They sat around tables with maps and wooden blocks that looked like mid-rise apartment buildings, office towers and rows of single family homes. Thin strips representing roads and green tiles resembling parks were the glue stitching together visions of a future for what is now a disjointed Turner Field area.
The exercise Saturday inside the Fanplex building next to The Ted looked a little like city planning with Legos, and designers hope to take residents’ ideas to help shape a master plan to renew an area long cut off from downtown by freeways and parking lots.
That the latest Livable Centers Initiative meeting took place inside FanPlex – a misbegotten attempt to give Braves fans something to do after ballgames – was somewhat fitting. FanPlex was also supposed to help stimulate development in the area, but didn’t.
Residents and business owners around Turner Field hope this time will be different.
Otis Hunter, a Stone Mountain resident who owns parking lots in Mechanicsville near Turner Field, said he was part of master planning exercises tied to the 1996 Summer Olympic Games that were filled with ambition but went nowhere. The Atlanta Braves’ departure to Cobb County after next season is looming, he said, and residents by the hundreds that turned out over two sessions Saturday were wise to get engaged and stay involved.
“We had this kind of hype headed into the Olympics,” Hunter said. Then nothing.
A team including Georgia State University and developers Carter and Oakwood Development are negotiating a sales contract with the Atlanta Fulton County Recreation Authority to buy Turner Field and surrounding parking lots that total about 70 acres. A final deal could be announced in the coming weeks.
They plan to convert the ballpark into a football stadium, and build student housing, market rate apartments, senior living, single family homes and retail. Their plans also call for a baseball field to go in the footprint of the former Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium and preserving the Hank Aaron home run wall.
That investment — perhaps $300 million, perhaps more — will be by far the most the stadium neighborhoods have seen since the Ted was built for the 1996 Games. It also will encompass parking lots that sit mostly empty more than three-fourths of the year.
Laura Beall, president of the Peoplestown Neighborhood Association, said the area desperately needs service retail, a decent grocery store and restaurants. She drives miles to go to the dry cleaner, shop for food or to visit her bank.
“There are a lot of needs this area is missing,” she said.
Many residents in past meetings and in the meetings on Saturday said job training and continuing education for adults, improved public safety, storm water retention and better connectivity between neighborhoods were vital needs. Neighborhoods including Peoplestown, Summerhill, Mechanicsville and Pittsburgh were cut off decades ago by Atlanta’s freeways.
Planners with Perkins+Will said the redevelopment of the Turner Field area offers the opportunity to potentially reconnect some of street grid severed by interstates.
A market presentation showed the area is growing at a faster rate than the city at large, and that the neighborhoods could be attractive to downtown workers looking to shorten their commutes. The more rooftops and the higher the median incomes, the more attractive the area will be to merchants. But some fear displacement of longtime residents.
Saturday’s meeting examined land nearest the stadium. Meetings in future months will look at opportunities in the four stadium neighborhoods and parts of Grant Park that are within the study area. The LCI study in many ways mirrors an ongoing study around Fort McPherson.
Hunter said he’s impressed by the Georgia State plan. The student presence, he said, will help the neighborhoods around Turner Field become more appealing to retailers. But he hopes the plans this time are realistic.
“We’re all going to need those services,” he said of students and the neighborhoods.