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Guest donaltopablo

Park over the Downtown Connector?

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Guest donaltopablo

Very interesting article. In fact, there are 3 topics covered. I know this article is a little long, but well worth the read: 1. Mentions the plans to cover part of the Dowtown Connector (main freeway in DT Atlanta) with a park attached to it. 2. It make references to the continued development around 5th street, a high area in Midtown for commerical development, including making reference to a new 500,000 square foot building. Lastly, it talks about how the developer was original a sprawl developer, only to have cancer and realize that suburban development was nothing to be proud of and has since turned his focus into in city development. Good stuff.

Unique plan marries Fifth St. bridge, park

Maria Saporta

Recent columns

A one-acre park will be built over the Downtown Connector at Fifth Street.

Actually, the park will be an extension of the soon-to-be-reconstructed Fifth Street bridge connecting Midtown with Georgia Tech.

The park/bridge will be a first for Atlanta -- developing park space over the great divider of the city, the Downtown Connector, where I-75 and I-85 come together.

And if developer Kim King has his way, that park eventually would extend all the way to the 10th Street bridge and reconnect a schism in the heart of Midtown. In his mind, Fifth Street is just the first phase.

King is not alone in wanting to bridge over sections of the connector. A.J. Robinson, president of Central Atlanta Progress, would love to create a new park over the interstate near Peachtree Street and Ralph McGill Boulevard.

The concept is the same -- to stitch the city back together in an artful way.

"Putting a park on the Fifth Street bridge will create a more spectacular and appropriate entrance to Tech's front door," King said. "This park will be very decorative and pleasing to the eye. It will be a significant statement."

The Georgia Department of Transportation has a budget of between $10 million and $11 million to reconstruct and widen the Fifth Street bridge. It plans to put the project out for bid in April and award the contract in May. That means construction could start by next fall.

The DOT portion of the project will construct the bridge and a platform 223 feet wide and 256 feet long. The platform, which DOT calls the "lid," will be just basic concrete, with enough strength to hold a park on top.

"We would like to supplement the DOT project by bringing private interests into funding the top of the lid so something unique and creative can be done, as opposed to what happened at 17th Street," King said.

After contemplating dramatic designs for the new 17th Street bridge, the state decided to go with a lower-cost solution: a nondescript structure whose yellow color is its only claim to fame.

The hope is that the Fifth Street bridge, at least at eye level, will be much more inviting. The design calls for lights that will create the appearance of a suspension bridge at night.

"Everything above the concrete structure, the lighting feature and plantings, is estimated to be a $6 million additional cost," said King, who is working with architects and landscape architects on the project. "One of the things we are sorting through now is a funding mechanism to make the park improvements."

King envisions the money for the park being raised from the private sector working with Georgia Tech and its foundations. He also intends to make a "significant" contribution toward the park.

"Certainly we have a vested interest in that park," King said. "We've gotten $200 million worth of buildings on this side of the expressway, not including the Georgia Tech buildings. Selfishly, we have a very real interest in the quality of the park, how it comes into being and how it's maintained. We will be a player, a significant player, in that."

Georgia Tech President Wayne Clough believes it will be easier to raise money for the park when people can envision how it will straddle the expressway. He expects that Georgia Tech and private property owners will be responsible for maintaining the park.

"The concept here is to make this city look like a real city," Clough said. "The bridges in Atlanta were built for one thing only, and that was cars. And great cities build bridges for people and cars."

As Clough sees it, the bridge is part of the next phase. "We want to continue the renaissance of Midtown," he said. "It's nice to see it happening."

Once Fifth Street is done, Clough would love to see similar improvements made to the North Avenue and 10th Street bridges over the expressway, which he considers blights on Atlanta's cityscape.

The Fifth Street bridge project is an extension of what has become one of Atlanta's great success stories: the urban, pedestrian-oriented complex of academic, business and residential developments on the east side of the connector along Spring and West Peachtree streets.

Georgia Tech has taken the lead in projects on the southern end of Fifth Street, and King has been the lead developer on the northern end of Fifth. But the two developments are nearly seamless because of the continuity of urban design, including street-level retail, wide sidewalks and buildings that relate well to the surrounding community.

The developments have been so successful that King is planning to break ground on a new, 500,000-square-foot office building just north of his first Centergy tower, to be completed by the fall of 2005. He currently is in the final stages of negotiations with tenants that will fill the space in his current building.

All this is quite a transformation for King, who played football at Georgia Tech and then started his development company in 1972, working primarily in suburban markets.

A few years ago, King started asking himself: What's my legacy? What have I done that makes me feel really good and proud?

"I realized that we were successful," he said. "We had made money. We had done some nice deals. But we hadn't done anything that really added to the human scale and experience."

The urgency and focus of King's development plans intensified when he was told by a doctor in June 1999 that he had only 18 months to live. Since then, cancer has been a constant companion, but one he has been able to control.

Cancer has influenced how King approaches life. He wants to seize every moment and make everything count. It just so happened that his entree into Midtown coincided with his own transformation. The idea really took hold when King was serving as chairman of Georgia Tech's real estate foundation in the mid-1990s.

"If there's been one guy who influenced me more than anyone, it was Wayne Clough," King said. "He helped me think of the potential of what Tech could do by moving part of its campus to Midtown. Wayne really inspired me."

Now there seems to be no stopping King. He talks of creating a new tax allocation district in Midtown that could generate millions of dollars to create and improve public spaces. The "war room" in his new offices is plastered with several versions of master plans for the area. While King's plans are fluid, there's no question that he will have a great impact on Midtown's future.

Calling his Midtown development the most satisfying of his career, he seems more enthusiastic today than ever before.

"If I could use one word to sum up my experience here, it is 'energy,' " King said. "It's really fun to be here."

Maria Saporta's column appears every Thursday in Business and every Monday in Horizon.

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