The nonprofit Sweet Auburn Works, or SAW, has a vision for revitalizing the neighborhood as a stronger tourist magnet, hub of thriving local businesses, and a sort of walkable open history book.

And that vision just got a significant infusion of cash.

Bank of America announced today a $500,000 grant for SAW’s Retail Accelerator Fund that will channel up to $25,000 per business to local entrepreneurs of color in Sweet Auburn.

Specifically, that fund is meant to help with business improvements that include architectural and design buildouts—and ultimately a diversification of Sweet Auburn retail offerings. Other boosts for business owners covered by the fund include access to consulting and design pros to help hone business concepts, plus meetings with SAW staff for help selecting real estate and leveraging city resources, among other benefits, per Bank of America reps.  

A new SAW campaign called Walking with Heroes features a project called the “Hero Walk” that Bank of America’s grant should help implement, too. 

Key points along the planned 1.1-mile Hero Walk route. Courtesy of Sweet Auburn Works

The Hero Walk would span 1.1 miles from Jackson Street Bridge in Old Fourth Ward, which is set for a people-friendly makeover, to Historic Oakland Cemetery.

The idea, per SAW officials, is to tell “a compelling story of Atlanta’s Black heroes past and present,” while using the walking route to weave together BeltLine and PATH Foundation trails near John Lewis Freedom Parkway, Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park, the historic cemetery, and the planned Memorial Drive Greenway.

Additions along the walking route would include public art, vacant lot activations, historic markers and wayfinding, and various temporary installations. The hope is that visitors would “see the Sweet Auburn corridor as a living monument,” according to SAW grant application paperwork provided to Urbanize Atlanta. The walk “will pay homage to the late Congressman John Lewis within the broader context of many great spiritual, civic, and political leaders whose legacies also lie in Sweet Auburn.”

SAW’s broader mission is to revitalize the Sweet Auburn Historic District—the birthplace of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and “cradle of civil rights” that housed Atlanta’s first Black-owned offices and daily newspaper. SAW executive director LeJuano Varnell believes that, with the Bank of America grant, “Black business owners will now be better positioned to benefit from, and grow with, the growth of the city,” per an announcement today.  

The neighborhood's iconic John Lewis mural. Courtesy of Sweet Auburn Works

The banking giant plans to invest $150 million in 40 private funds—including Atlanta-based Fearless Fund—in an effort to help tackle “the persistent gap in access to growth capital for minority-led businesses.”

To gather steam for the Hero Walk, SAW leaders have begun talks with influential agencies including MARTA, Atlanta History Center, and Central Atlanta Progress.

In the short term, they hope the initiative will spur more tourist and pedestrian activity in the area.

“[The Hero Walk's] lasting impact will be educating residents and visitors about our collective past,” wrote SAW leadership during the grant process, “preserving the legacy of what was once the epicenter of Black commerce and culture; and laying the foundation for a citywide exhibition and celebration of Atlanta's Black heroes.”

• O4W mixed-use with strictly affordable housing to rise 3 blocks from BeltLine (Urbanize Atlanta)