Developers, Georgia State get earful at Turner Field meeting

A development team and Georgia State University officials got an earful Tuesday from residents near Turner Field, with many asking the partners to shelve conceptual plans to transform the stadium area until a neighborhood planning effort can determine what the community wants.

The development team, led by Atlanta real estate firm Carter and Georgia State, have proposed a blend of private student apartments, senior housing, single-family homes, a grocery store, shops and separate college football and baseball stadiums on about 80 acres. The proposal is essentially unchanged since first reported in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution 13 months ago.

Carter President Scott Taylor said the partners wanted to present a vision of “how we can collectively and collaboratively make this very special,” and vowed a transparent process involving the desires of stadium neighborhoods.

Taylor told more than 100 residents in the standing-room-only crowd that his group does not have a deal to buy Turner Field once the Atlanta Braves leave for Cobb County, nor does he know when or how the property will be sold.

But the team felt it best to engage neighbors and get their input prior to a sale process being announced.

Several residents got applause when they asked Carter and Georgia State to allow the neighborhoods to follow through with a master planning exercise under the Atlanta Regional Commission’s Livable Centers Initiative (LCI). The ARC in February announced a $212,000 grant to fund a study of redevelopment possibilities.

The city of Atlanta recently released a request for proposals for a consulting group to run the program.

Some residents worried about college students having a negative effect on historic neighborhoods.

“None of us want to live on frat row,” said Kelly Howard, a Summerhill resident since 1997. She said she wants to see grocers such as Whole Foods or a Publix, and specialty retailers and restaurants seen in communities like Vinings and Virginia-Highland.

Taylor said specific retailers haven’t been contacted, but a higher-end grocer is envisioned. Sixty to 70 percent of the property would be under private ownership adding to the tax rolls. The developers also envisions workforce development efforts and other community benefits.

The Turner Field property is controlled by the Atlanta-Fulton County Recreation Authority, and a sale is not likely until after the Braves leave. The new ballpark is expected to open in 2017.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has signaled support for the Carter-Georgia State plan, but he has also said other unnamed groups are interested. It’s unclear what those firms might have in mind.

“We obviously have some hostility toward you,” Grant Park resident Richard Quartarone told the Georgia State team. The stadium communities are welcoming, he said, but the developers could build bridges by working with residents from scratch on a new concept.

Not all comments were negative. A few speakers said they appreciated the Carter-Georgia State team approaching residents as no other groups have, and said they were supportive of the plan. One said he hoped the university’s presence and police force could help reduce crime.

Taylor said his team would like to collaborate with the community simultaneously through the LCI process. Collaboration, he said, is necessary to create a project that is feasible.

After the gathering, Taylor said he was not deterred.

“This is exactly what we were hoping for — to engage in a conversation,” he said. “We know we don’t have all the answers. We know that this plan we put forth can be better.”

Read more about Turner Field and the debate over its future in an upcoming edition of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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