A parking lot on the Boulevard side of Grant Park that offers around 500 spots for park and Zoo Atlanta visitors has closed this week and will remain closed for 18 months due to construction of a new parking garage.
Photo: AJC file photo
Photo: AJC file photo

Expect 500 fewer parking spots at Grant Park for next 18 months

One of the two parking lots used for visitors to Grant Park and Zoo Atlanta was closed this week until 2019.

The loss of the approximately 500-space parking lot means those who drive to the park will have to jockey for space in the Cherokee Avenue-side lot or find neighborhood street parking. The fence was installed along Boulevard for the construction of a $48 million, 1,000-space parking garage called the Grant Park Gateway. 

The parking lot won’t be accessible for at least 18 months, the Grant Park Conservancy announced on Facebook Wednesday, the day fencing was installed. 

The conservancy asked parkgoers to “... please plan accordingly and be aware that parking in and around Grant Park will be challenging during this time.” In response to a man’s question about how bikers like himself and pedestrians can get from one side to the other, the conservancy said it will meet with the city next week to “get clarity on how transportation will flow during construction and while the fence is up.”

A city spokeswoman said Thursday that the fence was put up “to secure the anticipated future construction site” after the park’s summer event season ended. Events scheduled at the park or zoo before the year’s end include Sippin’ Safari, a festival for dogs, and two 5Ks: Opportunity Run and Stamp Out Poverty.

The impact of street parking overflow for residents during such events remains to be seen, but immediate concern has been expressed about the closure of the Boulevard sidewalk. 

Mark Cohen, who lives a couple blocks away from the park, said he sent an email to city officials Friday morning. He sees “people going to work, moms with kids, runners, walkers, dog walkers” on his daily morning runs around the park, he said.

“In the last few days I've witnessed people stuck, narrowly avoiding cars, tripping, and generally frustrated,” Cohen said in the letter. “The cars crossing at Confederate, especially, do not expect the increased pedestrian flow” and “exhibit little care for pedestrians.”

Plans for the parking deck, announced by Mayor Kasim Reed in April, include a restaurant, outdoor greenspace and a way to harvest rainfall.  Unlike current free parking at the zoo, space at the semi-underground structure will come with a fee. A cost has not yet been announced.  

MORE: Grant Park residents appeal to save old trees in parking garage’s path

Photo: BECCA GODWIN / BECCA.GODWIN@AJC.COM

The fence was installed before a final decision could be made about whether Atlanta officials can cut down 131 trees to make way for the garage.

Neighbors who believe the city could save some of the healthy trees by making the deck smaller or adjusting the location have filed multiple appeals to the current proposal. 

A hearing for the most recent appeal is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Sept. 27 at City Hall. 

The city — which says it will replace the trees — was granted preliminary approval to remove the trees earlier this year. But in August, the city-appointed citizen board Atlanta Tree Conservation Commission upheld the first appeal submitted by Leigh and Teresa Finlayson and another pair of neighbors. 

The commission asked city officials to demonstrate they'd done everything possible to save any number of trees. The city re-filed plans, and was again granted preliminary approval. 

The Finlaysons filed another appeal, which requests that at a minimum, the “21 trees which line Boulevard should be preserved as a barrier between the park and the road.” The couple has also started the “Save the trees of Grant Park” campaign, distributing yard signs around the neighborhood to draw attention to the issue. 

MORE: Find free yoga, meditation and games in an Atlanta park this fall

Leigh Finalyson, a criminal defense attorney who has lived in the neighborhood for nearly 30 years, said the sight of a fence before the appeal hearing makes him “kind of sick.”

“It makes it very real and painful,” he said. “It’s like a ‘dead man walking’ kind of thing.” 

Photo: BECCA GODWIN / BECCA.GODWIN@AJC.COM

According to a statement from the city, the start of construction was delayed to ensure that annual festivals, such as the Summer Shade Festival and the Atlanta House Music Festival, took place without any interruption. 

The statement continued: “Our department has been diligent in informing the community of the construction schedule. To date, we have conducted four community meetings and engagement activities with the public. Residents’ input has resulted in minimal construction activity during this year’s peak season.”

A petition on change.org, which says that removing so many mature trees for a parking deck “is at odds with the historic qualities of the area,” has nearly 500 signatues. 

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The city is investing $48 million into a new parking garage, but some residents say it could cause problems, including crime.

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