Thursday, June 7, 2012

Design for City Hall's urban farm has been selected, but...

Posted By on Thu, Jun 7, 2012 at 10:37 AM

Mayors staffers say theyre fine-tuning proposals for one-acre lot across street from City Hall
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  • Mayor's staffers say they're fine-tuning proposals for one-acre lot across street from City Hall
... city officials aren't prepared just yet to announce what will take shape across the street from 55 Trinity Avenue.

Dave Bennett, a senior policy adviser to Mayor Kasim Reed, told CL last week that the city wants to determine how much it'll cost to turn the proposal into reality - and operate it - before revealing the winner. Bennett says, things are quickly moving along. While he has no set timeline, the city's "operating as fast as we possibly can."

"I want to be completely confident that we have it all nailed before we stand in front of a microphone and say, 'Here's the plan,'" he says. "Who manages the construction? Do we operate it? Does the contractor operate it? What happens to the food when it's produced?"

Last August, Reed announced plans to transform the vacant acre of land across the street from City Hall - the former site of the city's traffic court - into an urban farm. Walmart offered $35,000 as a cash prize to sweeten the pot. Community support has rallied around the farm, which will be funded with private donations. (And apparently, will surprisingly require little to no environmental remediation.)

The project, which will greet City Hall visitors and workers walking through the building's southern entrance, is one of Reed's sustainability initiatives aimed to show Atlantans that fresh, healthy food can be locally grown. Plus, it'll add some much-needed scenery to downtown. But don't expect it to feed the masses.

"It's designed to be more of a symbol from an urban sustainability standpoint," he says. "It's really all about showcasing technologies and various things that are needed to grow and prosper in this environment. But it's not like we're going to, say, produce 500 bushels of corn."

The mayor's staff narrowed two dozen submissions down to eight semifinalists. "Three or four" finalists were then chosen and presented to Reed.

"They're everything from something a couple of kids put together to Perkins+Will," he says, referring to the architecture and design firm with offices in Midtown. "When you look at how much effort people put into them, they're very thoughtful."

Submissions, some of which were more than 50 pages long and accompanied with huge file attachments, featured everything from a big red barn to a five-story building. Another envisioned a series of terraces lined up against the adjacent parking deck. At least six teams, Bennett says, proposed an on-site restaurant that could serve some of the crops grown on the farm. (He didn't say whether such a concept was one of the finalists.)

Since then, Bennett's been running numbers and examining plans. He's scheduled to hold another meeting about the farm today.

"You have an idea that sounds very simple on its face," he says. "But if you look at the various designs that were given, all those plans are just conceptual drawings. Turning conceptual drawings into construction drawings is a real task... The only thing that has kept us from announcing the one that won is, is this a $100 million, $50 million, $1 million-plan? Or will it take us three months, six months?"

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