Dear Decaturish – Crossing the Line
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Once upon a time, before Peachtree became Atlanta’s great Main Street, that title belonged to Northside Drive, or Highway 41. Rolling down Highway 41 took you through the economic center of Atlanta.
Once upon a time, a man like Delta CEO C.E. Woolman could get into his car in Buckhead and drive in a straight line down Northside Drive right up to the entrance of his beloved Atlanta Airport.
Northside then was a cross between Peachtree Road, the Downtown Connector and the MARTA line. It skirted downtown past Atlanta University, it was lined by warehouses and workshops to which people commuted from all over the area, and it was the way you came into and got out of the city from the south.
Highway 41 was how Sherman came into Atlanta and John Bell Hood left it.
Then everything changed. Woolman died, the Civil Rights movement happened, and Northside became first, the color line, and, later, the main route alongside Atlanta’s worst ghettoes.
Names were changed to try and instill a new image. Bankhead Highway, once the east-west cross to Coca-Cola and Georgia Tech, became notorious, then became Donald Hollowell. Whitehall, one of the very first streets in Atlanta, along which trains headed into the great green toward Florida, became just another crossing, the expensive 1920s-era viaduct ignored by drug dealers rushing from Pittsburgh up to English Avenue.
The road itself became a drag strip, a drug strip, and was lined with strip joints. The city renamed Stewart Ave. “Metropolitan Parkway” but no one was fooled.
Now there is an opportunity to create some serious change
Along the stretch of Northside next to downtown, the World Congress Center’s third wing marches down to the Georgia Dome and a new 1,200 room luxury hotel is being built, as big as two high-rise towers, alongside the new Atlanta Falcons’ stadium being built. It is Arthur Blank’s 1.5 billion dollar bet on the future of entertainment.
When the Braves open their own park in Cobb County, two years from now, it will feature a line of entertainment and shopping complexes designed as a new town center along the freeway.
But what will the Falcons’ Stadium open up to?
Dan Cathy of Chick Fil A describes Northside Drive as Georgia’s own “Great Divide.”
To fix this we need to cross over to the other side.
Some have already done that. Go north on Highway 41, toward Buckhead, and you’ll see that old warehouses have been turned into swank shopping centers and restaurants, the spaces between them transformed into housing for Georgia Tech and the technologists there who are busy remaking the world.
Cathy says we need to “do something” for 30314, the zip code that starts at Northside and extends west and north past some of the city’s worst areas.
But what can he do? What can Arthur Blank do?
For starters how about connecting 30314 to the rest of the city in a meaningful way that will spread the wealth from our great city westward?
Forget about bridges over. They are cheap meaningless gestures that only serve to further isolate. Why not go under Northside Drive, and build a great plaza extending the Falcons Stadium to the Westside? If you understand what will happen to the old Dome you will understand that the grade works. The roads are all torn up and will be for the next two years. What better time to make a bold move that will have effects for the next 100 years?
And what happens if you do this …the opportunities are limitless.
Think LA Live or Atlanta’s version of Times Square. Build a new performance hall right across from the Vine City MARTA station, with a capacity between the Fox Theater and the small clubs many acts have to play today. Add a movie and TV studio with production facilities and voila, you have created a village where the entertainment industry will have a center. Top it off with shops and restaurants providing jobs to area residents, and a grand plaza that finally links Atlanta University to downtown, envelopes it, and makes Atlanta one again.
And it all starts with a simple crossing of Northside Drive. Yes Mr. Cathy, we do need to cross Northside but we don’t need to go over it. We need to go UNDER it.
Somewhere out there in our city is a bold entrepreneur thinking the same thing. Now is the time for that person to come to the front of the line. Your city awaits you.
– Dana Blankenhorn