Soccer comes to Five Points MARTA station

MARTA can now add soccer leagues to the growing number of businesses, housing developments and entertainment venues that want to build near or at its doorstep.

The Atlanta United Foundation, the charitable arm of the city’s new professional soccer team, unveiled on Thursday a 9,600-square-foot soccer field at MARTA’s Five Points station in downtown Atlanta, one of the first in the nation at a transit center, boosters say.

The greenspace, which will be open to adult and children’s leagues as well as individuals for daily play, is designed to encourage the sport in a city dominated by football, basketball and baseball.

“Soccer, maybe as much as any sport in the world, and I would say including American football, really represents the best in terms of bringing out the kinds of habits, social interactivity and physical activity we want to see young folks take part in,” Arthur Blank, owner of Atlanta United as well as the Atlanta Falcons, said during the unveiling ceremony.

Developers increasingly are interested in building housing or office towers with close access to MARTA stations as metro Atlantans, tired of traffic congestion, have warmed to public transportation, especially millennials. Projects such as a new State Farm insurance tower in Dunwoody and NCR Corp.'s decision to move into Midtown from Gwinnett were lured in part because of MARTA access.

MARTA also has launched a Friday produce market at the station and plans to add a visual and performing arts program and community garden.

“If we can help with increasing the economic viability of this region, we want to do that,” MARTA CEO Keith Parker said, adding he is open to bringing the mini-fields to other stations. “If we can help kids find more things to do that keeps them productive then we absolutey want to be a part of that.”

The new small Five Points field or “mini pitch” is less than half the size of a regulation soccer field, boosters said. It replaces a little-used concrete plaza off the station’s west entrance on Forsyth Street and includes about nine rows of seating above the field.

The Atlanta United Foundation gave MARTA a $96,000 grant for the field. The organization also has partnered with six Atlanta elementary schools to build soccer programs — M. Agnes Jones, Dunbar, F.L. Stanton, Scott, Towns and Westside Atlanta Charter School.

Phil Hill, executive director of Soccer in the Streets, which targets underserved communities for sports programming, said the idea of a MARTA soccer field was considered insane initially. After the unveiling, he hopes the insanity is contagious.

“It’s our goal to build 20 of these grassroots facilities throughout the city,” he said.