When a former head of the Atlanta Regional Commission was announced this week as the new leader of the Midtown Connector Park initiative, one number in revised statistics for the concept jumped out: 17 acres.
That’s significantly smaller than the highway-capping greenspace idea was originally intended to be, as revealed two years ago this month. Plus, the initial 10-block scope seemed to have been essentially cut in half.
Taylor Morison, chief strategy officer with MCP Foundation, the nonprofit spearheading the park project, says the Midtown Connector has been scaled back to lower costs, improve its chances of happening sooner, and pave the way for other highway-capping park initiatives in Atlanta the agency sees as viable.
Morison provided Urbanize Atlanta with updated site plans and renderings illustrating how the project would now span from North Avenue, beside the original Varsity, up to 5th Street, where a plaza with a small lawn that’s popular with Georgia Tech students already exists.
The original Midtown Connector scope called for carrying the greenspace for about five more blocks up to 10th Street, capping up to 15 lanes of open expressway along the way.
Morison explains the initial project, from North Avenue to 10th Street, would have created 41 geometric acres of physical space. But unlike revised plans, it also included roadways, meaning the actual useable park space was closer to 35 acres.
Subtract all walking paths and impervious features from that, and you have the acreage number that had been bandied about since early 2021: 25 acres.
At .48 linear miles, the Midtown Connector’s new scope calls for about 16 acres, give or take, in total geometric space. Or roughly 40 percent the original acreage.
For context, that footprint would be similar to 16-acre Rodney Cook Sr. Park, opened in Vine City in 2021. But the possibility that the Midtown Connector could be expanded in the future hasn't been ruled out.
The shrinkage also means Midtown Connector cost estimates—while hardly a drop in the bucket—have been slashed to somewhere between $650 and $800 million, according to Morison. (Remember that early estimates pegged the price tag at somewhere between $800 million and $1.2 billion.)
“What prompted the reduction in scope was deliverability,” Morison wrote via email, “and our intention to be the ‘proof of concept,’ so that our future expansion plans, the Stitch, HUB404 [in Buckhead], and other meritorious decking projects can follow and find funding with the confidence that we’ve established.”
Despite scaling back, the Midtown Connector would still be the largest highway-capping park in town.
The Stitch calls for about 14 acres of plazas, paved trails, and MARTA-connected greenspace over the Connector a few blocks away in downtown. Meanwhile, Buckhead’s highway-capping greenspace concept, HUB404, over Ga. Highway 400 calls for 9 acres. Both have recently appointed new leadership and announced federal funding.
Taylor noted that plans for a grand events pavilion at the Midtown Connector’s north end are still relevant. Those came to light on these pages in September, when project leaders said $100 million in private funding had been secured.
The MCP Foundation announced Monday that longtime ARC leader Doug Hooker has been appointed CEO of the Midtown Connector project. Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens and Dan Cathy, Chick-fil-A’s billionaire chairman and an adamant project supporter, applauded that appointment.
The foundation completed a three-year feasibility study in late 2021. MCP Foundation leaders also revealed this week they took “vision trips” to similar highway-capping projects around the world in 2022, while hosting stakeholder events with city and state officials. In December, the initiative secured $3.2 million in federal funding to help complete a 30-percent design and engineering package this year—and to position it to better compete for federal construction grants in 2024.
Find a quick breakdown of the Midtown Connector’s new scope in the gallery above.
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