Residents living near downtown Atlanta are worried upgrades planned to the Georgia World Congress Center aren’t pedestrian friendly even though the area draws a large number of tourists.
Some also complained the development does not provide adequate access to the city’s westside communities, such as Vine City, located west of Mercedes-Benz Stadium and the GWCC upgrades.
Representatives for the Georgia World Congress Center presented plans for the upgrades to the Atlanta Downtown Neighborhood Association (ADNA) last week. Plans include a 1,000-room Signia Hilton hotel, a pedestrian mall, a six-level parking deck with 544 parking spaces, and a transportation depot for cars and buses.
“There are opportunities they’re not taking advantage of and they’re talking out of both sides of their mouth,” resident Susan Roe told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “They’re building a pedestrian plaza but adding parking and aren’t providing great access to MARTA.”
Renderings of the development show the pedestrian mall a short distance from the parking deck and transportation depot, meaning residents and visitors would have to cross between cars and buses walking into the GWCC or other nearby venues.
“If pedestrians are going to have to wait behind a bunch of buses that are coming in the bus depot, it’s not accessible,” ADNA member-at-large James Hackler told the AJC. Work on the pedestrian mall and transportation depot are expected to be complete by the end of 2021. The hotel is expected to be open in 2022.
GWCC representatives told residents the pedestrian mall and transportation depot are still in the design phase but said there are budget challenges at the state level. They did not elaborate on what those challenges were, but representatives did stress pedestrians were at the forefront of their minds.
“This is becoming a more pedestrian environment now and we’re trying to get out ahead of that,” GWCC project manager Ken Stockdell said at the meeting. That would mean taking out two additional lanes on Andrew Young International Boulevard to create a more pedestrian friendly area.
The three projects cost a combined $60 million in state-issued bonds. The pedestrian mall is funded at $15 million. The parking deck and transportation depot are funded at $23 million and $22 million respectively.
The hotel construction will be funded through $500 million in revenue bonds.
The project also raised concerns about access for Atlanta’s westside residents. Roe, who is the former president of the Atlanta Downtown Neighborhood Association, said the city has always had inequity issues regarding the westside.
“If I’m trying to get from the westside say to the Gulch, I wouldn’t be able to get there from the north end of the (GWCC) campus without going through the hotel, and we know at someone point people will be prohibited from doing that,” Roe said, referring to the $5 billion mix of apartments, offices, retail and hotels coming to the area.
Roe and Hackler said they both appreciate the effort to make the area more pedestrian-friendly, but more could be done.
“We appreciate that they’re there and hopefully they’ll go back and see that there are people passionate about this,” Hackler said.
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