Friday, July 22, 2016

Pricey Atlanta state House race attracts more than $400k

Posted By on Fri, Jul 22, 2016 at 1:21 PM

The race to represent Atlanta's state House District 59, which stretches from Poncey-Highland through southeast Atlanta and toward the airport, will end on Tuesday with a runoff election. It's probably the priciest district race in Georgia this year, with donations to all candidates totaling more than $400,000. 

That’s a lot of money when you consider the salary is about $17,300 a year. And that Democrats — the only kind of viable candidate in the deep blue House District 59 — are such a minority in the GOP-dominated statehouse that their power is pretty limited.

Both Janine Brown and David Dreyer have said they want to see more school funding, better transit and more jobs in their district, though they rank the issues a little differently. Voters ranked the two pretty close together in the first round of voting: Brown took 1,650 votes to Dreyer's 1,610. Third-place finisher Josh Noblitt was knocked out of the race with 896 votes.

Brown's professional history — she spent years as a union rep — is reflected in her labor-heavy list of top donors, as added up by Atlanta Unfiltered. She had raised about $140,000 through June 30. Dreyer, an attorney, has also attracted cash from fellow legal eagles. His donations totaled up to around $200,000 through June 30.

The three campaigns — Brown, Dreyer, and Noblitt — raised in total more than $419,000 through the first half of this year. Atlanta Unfiltered, which spends a lot of time counting this kind of stuff, contends the contest might be the priciest state House race this year.

Oh, and the Democrat-on-Democrat race is getting testy too.

Candidate David Dreyer says he’s disappointed in an ad from Janine Brown that claims he took money from Georgia Power after promising not to take money from the utility. The ad cites a $500 donation from a man who works for Georgia Power. (FWIW, donors have to disclose their employer whether they are a CEO or on their first day of a new job.) Dreyer said it bothered him that the name of his neighbor and colleague in the leadership of the Grant Park Conservancy was put in the ad.

“We have not gone negative and we are not going to go negative. This is a Democratic primary,” said Dreyer. 

Casie Yoder, Brown’s campaign manager, said the piece was definitely “tough,” but they contend the employee is fairly high up in the company.

Voting closes on July 26. Voters who live in the district should doublecheck their registration status, as well. During the primary, Fulton County gave the wrong ballots to as many as 60 voters on the south end of the district, and lately sent erroneous new voter registration cards to a handful of voters in Summerhill. It’s not a lot of votes, but enough to cause a stink if the runoff is close.

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Thursday, July 21, 2016

Residents, preservationists facepalm over Engineer's Bookstore demolition plan

Posted By on Thu, Jul 21, 2016 at 2:30 PM

Bye bye, books! Hello, unleaded fuel and hot dog rollers! - JOHN PHELAN/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • John Phelan/Wikimedia Commons
  • Bye bye, books! Hello, unleaded fuel and hot dog rollers!

Back when email was still new for a lot of the kids at Georgia Tech, the Engineer’s Bookstore across the street was selling must-reads on multivariable calculus, thermodynamics, and the like out of a circa-1930 building on Marietta Street. The bookstore had moved in to the building following a 1993 restoration. Before that, the spot's tenants had included an appliance repair shop and a five-and-dime.

But Amazon and e-books haven’t been kind to independent book dealers, and campus development has shifted east to Tech Square. Engineer’s quietly closed a few weeks ago (its sister Southern Engineer’s Bookstore lives on in Marietta.)

Now the building is set to go as well; a developer wants to put a gas station on the site. But the planned tear-down in the Means Street Historic District has caused some neighbors and preservationists to grumble about how Atlanta — and Atlantans — treat old buildings.

Bill Gould lives almost behind the store, in the Allied Factory Lofts, which he redeveloped.

“When I discovered the Allied building, that whole block was blighted, kudzu-covered, bombed-out-looking,” Gould said. But he couldn’t resist reusing and adapting it.

Gould admits he’s not such a “number-cruncher” and is drawn to projects that move him. But he says projects like Krog Street Market or the Westside Provisions District show that the value of preserving architecture outweighs any hurdle a developer might hit while redoing an old building. Old buildings draw even people who aren’t passionate about history or culture, he said, because the buildings are just out-of-the-ordinary. They're truly unique.

“Atlanta has very little of that kind of fabric left. It’s the only thing that makes us unique. A Citgo Easy Mart doesn’t make us unique,” he said.

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Thursday, June 30, 2016

Here's what the inside of O4W's new natatorium will probably look like

Posted By on Thu, Jun 30, 2016 at 4:25 PM

SQUINT: Under the most recent plan, the square shape on the right is a pool with four lap lanes and a "zero-entry" spot for new and older swimmers. - COURTESY CITY OF ATLANTA
  • Courtesy City of Atlanta
  • SQUINT: Under the most recent plan, the square shape on the right is a pool with four lap lanes and a "zero-entry" spot for new and older swimmers.

