It’s been 20 years since then-Georgia Tech student Ryan Gravel created the vision of the Atlanta BeltLine as part of his graduate thesis. Rose Scott recently met with Gravel on the Eastside Trail, the first finished section of the BeltLine, for a conversation about the BeltLine’s origins, progress, and his hopes for the transit portion of the trail in the future.
On why he believes transit is still integral to the BeltLine:
“Right now we’re not seeing all the outcomes we had promised because we haven’t built the whole thing. And I’m anxious to get the transit piece going because the transit’s the thing that makes it work reliably for everybody, any time of day, any season. No matter what you’re wearing, what you’re carrying, the transit’s the thing that makes it work for everybody.”
On prioritizing development versus transit:
“We started with the trail because it’s more affordable, and we can do it now in the near term. But if we could do it in an ideal scenario, we would’ve built the transit and the trail together initially.”
On leadership and accountability:
“I’m worried that even if MARTA does build transit on pieces of the BeltLine, if not the whole thing, that they’re going to build it according to MARTA’s vision for the BeltLine…We need the BeltLine team, and I don’t mean me, I just mean we need people who are focused on the experiences of the BeltLine and who the BeltLine is for to be leading the conversation about, “What kind of transit are we building on the BeltLine?”
As our series “Gridlocked: What’s Moving Atlanta?” continues, we head to the Adair Park neighborhood, southwest of downtown Atlanta. One early morning, “Closer Look” met with residents for a walk along the Atlanta BeltLine’s Westside Trail, the adjacent 20-acre site known as Murphy Crossing. As BetLine Inc. evaluates developers for this site, some community members have expressed concerns about displacement.
Randy Gibbs, resident and past president of Adair Park Today, Inc.: “A few years ago we were suffering, battling with a whole bunch of people who were aggressively trying to buy houses or move out renters and things of that nature, so I’m sensitive to that. But in general, I do see this as a much needed feature to connect us to the rest of Atlanta for respect to how Atlanta is growing. I’m grateful for it being here. We just need to figure out a way to optimize it for the best of all of our neighbors down here.
On hopes for Murphy Crossing:
Jenne Shepherd, President of the Adair ParkToday Inc.: “Real affordability. Not going by what they seem to think everyone makes, because that’s a lie. A lot of the older residents and a lot of even the newer residents are not making money at that capacity at $70,000-80,000 a year. Affordability as far as where people live, where people shop for food…”
On the face of their neighborhood in two years:
Kyle Lamont, President of the Oakland City Community Organization: “It scares me and it makes me emotional when I think about what this community is going to be not in two years, Rose, but next year… The BeltLine was originally supposed to be a great affordable housing mechanism. They gave us these metrics and all of these numbers that caused us to change legislation to create tax allocated dollars to go to fund this project. And now we’re here saying we’re getting kicked out of our community… I’m quite concerned.”
We conclude this edition of “Gridlocked? What’s Moving Atlanta?” at the far Northside portion of the BeltLine trail. This section of the trail, located between Ansley Golf Course and Ansley Mall, remains a gravel road under construction. That’s where “Closer Look” met Clyde Higgs, President and CEO of BeltLine Inc.
“From an economic investment perspective, the BeltLine has been a wild success. We’ve invested over $550 million into the project to date. We’re tracking north of five or four and a half billion dollars of investment around the BeltLine corridor. So from that perspective, it has been a significant success. But let’s make no arguments about it. With regards to affordability along the BeltLine, we have a whole lot of work to do.”
On making the BeltLine affordable:
“Yes, the affordable unit is a part of the discussion but also making sure that you bring living wage jobs along the BeltLine corridor as well. So one of the things that we’re pushing forward is on Murphy’s Crossing, the old state farmers market which is a 20-acre site right off the west side trail. And so that’s why when people ask us about the project, we talk about it in a comprehensive manner.”
On the current transit timeline:
“Transit is absolutely important to the BeltLine, reaching the full vision of what we’re supposed to do. And so we’ve got to remind people that that’s important. And that also fits into the affordability discussion that we’re having as well…We are looking at — with our partners at the city and MARTA — at advancing transit along the BeltLine. The first segment will take about six to seven years to complete. And that’s going to the Eastside trail, up North all the way to Ponce City Market. There might be ways for us to accelerate that.”
“Closer Look” is produced by Candace Wheeler and Grace Walker. Joy Barge is a contributing producer.
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