Atlanta City Councilman pitches use of hospital site as an equity center

Atlanta City Councilman Michael Julian Bond wants to study the possibility of turning the Atlanta Medical Center site into an equity center.

Bond introduced a resolution for the creation of a “Wellstar Hospital study group” during Monday night’s council meeting. The resolution limits the group’s recommendations to building an equity center.

The proposal seems to run counter to keeping some sort of medical facility on the site — which is preferred by the mayor’s office and several council members.

If Bond’s resolution were to pass, the study group would consist of Atlanta City Councilman Jason Dozier (the community development/human services chair), Atlanta City Council President Doug Shipman, interim Atlanta Police Chief Dan Schierbaum, and interim Atlanta Corrections Chief Elder Dancy.

The group would also include Atlanta Chief Operating Officer Lisa Gordon, Fulton County Commission Chair Robb Pitts, a Fulton County Commissioner, two officials from the Atlanta Medical Center, and possibly three community activists.

The group would convene its first meeting within 60 days of passage and provide recommendations to the Atlanta City Council’s Community Development/Human Services Committee no later than Jan. 31, 2023.

In 2020, several activists convened with business leaders and local government officials to propose the creation of an equity center at the site of Atlanta’s mostly empty detention center. The center would provide services to address homelessness and other issues impacting the community’s wellbeing.

But several leaders, including Bond, have advocated for the city to use its detention center to house inmates from Fulton County’s overcrowded jail.

Bond told the AJC Atlanta will always need a correctional facility, so he said Wellstar’s exodus creates a perfect opportunity to build a wellness center elsewhere.

“We need another hospital in Atlanta rather than having an empty complex,” Bond said. “You can have social services operate out of a facility like that.

“They’re going to try to dispose of the property in some way, but if we have this pressing need, there might be a way that the city might be able to acquire or lease the property for some of these uses.”

Wellstar Health System officials on Aug. 31 announced plans to close the AMC by Nov. 1. And last week, Wellstar said AMC’s emergency room will close even sooner, on Oct. 14.

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens issued an executive order last week for the city to refuse applications for rezoning, building permits, land disturbances, special administrative permits, subdivisions, replatting or lot consolidations for 15 parcels of land within AMC’s footprint.

Dickens renewed the temporary ban on Monday night after the council introduced an ordinance to extend the moratorium’s duration even further. That ordinance must go through a council committee process before being considered for passage by the entire council.

AMC is a 120-year-old institution in the Old Fourth Ward. The 25-acre site serves low-income families as one of the region’s two Level I trauma centers.

Nearly two city blocks are owned by Wellstar for the AMC property. Its zoning regulations include the C-1 Community Business District, C-2 Commercial Service District, and the C-4 Central Area Commercial Residential District. Some of the properties also fall within the Beltline Overlay District and Beltline Affordable Workforce Housing District.

Dickens says Atlanta wants to prioritize the continued use of the site — in whole or in part — for health care services. AMC also houses the Atlanta Police Department’s Zone 6 Crime Suppression Precinct, so Dickens wants to maintain that public safety infrastructure as well.

The mayor’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Bond’s proposal.

Amir Farokhi, an Atlanta City Councilman representing most of the residents near the AMC site, said he wants to make sure the city considers input from the immediate neighborhoods near the property as they consider its future use. He said the city needs to preserve some level of health care access at the site. He also said the city shouldn’t allow it to become a “black hole” void of development, akin to what occurred when the city closed the civic center years ago.

“I’m not the final decision maker but given how much property is at issue here, and the needs of the neighborhood in the city, I could foresee a redevelopment here that includes housing, offices, and retail, alongside health care access,” Farokhi said.

Bond’s resolution was referred to the council’s Community Development/Human Services Committee, which meets next Tuesday. The council’s Zoning Committee will meet on Monday to discuss the moratorium ordinance.

Atlanta City Councilmember Marci Collier Overstreet didn’t comment on Bond’s proposal, but did say in a statement that the mayor’s moratorium gives the region an opportunity to regroup over the site’s future use.

“Wellstar’s decision to abandon South Atlanta has far reaching consequences,” the Overstreet statement says. “As chair of the City’s Zoning Committee, it’s paramount that we play an active role in the planning and zoning of this highly visible and impactful area for the betterment of the communities, our city, and our region.”