Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Old Fourth Ward Becomes New Again

By Alexia Alvey, Operations Manager.

As most of our clients and loyal blog readers know, all of us here at Market Street are passionate about making communities better, and often write about best practices and interesting initiatives from around the country. Given that I primarily work behind the scenes to make sure the things you don’t see run smoothly as opposed to being out and about in client communities, I’d like to share what I see on a daily basis and what’s closest to my heart – the fine city of Atlanta. To narrow it down, let’s discuss some of the transformative happenings in my very own neighborhood, the Old Fourth Ward

To give some background, the Old Fourth Ward houses the MLK Historic District and was one of the most prominent neighborhoods in Atlanta in the late 1800’s. Starting in 1960 and continuing into the 80’s the neighborhood drastically declined, losing population and become a center of concentrated poverty. 

Today though, there is an unbelievable amount happening in this tiny area east of Downtown. Let’s start things off with Ponce City Market. On the brink of Midtown lies a massive structure built in 1926 that used to house the Sears and Roebuck Company. When Sears left in the 80’s the city was left with 1.1 million square feet of emptiness. After some minor use through the 90’s the building just sat until Jamestown Properties scooped it up in 2011 and is now redeveloping the property that’s similar to Chelsea Market in NYC (also another one of their projects). This has to be one of the most buzzed about developments in the City of Atlanta. It’s slated to open in 2014 and already has tenants lined up to be a part of the action. Because a paragraph won’t do it justice, read more about this redevelopment in a blog that Evan Robertson wrote back in April. 

There’s also another project going on that you may have heard of called the Atlanta Beltline, which is the transformation of old railroad tracks into recreational paths for the community to use. While there has been a ton of controversy over public funds and lots of political jargon about the project, I’m still really excited about it. Mostly because one of the first sections, the Eastside Trail, is complete and right down the street from where I live but also because the benefits of the trail have been multiplying by the minute. Spurred by this 2.5-mile stretch of concrete, a new park has been developed, numerous new businesses have arrived in the area along with even more slated openings to come, and there is a sense of community and excitement that I haven’t experienced before in my seven years in Atlanta. 

One of the less-buzzed about projects happening right down the street from me is Krog Street Market. Right next door to the Beltline and down the street from Ponce City Market lies yet another massive space that was built in the late 1800’s as a stove and iron pan manufacturing facility. A portion of the space is already in use as a restaurant and the remaining portion will be used to house more restaurants, apartments, and a farmers market. 

There’s more to the renewal effort than taking old buildings and occupying them again. This part of the effort includes working on the actual residents in the area. The Old Fourth Ward houses an infamous street named Boulevard, which has unfortunately become known for crime and poverty. 

In 2012, Atlanta City Councilman Kwanza Hall declared 2012 the “Year of Boulevard” vowing to make some changes that include crime prevention and education reform. So far the Atlanta Police Department has moved a precinct on the street and there have been numerous education efforts including summer camp scholarships, internships and entrepreneurial mentoring, along with partnerships with Operation P.E.A.C.E. I’ve seen the catchy slogan, “Yo!Boulevard” on numerous signs and flyers surrounding the area. Even though this portion of the neighborhood’s renewal isn’t as sexy as all the other development happening in the area, I think it’s the most important. To even think about transforming a community, you have to start with the residents. Let’s hope that Mr. Hall sticks to his guns and continues the effort.