cleaned Up,” News, Midtown Business Association (Atlanta, GA), Vol. VI, No. 4, Jun/Jul 1979, 4.

 

Bill Seay and Jerry Attkisson, who led the recently formed Midtown Business Association (now Midtown Alliance), pitched Central Atlanta Progress’s Dan Sweat to sponsor the MBA by hiring its first executive director and to pay the position’s salary.

Sweat agreed to the “staffing support” and hired Doug Downing as MBA’s first director.

After joining MBA in May 1978, Downing started its first campaign to clean up Midtown by addressing the infamous dump at 10th and Peachtree streets. He wrote in the MBA’s newsletter:

Nowhere was this needed more than in the area of this property. For many years this property was a dumping ground, over grown [sic] with weeds and strewn with garbage. At the time, it was aptly referred to as “the hole,” and existed as an unwanted symbol of the degenerated state of the surrounding neighborhood.

In black and white is the proposed park at 10th and Peachtree.
Rendering of the proposed park at 10th and Peachtree streets.
“Peachtree Hole,” Newsletter, Midtown Business Association (Atlanta, GA), Vol. 1, No. 7, May 1978, 2.

 

Downing knew the importance of quickly demonstrating MBA’s commitment to Midtown by making the area hospitable again, which, he hoped, would also garner membership with his organization.

Twenty-five community residents, including some members of the Midtown Neighborhood Association (now Midtown Neighbors’ Association), joined the effort to remedy the “Pit of Peachtree.” Initially, they removed almost 20 loads of trash.

Downing called the efforts “the most conspicuous symbol of the action being taken by the community and the MBA to inject life back into our street.”

A man on a backhoe removes giant amounts of dirt and grime.
A worker removes trash and building materials from the lot.

Photo courtesy of Doug Downing

Dubbed “Peachtree Street Clean-up” day, the effort continued in October 1978, and 60 Midtown residents and workers from the Army Corps of Engineers painted walls, removed garbage, and planted 17 trees, flowers, and grass. Southern Railway also donated railroad ties and helped install them.

Conveniently, the Army Corps of Engineers used more than 20 dump-truck loads of soil from the nearby MARTA excavation to flatten the park, and then graded it to its current height, which filled in “the hole.” (MARTA’s rail service in the area wouldn’t begin for another three years.)

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers fill in and flatten ‘the hole’ with dirt from excavations.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers workers fill in and flatten “the hole” with dirt extracted during construction of MARTA transit.

Photo courtesy Doug Downing

The business association completed major construction of the park on May 3, 1979—and christened it using a $2.25 six-pack of Budweiser.

Because the MBA had secured a longterm lease from the owners of the land for $1, the staff unofficially referred to it as the “three dollar and twenty-five cent park.”

A group of people helping to plant flowers.
Community volunteers at work, and the completed park in 1979.

Photos courtesy of Doug Downing

 

Neither Attkisson nor Downing thought the park would last more than a few years. Yet the Pocket Park at 10th and Peachtree is a relic of the MBA’s first efforts to partner with area businesses, organizations (CAP and MNA), and residents to clean up Midtown.

Today, it stands as a tangible example of what successful public-private partnerships and volunteerism can achieve.

 

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In Midtown, a merger with the old and new at a 90-year-old apartment building

The Winnwood Apartments are located in Midtown, at the merger of Peachtree and West Peachtree streets.
The Winnwood Apartments are located in Midtown, at the merger of Peachtree and West Peachtree streets.

An 90-year-old apartment building in Midtown may become the latest example of multifamily landlords opening their doors to Airbnb.

Atlanta real estate investor and developer Tenth Street Ventures bought The Winnwood, a nearly 1-acre property at 1460 West Peachtree Street near its connection with Peachtree and just north of office towers such as Pershing Park Plaza, the current home of the law firm Jones Day.

No sales price was given, and the transaction for The Winnwood was not available in Fulton County property records. The brick mid-rise building, which features Neoclassical Revival architecture, dates back to 1930.

The property had been owned by the same family for decades, part of the dwindling and still relatively affordable stock of older apartments that remain in the city. For now, most of the units have been vacated.

The Winnwood could follow the model of another recent Tenth Street Ventures project in Midtown, where it allows tenants to rent out their units as Airbnbs. It has rebranded that property on Piedmont Avenue as “Studio9Forty.”

 It’s an example of a national trend of apartment owners working with companies that rent out apartments to travelers. Brian McCarthy, a principal with Tenth Street, said it shows the lines between multifamily properties and hotels are starting to blur.

“Residential living is changing,” he said. “The multifamily owners are looking at getting into hotels, and the boutique hotel owners are trying to get into multifamily.”

Tenth Street plans to renovate The Winnwood, taking it from 26 units to 48. First, though, it will apply to receive historic designation for the apartments. It said it is evaluating the best way to redevelop the building, while preserving the Neoclassical Revival exterior.

McCarthy said the goal is to restore The Winnwood “to its historic glory.”

The project has been a landmark in north Midtown for decades. The Whitehead family owned a house previously on the site. The property then remained in the family until the death of Cecil S. Whitehead a few years ago.

Tenth Street Ventures buys, designs and renovates properties, with the goal of keeping properties more affordable for the working class. The Winnwood is fifth major transaction by TSV over the past year.

By Douglas Sams – Commercial Real Estate Editor, Atlanta Business Chronicle
https://www.bizjournals.com/atlanta/news/2020/01/14/in-midtown-a-merger-with-the-old-and-new-at-a-90.html?iana=hpmvp_atl_news_headline