A new intown park?

Planners want to build massive greenspace south of North Avenue

The much heralded Atlanta Beltline may add more than one great amenity to the city.

The project, originally envisioned as a 22-mile transit line along unused tracks around the inner city, may also include a necklace of parks — starting in Poncey-Highland and the Old Fourth Ward.

One of the would-be park's biggest parcels is now a parking lot just south of City Hall East, on North Avenue. Over the next seven years, the mammoth government building is set to undergo an estimated $400 million conversion into a private, mixed-use development.

The first of the parks would encompass a swath of land running southeast from North Avenue, adjacent to the Beltline. Officials with the Atlanta Development Authority, Park Pride and the Trust for Public Land confirmed that the park's creation was under review.

Depending on how much land planners can acquire, the park could spread all the way to Freedom Parkway to the east and Ralph McGill Boulevard to the south. It could be as small as 12 acres or as large as 40 acres and would sit in the middle of the one of the hottest loft and condo areas in the city. The 313-unit Block Lofts, scheduled to be complete by the end of the year, are near the intersection of Ralph McGill Boulevard and Freedom Parkway. The City Hall East conversion is expected to add 1,300 homes, 250,000 square feet of retail space and 100,000 square feet of offices to the neighborhood.

None of the land for the park has been acquired yet, and James Langford, state director of the Trust for Public Land, says it's still too early in the process to declare the park — or the adjacent Beltline — a done deal.

"We've been approached by some people in that area, neighbors who think this might be a good place to put a park, in association with the Beltline and City Hall East," says Langford, who's working to raise funds and purchase land for the park. "We're just beginning to investigate that area as a possibility."

The Poncey-Highland/Old Fourth Ward park would be one of several greenspace possibilities that would run alongside the transit portion of the project, which could be a trolley, a light rail or a high-tech bus.

Since Georgia Tech student Ryan Gravel first discovered and pushed the Beltline concept, it has been the darling of transportation planners and developers. Former City Council President Cathy Woolard took plans a step further by adding greenspace to the Beltline proposal.

The Atlanta Regional Commission is seeking funds from the state to begin land acquisition for the Beltline and has identified about $100 million in guaranteed funds for the project. The estimated cost for the transit portion, with some greenspace, is $583 million.

In addition, the Atlanta Development Authority has commissioned a $300,000 study to find the best way to finance the project, including the more extensive ring of parks.

The funding option with the most promise so far is the creation of a tax-allocation district, which would raise money by taxing nearby businesses. The money would be spent on both Beltline construction and land for parks.

"We'd like to link an existing park, whether it's Grant Park, Piedmont Park or any of the city's existing parks that are on the Beltline, to new parks that we create," Langford says.

To that end, the Trust for Public Land has commissioned its own study, led by a Yale professor of urban planning and management, Alexander Garvin, to pinpoint areas next to the Beltline most suitable for park space. The study will be completed by the end of November.

The Poncey-Highland/Old Fourth Ward proposal is among the most promising of the ring of parks — in part because much of the land is attainable. There are few residences there, and most of the land is made up of kudzu fields and Georgia Power property.

"It's a great opportunity," Langford says. "Atlanta needs more park space, we all know that."