Nelson Street Bridge reopens downtown as pedestrian pathway

The pedestrian bridge connects the ongoing Centennial Yards megaproject to the Castleberry Hill neighborhood
The new Nelson Street Bridge opens for public use after being closed since 2017 on Friday, Feb. 17, 2023, in Atlanta.   (Olivia Bowdoin for the Atlanta Journal Constitution).

Credit: Olivia Bowdoin

Credit: Olivia Bowdoin

The new Nelson Street Bridge opens for public use after being closed since 2017 on Friday, Feb. 17, 2023, in Atlanta. (Olivia Bowdoin for the Atlanta Journal Constitution).

For more than a century, the Nelson Street Bridge gave commuters and drivers an easy path over downtown Atlanta’s dense network of rail yards, dividing the city center from the nearby Castleberry Hill neighborhood.

Since 2017, when it was deemed unsafe and demolished, no one has traveled across that bridge.

On Friday, Mayor Andre Dickens became one of the first people to walk — not drive — across the new Nelson Street Bridge, which has been redesigned as a pedestrian walkway. The bridge is part of CIM Group’s $5 billion Centennial Yards project, which aims to transform the parking lots and railroad lines known as The Gulch into a mixed-use destination to reinvigorate downtown’s vibrancy.

“We’re going to have a lot more people living downtown,” Dickens told reporters. “All of this is being connected. Downtown is on the rise.”

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens (center), joins Vice President, Business and Workforce Opportunity, Centennial Yards, Brigitte Broyard (from left),  President of Centennial Yards, Brian McGowan, and Atlanta City Council member, Jason S. Dozier, to cross the brand new Nelson Street Bridge in Atlanta on Friday, Feb. 17, 2023.   (Olivia Bowdoin for the Atlanta Journal Constitution).

Credit: Olivia Bowdoin

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Credit: Olivia Bowdoin

The colorful bridge, lined with potted plants and wooden seats, spans 500 feet between Ted Turner Drive and Elliott Street. It was designed by SSOE, with the public areas designed by Perkins & Will Landscape Architecture.

The bridge passes under the century-old archway of the former Norfolk Southern building, part of which has been converted into mid-rise apartments. The other portion has been gutted and will soon become loft office space.

The transformed building, the largest standing structure harkening to Atlanta’s storied railroad past, is the backdrop for The Canyon, a food and drink district that the developer aims will become a watering hole downtown. Wild Leap Brewery opened a taproom in December, and other establishments, including Jinya Ramen Bar, are on the way.

Brian McGowan, president of Centennial Yards Company, said the area will soon be a gathering place for people visiting the city, teasing to Atlanta as one of the host cities for the 2026 World Cup.

“Before and after the games and concerts, this is where people are going to be,” he told Dickens.

City leaders have tried for decades to redevelop The Gulch’s 50 acres of sprawling concrete and rail lines. In 2018, Centennial Yards received a $1.9 billion incentive package from the city, which was a controversial public investment at the time. Part of the deal required the construction of a new Nelson Street Bridge.

Another ambitious aspect of the project is redoing downtown’s street grid at the level of existing downtown viaducts. That platform, once said to cost $700 million, will “be expanded and improved as the project builds up,” a company spokesperson told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last year. The company’s goal is to complete about 30% of the street grid by 2026.

CIM Group, which is based in California, also recently broke ground on two high-rise buildings near Mercedes-Benz Stadium and State Farm Arena that are slated for completion in 2025. Construction on two other buildings, one with 60 residential units and another with 234 units is about to begin at other Centennial Yards sites.

CIM Group agreed to reserve 20% of the project’s residential units for affordable housing for 99 years. The developers also promised to provide 38% of the project’s contracts to female and minority-owned local businesses.

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