Atlanta’s mayor made her pitch for redeveloping the Gulch in downtown Atlanta on Wednesday night. But the tense public meeting left many unconvinced.
City staff worked hard to keep the information session tightly controlled. It was held in the old City Council chambers, a smaller space than the chambers council members use today.
People wearing green shirts that said “Green Light The Gulch” took up many of the seats. Once the room filled, new attendees were redirected to an overflow space.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and her team spent most of the session reviewing the already released details of the Gulch project.
Attorney Alvin Kendall walked through the financing — how it would require up to $1.75 billion in public bonds, which the California-based developer, CIM, would pay off through new sales and property taxes.
He also emphasized all of the different ways CIM would benefit the city, including a deposit of $28 million into a citywide housing trust fund.
Bottoms reminded the audience that the Gulch is just 40 acres of parking lots and railroads now.
“If we were to all leave here today and call this project off,” Bottoms said, “it would remain a hole in the ground.”
But despite the city’s efforts to maintain order in the meeting, it frequently devolved into shouts and boos from the crowd.
There was no opportunity for direct public comment. Audience members could only ask questions by submitting a card.
Sherry Williams, public policy director at the advocacy group Georgia Stand Up, said that made people feel like they weren’t being heard.
She said the question isn’t whether to redevelop the Gulch.
“I think everyone agrees with that,” Williams said. “The question is, can we get more now than we’re getting?”
Williams said she would like to see an even stronger commitment to affordable housing in the deal and a more complete plan for transit at the Gulch.
She said she didn’t get answers to those concerns from the mayor’s team.
The mayor has not shared a timeline for finalizing the Gulch deal.