Some Old Fourth Ward residents just want better information about the city's plans for the new Martin Luther King Jr. Natatorium. But they claim officials at the Department of Parks and Recreation have kept them in the dark during the design phase of the new $24 million facility’s pool.

The previous natatorium located on Boulevard was shuttered in 2012 amidst concerns about the building's foundation. The box-shaped building was built in 1978 on top of a large warehouse and played a key role in the community. The Atlanta Dolphins, a community swim team founded in 1984, called the natatorium home.

Now, thanks to $17 million from the Renew Atlanta Infrastructure bond package and a land donation from the Atlanta Housing Authority, a new natatorium is slated to be built at 110 Hilliard St., just across the street from the King Memorial MARTA station. The city’s also shelling out a bit of cash, bringing the project budget to $23.5 million.

It’s not the exterior of the building that’s raised the ire of residents. It’s what’s inside the building that has become a topic of hot debate among community members.

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Thursday, June 23, 2016

English Avenue's Boone Park West won't be just another pretty greenspace

Posted By on Thu, Jun 23, 2016 at 10:34 AM

Park Pride and The Conservation Fund have sketched an idea for Boone Park West, but it's only a rough idea until they hold community meetings to find out what exactly neighbors want. - PARK PRIDE AND THE CONSERVATION FUND
  • Park Pride and The Conservation Fund
  • Park Pride and The Conservation Fund have sketched an idea for Boone Park West, but it's only a rough idea until they hold community meetings to find out what exactly neighbors want.

On a busy but run-down block in English Avenue, in view of way too many houses that have plywood or shards of glass where windows should be, and where trash invades some of the sidewalks, one bright green site stands out.

“They going to build condos there?” said a passerby who gave his name as J.J., peering through a chain link fence on Joseph E. Boone Boulevard onto a fresh-mown lot sloping gently away from the street and toward trees.

When told it’s going to be a park, he said, “that’ll be good for the kids.”

But the people putting Boone Park West together hope it will be good for more than just kids. Sure, it’ll be a place to play and relax. But it should also help relieve flooding and help some young residents build their resumes.

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Thursday, June 9, 2016

The hot mess known as Fulton County’s ‘front door’ is getting a $3.4 million renovation

Posted By on Thu, Jun 9, 2016 at 10:17 AM

  • Keep Atlanta Beautiful/Fulton County

The Fulton County Government Center’s plaza facing Pryor Street has seen better days. The 26-year-old water garden no longer works, leaving the water with a brownish hue. Pedestrians step over sidewalk cracks that are sprouting weeds. People using wheelchairs can have a hard time moving around. If the plaza is considered the county’s “front door,” well, you most likely don’t want to knock, much less go in.

Keep Atlanta Beautiful has partnered with Fulton to raise $3.4 million to transform the entrance and plaza into a more inviting space. KAB Chairman Brent Brown says he sees the plaza’s current disarray as an opportunity, and that turning it into "a welcoming and relevant space will benefit the county, city, and surrounding neighborhood for years to come."

This revitalization includes a $1.4 million renovation of the water garden that was designed by world-renowned landscape architect M. Paul Friedberg in 1989. At the time, North Fulton Republicans used the plaza and indoor botanical garden, replete with $8,500-a-pop palm trees, as an example of Democrat's wasteful government spending. 

Brown says the original design will remain intact, while the makeover will primarily focus on optimizing water efficiency and ADA accessibility, which the garden currently lacks. The other $2 million will be used to renew the streetscape. This means sprucing up surrounding sidewalks, building edges, and removing and replanting trees around the building. Brown says the trees that surround the building currently are reaching the end of their life spans.

“These trees…are planted too close together, and don’t have enough [space] to get enough water,” said Brown. “We definitely are going to be replanting all of the trees in a more appropriate way.”

Brown said funding will come from private donors who “have a interest in seeing the whole neighborhood thrive.” He also said that the renovation plans are coming at a pivotal moment in Downtown’s evolution, with more than $3 billion in investments in the surrounding area.

“Because of what is happening in the neighborhood, and because this building is an important part of the city, this project has become very important to a lot of people. [Timing] has allowed this project…to have tremendous amount of interest,” said Brown. “In many cases, timing is everything.”

Brown says that the project is necessary to fit the government center into the neighborhood as it’s evolving.

“It is important that [Fulton] County practices what it preaches,” said Brown. “And wants to create an front door environment that is safe and welcoming… That’s a good neighbor.”

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Sunday, June 5, 2016

Buckhead Golf Mecca details start to emerge ahead of vote

Posted By on Sun, Jun 5, 2016 at 11:54 AM

Mayor Kasim Reed told an audience at E. Rivers Elementary School on Friday that he thinks it's a good move to swap the Bobby Jones golf course to the state for a parking lot downtown. - MAGGIE LEE
  • Maggie Lee
  • Mayor Kasim Reed told an audience at E. Rivers Elementary School on Friday that he thinks it's a good move to swap the Bobby Jones golf course to the state for a parking lot downtown.

