Atlanta Mayor Bottoms says forested land only option for public safety training center

After the approval vote of the Public Safety Training Center this week, Mayor Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms address questions about the facility, its location and the concerns of the community Thursday, Sept 9, 2021.  (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

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After the approval vote of the Public Safety Training Center this week, Mayor Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms address questions about the facility, its location and the concerns of the community Thursday, Sept 9, 2021. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said Wednesday that she is aware of widespread opposition to the recently-approved $90 million public safety training facility to be built of forested land, and it is unfortunate that the city “didn’t have anything else to choose from” in terms of other potential sites to build the sprawling facility.

Bottoms made her comments during a Wednesday press conference, alongside Atlanta Police Foundation CEO Dave Wilkinson and other public safety officials from the Atlanta police and fire departments.

The press conference happened just hours after Wednesday’s highly-anticipated City Council vote, 10-4, in favor of leasing 85 acres at the old Atlanta prison farm site to the police foundation for the project. Prior to the vote, the council heard 17 hours of public comment, much of which opposed the facility’s construction at the prison farm site.

Though councilmembers said discussion about the proposed facility has gone on for years, the city and police foundation did not solicit public input until this summer.

Bottoms endorsed the proposal this spring.

“I’ve not been a part of any discussions on any major redevelopment in the city where there’s not been criticism on the process,” Bottoms said. “This is not something that happened overnight, this has been several months in the making, and I know that everybody is not going to be pleased.”

The other locations considered by the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center Advisory Council were Greenbriar Mall and the Atlanta Metropolitan College.

During council discussion on the proposal Wednesday night, Councilmember Jennifer Ide attempted to introduce an amendment that would delay the lease start date until next January, after a new mayor and city council comes into office.

Bottoms said at the press conference that she did not want to delay the construction of the training facility because the city has “kicked the can down the road” for too long, citing the poor conditions in the previous training facilities.

“This is something that can’t wait, and I’m not going to put that burden on a new mayor,” Bottoms said. “I know what it’s like to come into office and have to carry the weight on some things, so I think I owe it to the next administration to make their load a little lighter.”

Wilkinson thanked the mayor and councilmembers who supported the training center’s construction, calling it the “most important security measure that this city could introduce in our generation.”

“We’re building this training center as a tribute to the community, this tribute to 21st-century police reform,” Wilkinson said.

Two candidates for city council — Alfred Shivy Brooks and Devin Barrington Ward — held a press conference shortly after Bottoms at the old prison farm site to criticize the council’s vote.

“We cannot ... build a facility that will exacerbate our already problematic issues with flooding, that will cause harm and irreversible damage to an already-disappearing tree canopy in our city, and all against the desires and the wishes of our residents,” said Shivy Brooks, who is running for the City Council Post 1 At-Large seat.

“There will be a reckoning for council’s vote last night, and that reckoning will come next month when our residents begin to vote,” he said.

Bottoms also briefly addressed protesters that came to Councilwoman Natalyn Archibong’s home Wednesday night. A spokesperson for the Atlanta Police Department told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that 12 people were arrested on “pedestrian in the roadway” charges.

“When you bully and you try to terrorize me, it’s the end of a conversation, not the beginning,” Bottoms said. “And I am going to assume that it is the same way with the men and women on the Atlanta City Council and each and every one of the many people involved in this process.”

“Let us be civil with one another.”