There's about 20,000 square feet of retail space within one half-mile of Atlanta's Turner Field, according to researchers from Georgia Tech. By comparison, Tech researchers found an average of 1.5 million square feet of retail space within the same distance of recently built baseball stadiums in Cincinnati, Denver, Pittsburgh, San Diego, St. Louis and Washington, D.C.The comparison is pretty stark. There is simply nothing around the stadium. Part of this has to be the fact that 47 acres is owned by the Atlanta Fulton Recreation Authority, which has built ridiculous stuff like the Fanplex - which has been closed since 2004. Hey, it costs the city 35,000 a year to hold on to the property, but they aren't selling.
I have no idea if anyone has tried to buy land from the city before. As far as I know, there is no history of folks with big ideas for this area. For one thing, it has always been pretty rough - Summerhill rioted in 1966, in part because the area felt neglected by the city. The stadium was built in the area in the first place to try and revitalize it. That worked out well...
As a resident, I desperately want to see something happen here. As someone who wants to be in development, I don't know if I'd take the risk on a project there. There is a ton on potential - Capitol Ave is flanked by those huge parking lots that are just begging for some mixed use development. Georgia Ave has some great historical buildings and is a straight shot to Grant Park - I would actually walk home from the stadium when I lived over there. It wasn't so bad after games because there were a decent number of folks around, and it is surprisingly well lit.
It is easy to see the potential during baseball season - but what is going to happen to your retail and street life in the off season? I don't see the area supporting a lot of office space, and I think it'd be a hard sell at first for residential offerings. Even if you get into the idea of living near the stadium, what about traffic and noise all the time? It isn't like you can just walk somewhere from that area - you'd have to take a car anywhere, and who wants to fight game-day traffic half the year? Oh, and the crime. Who wants to live near a bunch of burnt out houses?
So there are definitely some challenges.
Some things I think need to happen for that area to get developed:
- Better transportation - I'd love to see a streetcar going down Capitol Ave. How much would it cost to run a line from the stadium to Five Points, or up Capitol to GSU and then cut over on Decatur St to Five Points? My first reaction is that it isn't feasible, but I wonder if stadium attendees would essentially pay for service for the rest of the year.
- Police Mini-Precinct. Do I really need to say more?
- Get the Fulton County Recreation Authority out of the land owning business - there is no reason that folks like Nancy Boxill should be making decisions about what various markets for development are like. Let the ADA and the city approve a master plan, and then sell the property. Sell it outright if you can, or into a JV deal with the ADA as the public side if you absolutely have to retain some level of control.
On some level, the city has a damned if you do, damned if you don't choice here. If you hold on to the property instead of selling it, folks will write articles about what a boondoggle it all is when things stall or don't work out. If you sell it, and nothing happens, then you'll get a bunch of articles with city folks saying things like, "well, we have no control over what the developers do now" and they'll paint you like idiots who got fleeced for a low price, etc.
I think the best thing is to let the market take over a little bit - come up with a master plan, sell it to the bidder with the best plan and best history of success, and make sure the neighborhood involved with the decision. The last thing you need is to build something that pisses of the neighborhood - this should be a win-win situation. Tax the hell out of surface parking (but not deck parking) to make sure they can't just sit on it. Then get out of the way.