Residents along Westside Trail push back against demolition plans

Beltline officials want to raze building overlooking path at State Farmer’s Market complex

Over at Murphy Avenue near Adair Park, walkers and bicyclists on a new segment of the Atlanta Beltline will one day stride and pedal over the path where railroad engines used to chug by the once-bustling 16.5-acre State Farmers Market.

Beltline officials are shaping the plan for what will be one of the biggest investments along the loop and deciding how much the redo will evoke the market’s midcentury heyday. They want to “activate” the neighborhood, and are commissioning help on a plan to attract jobs and jump-start nearby neighborhoods.

But some residents are worried that demolition might be the order of the day. After announcing plans to raze an abandoned gas station overlooking the trail along Ralph David Abernathy Boulevard, Beltline officials now say they want to bulldoze one of the market’s buildings. The plans have sparked community concerns that the under-construction trail and other plans could wipe out some of the area’s historic character.

Today, the old State Farmers Market site belongs to graffiti artists, photographers of urban decay, and a state probationer day-reporting site that will move in 2017. The property boasts 10 abandoned buildings and one big open shed, according to the Beltline. The state tried to sell off most of the site in 2012 and described the buildings as vacant and in bad need of repair. It had no takers.

Things were different 75 years ago. Construction started in 1940 and when the market opened, it was almost too successful. According to historian Harold Martin’s Atlanta and Environs, the massive facility was supposed to replace makeshift farmers markets all over town that provided reasonably priced vegetables and eggs — along with “noise, smells, traffic congestion and an influx of raffish characters.” The city and the state partnered to build the central market on Murphy, despite objections from neighbors both in council and in court, according to Martin.

Before long, the site was so crowded in high harvest season that there was no space for all the farmers, and customers sat in traffic jams. In 1959, the state opened the market in Forest Park that’s still there today.

Ironically, Atlanta’s former food Eden is now something of a food desert. The USDA says the area around the old market is home to a significant number of low-income people who live more than a half-mile from a grocery store.

Amy Johnson, a leader with both the Oakland City Community Organization and Friends of Rev. James Orange Park, says she knows some neighbors are concerned about preserving the market buildings. But Johnson says she and others have little love for the market site.

“I’ve been over there 25 years and it’s looked like that the whole 25 years, it’s never been something I was happy to look at,” Johnson says, adding she does not want the Beltline slowed down.

She says the neighborhood doesn’t want to be run over, but at the same it’s not possible — or even desirable — to save all the market buildings. As for Building 11, the long, low building on the Beltline’s demolition wish list: “I’m ready to let that go yesterday,” Johnson says.

Adair Park resident Matt Garbett, however, wants to see maximum preservation on the site, including Building 11. While arguably unremarkable by themselves, the whole collection of buildings tell the story about the area’s past.

And the location is important. Building 11, much like the abandoned gas station on Ralph David Abernathy that Beltline officials say is an environmental hazard, sits at the entrance of a tunnel along the trail. In general, Garbett says, the Beltline shouldn’t be like an interstate highway lined with identical exits. He wants it to be like an old-fashioned U.S. highway that runs through unique downtowns.

“The Beltline is a street that connects 45 different neighborhoods and really highlights the uniqueness and what each individual neighborhood along the Beltline has to offer,” says Garbett, who’s worked with other residents to try and push back against the demolition plans. “That’s what it’s about to me.”

ABI has scheduled a public meeting about the site on Jan. 14. The Beltline Design Review Committee, a group of architects, planners, residents, and developers who get first crack at fine-tuning any development — or demolition — proposal within a half-mile of the project, will discuss Building 11’s future at a Jan. 20 meeting.