It’s been nearly six months since Atlanta Botanical Garden’s intentions for the first major expansion in the institution's 50-year history started coming to light.
Now, exactly what those expanded Midtown grounds might look like—and how Garden officials expect to get there—is coming into clearer focus.
Project leaders in November announced plans for what’s essentially a second Atlanta Botanical Garden front door: a 7-acre expansion along Piedmont Avenue that would tap directly into an under-construction section of the Atlanta BeltLine. A $25-million donation last year from the James M. Cox Foundation, long a financial supporter of the Garden and BeltLine, is expected to cover about half of costs.
According to a new landing page for the expansion, designs remain in early phases, but a key focus would be creating what Garden leadership calls “an iconic vista” plainly visible from the BeltLine, with a large water feature as its centerpiece. The new section would grow the Garden’s current 30-acre footprint by roughly 25 percent toward the north, marking the Garden’s first substantial expansion since its founding in 1976.
Mary Pat Matheson, the Garden’s president and CEO, has said the goal is to finish in time for Atlanta’s World Cup matches in 2026. Which happens to be the facility’s 50th anniversary.
But a significant hurdle remains in the form of a public storage facility, of all things.
A make-or-break parcel for the Garden expansion is currently occupied by Public Storage, tucked off Piedmont Avenue. Development of the new BeltLine-facing gardens can’t begin until that self-storage facility moves out.
To achieve that, Garden officials spent $13.5 million last year to buy the former Cantoni furniture showroom located on 2 acres along Monroe Drive, on the flipside of Piedmont Park.
But some neighbors in Virginia-Highland are none too pleased about the prospects of a five-story attic for people’s stuff at the edge of their historic neighborhood—especially not (another) one that overlooks the BeltLine’s popular Eastside Trail. A neighborhood group has asked Garden officials to consider changes that would help the self-storage facility blend with its surroundings, including a brick façade, nice landscaping, and retail uses at street level.
For its part, the Garden points out that moving Public Storage a few blocks to the southeast “creates no increase in storage facilities on the BeltLine or in the Piedmont Park vicinity, and will not generate additional vehicle traffic in the neighborhood,” according its website.
Public Storage has hired a local architecture firm “familiar with intown neighborhoods as a consultant to design a [Monroe Drive] building in keeping with the neighborhood character,” per Garden officials.
The Cox Foundation gift is being combined with $5 million each from The UPS Foundation and Carol Tomé, a former Garden trustee, to help with land acquisition costs. A capital fundraising campaign to pay for development is pending, once all parcels are acquired; Garden officials have previously said the fundraising goal is $17 million.
As fresh sketches indicate, the Garden’s new section would also include a visitors center, café, beer garden, and something called an orangerie (a greenhouse for growing oranges, that is).
The vision also calls for some of the Garden’s famed mosaiculture sculptures—think: Earth Goddess, “Alice in Wonderland” characters, and cobras—being visible to BeltLine passersby. One such sculpture would be a 20-foot-tall phoenix, symbolizing the city’s endurance, officials have said.
Next door, the BeltLine is building another section of the Northeast Trail right now. That paved link between Piedmont Park and southern Buckhead is scheduled to open this fall.
Just beyond that BeltLine segment, the City of Atlanta spent $20.4 million in 2018 to buy retail and mixed-use property to eventually grow Piedmont Park along Monroe Drive, too. North of the Garden, Ansley Mall owners Selig Enterprises announced plans last year for a bridge behind the shopping center that would tap into the same BeltLine trail extension.
Find a bounty of other renderings and sketches for the Garden expansion in our earlier coverage here.
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