2020 hasn’t exactly been the year any of us imagined. Yet, amid our world turning upside down, Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. (ABI) has assumed a posture of adaptability, agility, and refocus—especially working remotely—that has successfully positioned the Atlanta BeltLine project and goals for greater acceleration in 2021 and beyond.
As we reflect on the year, we’re excited to share some of ABI’s top achievements in 2020.
For the first time ever, construction on three segments of the Atlanta BeltLine got underway in 2020.
ABI broke ground on the Southside Trail-West on January 22, 2020. As the first segment of the Southside Trail to undergo construction, this 0.75-mile stretch will extend the existing Westside Trail south and east to connect four open and emerging job centers – Pittsburgh Yards, Murphy Crossing, the Met, and Lee + White.
The contractor for this project, Astra Group, Inc. has been hard at work—remediating soil, regrading, installing storm water systems, and building new abutments for the bridge over Metropolitan Avenue and retaining walls. Thanks to the tremendous progress that has been made this year, we are on target for summer 2021 completion.
Westside BeltLine Connector & Westside North Extension
Construction of the Westside BeltLine Connector, a joint venture between ABI and the PATH Foundation, has been in full swing all year. This future multi-use spur trail will provide 2.9 miles of connectivity between the Atlanta BeltLine corridor and PATH Foundation trails leading into Downtown Atlanta, providing a critical link in the region’s trail network with connections between job centers, other development activities on the westside of Atlanta, Maddox Park, the Bankhead MARTA station, and the future Westside Park. It will directly connect the Vine City and English Avenue neighborhoods to the Atlanta BeltLine. Divided into three segments in a phased approach to construction, Segments 1 and 2 should be completed in January 2021.
Additionally, design work on the Westside Trail Northern extension began in August 2020, with public meetings held in the fall to inform surrounding neighborhoods about progress and collect community input. This 1.3-mile trail will begin at the existing Westside Trail terminus at Lena Street and extend north to Wheeler Street where the trail will tie into PATH’s Westside BeltLine Connector. The final design scheduled for completion in fall 2021.
As part of an agreement between ABI and Georgia Power, construction of the Northeast Trail- segment 2 continued throughout 2020. This section of trail will ultimately be 1.2 miles in length in total when complete and run from Westminster Drive to Mayson Street / Plasters Avenue.
Underground work was completed, concrete was poured, and the construction crew is now finishing an access ramp at Montgomery Ferry Road. Segment 2, which runs approximately 0.682 miles, will open in an interim state in early 2021.
55 Milton Closing
In July 2020, The Milton near the Southside Trail in Peoplestown closed, which will ultimately provide 156 affordable units. ABI contributed $2 million to the project from the BeltLine Affordable Housing Trust Fund, the maximum amount permitted. Located steps from the Southside Trail, The Milton will provide housing opportunities and connectivity via the Atlanta BeltLine to the Schools at Carver and D. H. Stanton Park. It will also be convenient to MARTA’s future Bus Rapid Transit line through Summerhill to Downtown.
To date, ABI and partners have 907 affordable units in the pipeline for creation around the corridor.
ABI wrapped up its pilot Business Façade pARTnership Grant program in January with the completion of two façade improvement projects: A/C Clutch Bicycle Shop on the Westside and Red’s Beer Garden in Benteen Park. This is an excellent opportunity to foster revitalization of commercial districts while providing work opportunities for artists and showcasing a business’s proximity to the Atlanta BeltLine.
Thanks to the tremendous success of this program, ABI began accepting business applications for the 2020-2021 program this fall. The call for artists will open in early 2021.
Avon Ave Purchase
Land acquisition has become an important strategy for ABI to create long-term affordability around the Atlanta BeltLine for residents and small businesses alike. By owning the land, ABI will have a greater say in selecting developers that scale concentrated job creation centers, workforce development, affordable housing, and transit-oriented development along the corridor. The intersection of these goals is one of the key tools ABI will use to tackle overall affordability.
To this end, ABI announced the purchase of a 9-acre property on Avon Avenue near Murphy Crossing in September.
Murphy Crossing RFP Release
Similarly, ABI led a very robust campaign to solicit community input in preparation for the new Murphy Crossing Request for Proposals, or RFP, which will be released in the winter/spring of 2021. A Stakeholder Advisory Committee comprised of 20 neighborhood leaders from 8 neighborhoods surrounding the site was convened to garner input in the RFP and community engagement process. ABI sent over 8,000 mailers, posted 50 yard signs, and hung 3 banners advertising the 7 public meetings that were held between September and November.
With the need to socially distance, ABI hosted 26 virtual public meetings on Zoom and live streamed to Facebook. Business outreach also moved online, with a special focus on providing businesses with COVID-relief resources. Arts and culture hosted a BeltLine Live Stream Festival in June, featuring artist talks and performances. The beloved Atlanta BeltLine Lantern went virtual as well with a Parade-in-Place. Atlanta residents were invited to showcase their creativity and shine their light throughout the week from their homes and on social media for their neighbors to enjoy. The Atlanta BeltLine Lantern Parade-in-Place culminated on September 25 and 26 with surprise parade pop-ups in BeltLine neighborhoods.
Atlanta BeltLine Data Explorer
As part of continued efforts to promote transparency and accountability around social equity and inclusion, ABI launched the Atlanta BeltLine Data Explorer. Over a year in the making, the tool is the first step in a multi-phase partnership with Neighborhood Nexus to track socioeconomic indicators and ABI investments across the BeltLine Planning Area. The new tool is intended to establish neighborhood-level historical baselines in areas such as race, household income, employment, and housing tenure (e.g., renters and owners). It also provides a snapshot of demographic and socioeconomic conditions today, 15 years into the project’s 25-year lifespan. These metrics will help track progress toward project goals and flag demographic and economic trends that may require policy intervention, such as areas that appear particularly vulnerable to gentrification and displacement.
The next phase of the Neighborhood Nexus collaboration will quantify and map out investments that ABI has made to date on each BeltLine project element, including affordable housing, parks, public art, trails, and transit. Comparing these findings against demographic data from phase one could help identify areas where more investment is needed to promote equity across the BeltLine geography.
Viral COVID signage
Finally, ABI led a public health communications campaign to help curb the spike of COVID-19 cases in Atlanta. Numerous signs were posted around the corridor and shared on social media encouraging trail users to follow CDC guidelines when out on the Atlanta BeltLine. Stories featuring COVID-19 front line workers highlighted heroes working around the BeltLine and how they were fighting to keep Atlanta safe and healthy. Trail usage numbers drop by half from 2019, and many of ABI’s COVID-19 signs went viral on the internet with requests for reproduction in cities as far away as in Canada, Utah, Texas, Tennessee, and Colorado.
These are just ten of ABI’s project accomplishments this year. Beyond the work, though, 2020 has also been a year of reflection on the last 15 years of the Atlanta BeltLine and refocusing our goals and priorities to get us to the 2030 finish line.
Innovation, tenacity, and municipal synergy are required to get us there, and, in spite of this unconventional year, ABI is well-positioned to move into unparalleled acceleration as we enter into 2021.