Arthur M. Blank Foundation donates $17M for Atlanta Beltline expansion

The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation is donating $17.5 million to the development of Westside Park at Bellwood Quarry. The donation will help connect the park to the Beltline. The park's groundbreaking was held last year. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said Blank's donation is the largest in the Beltline’s history. The is also a proposal for a Quarry Yards development near the park.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms on Tuesday announced that the Beltline had received the largest one-time, private donation in the organization’s history, amid growing dissatisfaction with how the multi-use trail is being developed.

The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation is providing $17.5 million to the development of the Westside Park at Bellwood Quarry that will connect the park to the Beltline, Bottoms said at the annual State of the Beltline Breakfast.

The Beltline is a former railway corridor encircling the city’s core.

Bottoms also announced that the Beltline’s 4.5 mile Southside Trail was opening on an interim basis. That temporary trail will provide a 12-mile continuous

path stretching from Washington Park in northwest Atlanta to Ansley Park just east of Midtown.

The gravel path will connect the Eastside and Westside trails and provide access to the Beltline from 11 different streets. The City of Atlanta purchased the tract for $26 million last year.

The interim path will close whenever construction begins to build a permanent paved one. In a statement, a spokesperson said the Beltline has yet to secure funding for construction.

When work on the Beltline began 14 years ago, plans called for light rail along the path that would connect the entire city. But much of that part of the project has been pushed back to beyond 2035.

The delay in adding transit has frustrated some who complain that the project is bringing in new development without the transit service to support it.

Members of Beltline Rail Now, a group who is threatening to stall the project because the lack of light rail, attended Tuesday’s breakfast.

During the question and answer session, Patty Durand, co-chair of Beltline Rail Now, ask why she should encourage neighborhood groups to support waiving parking requirements for development along the trail if light rail wouldn’t follow.

Atlanta Beltline Rail Inc. CEO Clyde Higgs said that an extension of the Atlanta Streetcar to the Beltline on the east side of the city is slated to be finished by 2027. That includes about a mile of rail on the Beltline itself. A western Streetcar extension is set to be finished before 2035.

Durand and Matthew Rao, the other co-chair of Beltline Rail Now, took little comfort in Higgs’ remarks.

“About half this room will be dead before the first [significant] Beltline rail is built,” Rao said following Tuesday’s breakfast.

In 2016, Atlanta voters approved a half-cent sales tax to pay for a MARTA expansion across the city. Last year, the MARTA Board of Directors approved a project list that includes 29 miles of light rail – including 15 of the 22 miles of proposed rail around the Beltline.

But in May the board approved a construction timetable that pushes most of that rail work beyond 2035. Transit supporters say that’s not good enough. On Tuesday, they vowed to lobby neighborhoods to oppose the parking waivers, as a way to stall development.

Durand noted that a photo of a train was used as a backdrop for Tuesday’s breakfast. “It’s ironic that they picture they have on the stage is of a train,” she said,” when there is no train.”