A few details are starting to emerge about state plans for a links Mecca costing at least $25 million to be built at Buckhead’s Bobby Jones golf course. The project is pending a swap of that property for a Downtown parking deck that Atlanta says is the lynchpin on a deal to redevelop Underground.

The pair of transactions are up for a vote by the Atlanta City Council on Monday,

Mayor Kasim Reed appeared in front of a crowd of perhaps 200 people at E. Rivers Elementary in Buckhead to explain that he thinks it’s a good deal for Atlanta. He said the state can put more money into the complex — according to Reed, the state is planning to spend  at least $25 million — than the city ever would. Reed has also previously said that the state parking deck the city would get in the deal could seal a sale of Underground Atlanta.

The state’s plan is to change the 18-hole course into a 9-hole reversible course with a driving range, said Reed. Joe Inman, a lifelong golfer who’s now coach of the Georgia State University men's golf team said the place would be his duffers’ practice course, but it would be more than that.

“We want to make this a great facility,” Inman said. He said the golf course will be fun to play and the price for the public will be in the same price range as it is now. Inman also said organizations like PGA Georgia and the Atlanta Junior Golf Association will make their headquarters there. He also said management-wise, the state will own the land but a nonprofit will run the facility using both public and private money.

Reed said state plans only involve the golf course and tennis center, not Memorial Park. But state confirmation was not immediately available about whether the course and building drawings presented at the meeting are subject to change or how the property will be run or how much public money will be spent. Reed has credited Gov. Nathan Deal with supporting the transaction.

Deal spokeswoman Jen Ryan declined to comment on what she called a “city matter regarding pending legislation” and referred questions to Reed.

At the meeting, Reed also said the deal would involve Georgia’s State Properties Commission, the body that oversees the state's real-estate portfolio. That office’s executive director, Steven Stancil, was not available for comment when CL called on Friday afternoon.

Atlanta City Councilwoman Yolanda Adrean, who represents the area, said she was not part of negations with the state and could not speak to its plans.

"I wish they would have come because I view this as ... it could have been the beginning of relationship-building with the community,” she said. “My understanding is that under the [Memorial Park] Conservancy a master plan was drawn up for Bobby Jones, and it was presented to the city, and the city didn’t act on it and some individuals brought the concept to the state and the state decided that they liked it and wanted to implement it."

Adrean said it’s also her understanding that partners, such as Georgia State, would run programs at Bobby Jones, the same way groups like the Northside Youth Organization run programs at Chastain Park. NYO, she said, raises its own money and has put millions into Chastain. She emphasized that all that is her understanding, but that she does not speak for the state.

Reed said an individual from the state had been invited to speak but the representative "had a conflict. I did not want someone else who didn’t have the authority to address this crowd in a serious manner to come here, with some B-level player with no authority. That’s the call we made."

Plenty of golfers are disappointed with what the state is apparently planning, particularly the proposal to cut the 18-hole course down to nine holes. 

“As a longtime golfer I just have to have 18 holes, I’m not going to play 9 holes and go back over the same areas again. It’s not a lot of fun,” said Jack Seibert, who carried a sign reading “KEEP Bobby Jones 18 holes.”

He said he’s seen the city lose golf at Piedmont Park and at Fort McPherson.

“I feel like the city should be reaching out to provide more amenities, not reducing the amenities that we have,” Seibert said.

Though there were some happy audience members. Eli Green said he lives on Woodward Way and supports the transaction because it will free up city dollars to take care of other things. 

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Thursday, May 26, 2016

City, state prepare Bobby Jones/Underground Atlanta property deals

Posted By on Thu, May 26, 2016 at 4:02 PM

  • Joeff Davis/CL File
A real estate deal that, oddly, concerns both the future of Atlanta's Bobby Jones Golf Course and the proposed Underground Atlanta redevelopment looks like it's getting closer to completion.

On Wednesday, Mayor Kasim Reed outlined why he's bullish on a land swap that would see Georgia take over the old golf course in Buckhead, along with Bitsy Grant Tennis Center and Atlanta Memorial Park, while the city would get hold of a state-owned parking lot and property near Underground.

For one, Reed said the state is contemplating a $25 to $50 million investment in the course, which would make it a better place for the golfing public. But for two, the deal could finally close the deal when Underground gets rebuilt into a mixed-use development. Reed told the city council's Finance/Executive Committee that the grocery store lined up for the site wanted more parking, and that the residential component of the build is now larger than when council first heard of it.

