It’s becoming an age-old question: Why is that new modern building still unoccupied in Grant Park near Zoo Atlanta? The one with cool architecture, sweet city views, a giant front yard, and bountiful parking in the new garage beneath it?

After a recent visit to the Grant Park Gateway, one concerned reader from East Atlanta put it this way: “Maybe, just maybe, in 2024, I’ll be able to play Frisbee with my kids on the lawn and grab a bite or a drink afterwards… right there.” 

Two years after the $48-million Gateway opened, replacing a parking lot with a park-topped garage, the chef-driven restaurant component city leaders had been promising since the project’s conceptual stages in 2017 still hasn’t materialized. Inside the voluminous new building, it’s still crickets. And the answer as to why is about as clear as the flamingo pond next door.

Aerial of the Gateway illustrating its proximity to the zoo's elephant habitat and downtown. City of Atlanta Parks and Recreation Department; via Epsten Group

Department of Parks and Recreation officials told Urbanize Atlanta in January 2021 there were no immediate plans to fill the restaurant space, but that a request for proposals was expected to be issued later that year. It doesn’t appear that ever happened, and nobody in an official capacity is discussing why.

Email inquiries this week to: the City of Atlanta media information line, the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation, District 1 City Councilmember Jason Winston’s office, various NPU-W staff members, and the Grant Park Neighborhood Association were either not returned or yielded no information pertaining to the Gateway building’s plight.

[UPDATE: 11:58 p.m., December 19: Ronald Lall, NPU-W chairperson, sends the following note: 

"NPUs and neighborhood associations are not consulted on matters such as the one that you have described, as far as I am aware, and so have no information to offer on the (very good) questions that you have raised. There was very little 'consultation' with the NPU and the neighborhood association when the decision to build the parking deck was made and that trend continued while the dispute with the contractor was being worked through and resolved. Thanks for shining some light on the matter and hopefully you'll be able to get some answers from the city, or whomever has the responsibility for leasing the space."]

The Gateway building is also not listed as a project out for bid with the city’s revised Department of Procurement.

The underside of the patio's roof comes to life with lighting at night. Josh Green/Urbanize Atlanta

The 2.5-acre greenspace has become a magnet for people flying kites, skateboarders, roller skaters, bicyclists, picnickers, and giddy kids who can spy elephants, giraffes, and zebras next door. But so far, restaurant enthusiasts at the Gateway are out of luck.

The Smith Dalia-designed parking structure replaced eight acres of surface parking with 1,000 stacked parking spaces, EV charging stations, bike racks, restrooms, and three elevators. It costs $3 per hour, or $12 per day, to park there.

The spacious interior of the Gateway building, as seen in early 2021, looks largely the same today. Josh Green/Urbanize Atlanta

A food and beverage concept would have no competition for several blocks, and the infrastructure, architecture, and park setting seem to have all the ingredients for a destination business.

Instead, on the bright side, the patio makes for a pretty fun outdoor roller skating hub.  

Grant Park news, discussion (Urbanize Atlanta)