Thursday, July 24, 2014

Should Atlanta's next civic center be built near Bellwood Quarry?

Posted By on Thu, Jul 24, 2014 at 2:07 PM

When youre on top of the quarry, you can see virtually all of Atlanta from north to south, Atlanta Councilman Michael Julian Bond says. Its absolutely breathtaking and beautiful.
  • Chris Martin
  • "When you're on top of the quarry, you can see virtually all of Atlanta from north to south," Atlanta City Councilman Michael Julian Bond says. "It's absolutely breathtaking and beautiful."
The highly-anticipated plan to turn Bellwood Quarry into Westside Reservoir Park, a proposed 350-acre greenspace in northwest Atlanta, has been in the works for the past eight years. Once it's built - whenever that happens - it's envisioned to include a 45-acre reservoir, fields for activities, and a clear view of Atlanta's skyline. And one city councilman wants to add another amenity to that list: a new civic center.

Earlier this week, Atlanta City Councilman Michael Julian Bond introduced a resolution asking Mayor Kasim Reed to consider replacing the Boisfeuillet Jones Atlanta Civic Center, the 47-year-old city-owned arts and entertainment venue in Old Fourth Ward that's likely to be sold and redeveloped, with a new facility adjacent to Bellwood Quarry.

Last month, Council gave Invest Atlanta, the city's economic development arm, approval to start accepting bids from private developers for the 18-acre civic center site. Bond tells CL that Atlanta would be without a major civic facility if Invest Atlanta accepts a bid and unloads the property. His resolution is intended to be a "conversation starter" for potentially building a public large-scale venue near the quarry.

"It's probably likely we'll lose the Civic Center as we know it," Bond says. "Atlanta should be the center of all activities, so we need that type of facility in our city. The quarry is an ideal spot for perhaps a new amphitheater, festival space, or fairgrounds."

Bond says Bellwood Quarry, which the city purchased in 2006 from Vulcan Properties and Fulton County for $40 million, has approximately 45 acres of land that could be developed for such a site. He says a venue would have minimal impact on residents given the lack of nearby neighborhoods. That's a far cry from the struggle that citizens who live near other major parks face when festivals and events take place in their communities, he says.

"There may be some other spots that could work," Bond says. "If we did an outdoor amphitheater or festival space, you could have concerts and other things associated with Chastain or Piedmont [parks]. It would also take the burden off other parks and facilities. There aren't neighbors around to be impacted. You wouldn't have those issues."

Bond says his plan follows efforts by former Mayor Shirley Franklin, who oversaw the quarry's purchase, to finally open the massive greenspace that's approximately twice the size of Piedmont Park.

But that might not jibe with the mayor's plans. Reed has recently focused on selling off city-owned properties including the current Civic Center, Turner Field, and Underground Atlanta to free up cash for the city's forthcoming $250 million bond package. The debt issuance, which voters must first approve next March, would fund road, bridge, and sidewalk repairs.

"This is an idea I've had for a long time," Bond says. "I've spoken with members of the mayor's administration. People are interested to see what's possible. It would hurt me to see [the Civic Center] go away. ... But this is an opportunity to build more greenspace, provide more rec space, something new for citizens to enjoy. And it would be beautiful."

If Council passes the resolution, Bond says he would like to see a committee formed to study whether the project would make financial sense for the city. Reed spokeswoman Melissa Mullinax tells CL that the mayor and his staffers "intend to explore all the options" regarding Bond's idea once the resolution gets approved.

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