"We tried to do the deal without the parking deck. So the reason the deal changed is because of the demands of the potential tenants in the building," Reed said. He said getting the parking lot "will help make possible the Underground transaction thats been on hold for about nine months. Every other element of the deal is in place."

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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Reynoldstown says yes to Madison Yards, Fuqua's proposed mixed-use project along the Beltline

Posted By on Tue, May 10, 2016 at 2:10 PM

A view of Madison Yards, as depicted in a developer drawing. On the right is the Atlanta Beltline and Bill Kennedy Way. - MAGGIE LEE
  • Maggie Lee
  • A view of Madison Yards, as depicted in a developer drawing. On the right is the Atlanta Beltline and Bill Kennedy Way.

Reynoldstown has given the nod to what should be the biggest single post-industrial redevelopment on Memorial Drive, by OKing “Madison Yards,” Fuqua Development's 17.5-acre mixed-use transformation of the former Legget and Platt facility at Bill Kennedy Way along the Atlanta Beltline.

The vote wasn’t even close: about three-fourths of residents at the Reynoldstown Civic Improvement League meeting on Monday night voted in favor of the zoning change the project needs to start moving dirt.

Under the developer's plan, the old Leggett and Platt facility would be replaced by a grocery store, an eight-screen theater, a fitness center, an office, other shops and restaurants, and apartments and condos for about 700 new neighbors. Several renderings showing different site configurations have popped up in the past few weeks; the images here are the most recent. (If you're wondering, the development's name is a tribute to Madison Reynolds, the 19th century landowner after whom the neighborhood is named.)    

It's only one of several redevelopments that's remaking the quickly changing corridor between Moreland Avenue and Downtown. Paces Properties is amassing land along Memorial Drive and working on building Atlanta Dairies, an 11-acre development promising restaurants, offices, and apartments. More than 20 other projects have been completed or are planned.

“We’re OK with density if it’s the appropriate place … along Memorial,” said Fredalyn Frasier, a Reynoldstown resident who worked on a neighborhood task force that met with the developers to help shape the project, including steering the proposal away from suburban-style retail along the busy thoroughfare. She said Fuqua Development responded well to concerns, “making sure the streets were activated” to help boost more walkability. 

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Thursday, April 28, 2016

City council committee: tap the brakes on rezoning for Home Park mixed-use project

Posted By on Thu, Apr 28, 2016 at 1:54 PM

Developer's plans for a 275-unit mixed-use project along 14th Street meets pushback from planning staff and some councilmembers. - COURTESY OF POLLACK SHORES REAL ESTATE
  • Courtesy of Pollack Shores Real Estate
  • Developer's plans for a 275-unit mixed-use project along 14th Street meets pushback from planning staff and some councilmembers.

An Atlanta developer wants to help make a bustling stretch of Home Park a more walkable area with a big ole mixed-use development. A good number of community residents are concerned over the prospect of a couple hundred new neighbors and a parking deck backing up to their backyards. An Atlanta City Council committee on Wednesday sided with the latter, to the applause of a dozen or so residents in the audience pushing against the idea.

Pollack Shores Real Estate Group wants to build a 275-unit apartment building with seven townhouses and some commercial space on the 14th Street block between State and Mecaslin streets. However, in a unanimous voice vote, the Atlanta City Council Zoning Committee voted to recommend the full Council turn down the zoning change that Pollack Shores needs to build the project.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Planners unveil three concepts re-imagining Turner Field and parking lot

Posted By on Tue, Apr 19, 2016 at 4:30 PM

Residents examine and comment on proposed concepts for how Turner Field and the surrounding parcels should be developed. - MIRANDA HAWKINS
  • Miranda Hawkins
  • Residents examine and comment on proposed concepts for how Turner Field and the surrounding parcels should be developed.

Atlantans who braved the hot sun during Atlanta Streets Alive also got a peek at three new visions for how Turner Field and its sea of parking lots should be redeveloped to connect to and serve the surrounding neighborhoods.

Perkins and Will, the design firm leading the Turner Field Stadium Neighborhoods Livable Centers Initiative, unveiled the visions at a tent pitched across the street from the entrance of the soon-to-be vacant baseball field.

Residents were invited to check out blown-up displays of each design concept — you can view them in photos below or in PDF form here — and cast a ballot for their favorite, along with additional comments. Members of the LCI team sporting purple t-shirts were on hand to boil down each plan for anyone interested. And almost everyone was.

P+W and residents kicked off the LCI process in December and held additional workshops in January. Georgia State University and developer Carter, two partners in the joint venture that’s in negotiations to purchase the mammoth property, participated in the process. Though the bidding process said the winning bidder should try to incorporate the LCI’s findings, it is not required to do so.

John Skach, a Perkins + Will senior associate and member of the LCI crew, said he and the team tried to balance the stakeholders’ needs and wants by folding together bits and pieces of Georgia State and Carter’s plans and residents’ feedback.

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