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Residents: Future Turner Field developers must craft plans with the community, not for the community

Nobody is saying we don't want you here. But the slate has to be wiped clean.'

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The only developer that has publicly expressed interest in transforming Turner Field and its sprawling parking lots into a new mixed-use development last night shared its vision with local residents. Or, at least tried to share its vision. But outspoken and organized community members sent a loud and clear message to all developers: scrap your plans, start from scratch, and include residents in the city’s upcoming planning process.

Atlanta-based developer Carter last night met with more than 100 residents at the Georgia Hill Center to discuss the company’s initial plans to redevelop the nearly 80-acre site once the Atlanta Braves move to its new stadium in Cobb County. Things didn't go as planned. Originally intended to be a short briefing followed by collaborative breakout sessions, the event largely turned into a lengthy airing of grievances from residents living in Mechanicsville, Peoplestown, Summerhill, and other communities south of I-20.

Carter is partnering with Georgia State University, Columbia Residential, and Oakwood Development on the project. At least one other group is said to be interested in developing the site. Carter's team released its initial plan in May 2014. The $300 million proposal, which hasn't changed since its release, includes a combination of student housing, retail shops, and single-family homes. The plan also calls for the site of the former Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium — now a parking lot with a painted outline of the baseball diamond — to be turned into a new GSU baseball field. Turner Field would be converted into a multi-sport complex with football, soccer, and track and field facilities.

The remainder of the site would include private student housing, retail shops, and single-family housing. The 1996 Olympic Games cauldron could be turned into a community gateway paying homage to the former Olympic site. Transit connectivity, even a streetcar line, was briefly mentioned in passing. Maybe even a grocery store.

Carter CEO Scott Taylor told residents the meeting was the “beginning of a conversation” for a process that he stressed would be inclusive and transparent. Since the initial plan became public, Taylor says, the development team has attended local meetings, met with elected officials, and chatted with community leaders. Taylor repeatedly stressed his company's commitment to being a part of any community engagement process and remains open to all kinds of community benefits plans.

“This is too big,” Taylor told the residents. “This is too important for us not to have an inclusive and transparent process.”

However, some residents bristled at Taylor’s pledges, responding with outrage over the developer’s attempts to bring a proposal, created without their input, to the meeting more than a year after Carter released the plan to the public. Taylor, noting his team’s “wholehearted respect” for the public’s wishes, said the company also wanted to create a plan in case the properties went on the market.

“Nobody is saying we don’t want you here,” Summerhill resident Richard Quartarone tells CL. “But the slate has to be wiped clean. They have to work through the process that already exists.”

Quartarone was not alone in asking Carter to tap the brakes on their plan. The city earlier this year won a $212,000 Livable Centers Initiative grant from the Atlanta Regional Commission to create a new master plan for the Turner Field site. The city last week released a RFP for companies to bid on the LCI process. Once the city awards that contract, the LCI planning process could take another year to complete.

Micah Rowland, former Neighborhood Planning Unit-V Chair, tells CL the companies interested in Turner Field’s redevelopment should be a part of the LCI process rather than bring their plans to the table. At the meeting, rumors swirled about the potential for the LCI planning to be ignored by the site's eventual developer, which would leave residents out of the process. The recent hiring of Atlanta City Councilwoman Keisha Lance Bottoms, a strong ally of Mayor Kasim Reed, to lead the agency that owns the stadium has also fanned the flames about the site's future.

“People are excited to start out with a blank map and reimagine their neighborhoods,” says Moki Macias, organizer of the Turner Field Community Benefits Coalition. “That’s what they want. That’s what they deserve. That message is clear. … We want to work with developers. But there is a way to do this.”

Taylor, putting on his best face after the meeting, said he was optimistic about the road forward despite the criticism. He said his team would go back to the drawing board, answer questions from the residents, and figure out its next steps.

“This is such big opportunity for the city,” Taylor says. “It’s so important to all these neighborhoods. We know it’s important and that’s why we wanted to be here to engage in the conversation. We know we don’t have all the answers. There are a number of ideas we think can come together that will make it better for everyone.”

We've included the initial rendering for the Carter-GSU plan after the jump.


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