Buckhead ‘deck park’ over Ga. 400 gets a big debut

An ambitious plan to “cap” Ga. 400 between Lenox and Peachtree roads could help reconnect parts of Buckhead’s central business district severed by construction of the freeway in the 1990s.

It would also provide a “steroid shot” to growth, development and the livability to one of the city’s biggest jobs centers, backers of the proposal said Wednesday.

The proposal, to extend a deck park from Lenox Road over the Buckhead MARTA station to Atlanta Financial Center, would create nine acres of green space over the busy freeway. Midtown’s business district has Piedmont Park and Downtown has Centennial Olympic Park, but the densest core of Buckhead has lacked a central gathering place and green space.

“If you were looking at any place to do a park [in Buckhead], this would be ground zero,” said David Allman, chairman and CEO of development firm Regent Partners and chairman of the Buckhead CID, the self-taxing business district behind the concept. “It’s what cities in the 21st Century that want to be competitive are doing.”

Dallas has gotten a lot of attention for its Klyde Warren Park, a more than five-acre development over the busy Woodall Rodgers Freeway, which opened a few years ago. Allman said the project has been an inspiration and backers of the Buckhead project have consulted with their Texas counterparts.

The park could hold concerts and other events and provide a way for more people to walk and encourage use of transit, backers said. Transit riders would exit the Buckhead MARTA station into the park and the PATH 400 trail network would flow through and eventually feed into to the Atlanta Beltline, said Robert Rogers, a leading member of the design team and a partner with Rogers Partners Architects + Urban Planners.

The Buckhead CID introduced its first design concept a year ago and tapped a team for a more detailed study.

The proposal is estimated to cost $195 million to $245 million, Allman said, and would likely be paid for by a mix of local, state, federal, CID and private sector sources. The CID will consider whether to launch a second phase of planning, with more detailed engineering and financial analysis, at its October board meeting.

The Buckhead park could generate its own revenue through events and concessions and other means, and could become a tourist draw, planners said.

On Wednesday, Buckhead CID held its first meeting with dozens of nearby residents and business owners.

Planners and Allman were peppered with questions about potential funding sources, access points and the potential to generate event traffic in an already congested area. The comments generally were supportive.

Sue Mills, a Buckhead resident, said she was “extremely impressed” by the proposal.

“I’m excited about what this could do not just for Buckhead but the city,” she said. Her husband, Scott Peterson, said the pair have seen what parks like New York’s High Line can do to rejuvenate an area. A park over Ga. 400 would create a showpiece out of a “dead space,” he said.

“My concern is when and how, not why not,” he said.

The Buckhead concept isn’t the city’s only deck park proposal. Last month, Central Atlanta Progress unveiled a proposal for “The Stitch,” a deck park that would re-establish links between Midtown and downtown over about 14 acres, opening up underused land for private-sector development.

The as-yet-unfunded $300 million proposal would cover about three-fourths of a mile of the Downtown Connector from Spring Street to the area near Georgia Power’s headquarters.

Unlike “The Stich,” the Buckhead project would not unlock land for redevelopment. But like most any investment in transportation infrastructure or parklands, it would undoubtedly make the area even more attractive to developers and could raise property values and potentially tax revenues.

Buckhead has been hot for high-rise residential development and its office towers are largely filled.

Regent Partners, for instance, is in the design phase for two towers just west of Ga. 400 near the proposed park – one a 44-story building with offices and about 60 condos and a 30-story luxury apartment tower. Allman said his firm wants to get underway with both next year.

The Buckhead park idea has simmered for about 10 to 15 years, Allman said.

The concept, designed by a team led by New York-based Rogers Partners Architects + Urban Designers, would create different zones for activities, including one called the Commons, the Plaza and the Gardens, and would feature a mature tree canopy.

Rogers said Wednesday’s gathering is the first in a series of community meetings to help craft the proposal.

“Tonight is the starting point for a series of conversations in the coming months,” he said.

There is not likely to be a public referendum on the project, Allman said.

Allman and design team members said the project team has had preliminary discussions about the plans with the city, the state Department of Transportation and MARTA.

Asked if this Buckhead proposal might compete for a resources with “The Stitch” proposal, Allman said both have their own unique transportation and economic development attributes.

“We think they are very different projects. We think each will have appeal for different reasons,” he said.

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