The Atlanta Civic Center could finally be bound for resurrection.
Vacant since 2014, the Boisfeuillet Jones Atlanta Civic Center — an Old Fourth Ward landmark erected in the late 1960s — has long been itching for a comeback that would reinvent it as a place Atlantans can once again embrace.
Now, the iconic 19-acre site is nearing a much-awaited redevelopment — the kind that could repurpose the beige brick structure and its immediate environs as a hub of affordable housing and who knows what else — according to Eugene Jones, chief executive of the property’s owner, Atlanta Housing (AH).
Jones told Atlanta Civic Circle on Thursday that a request for qualifications (RFQ) was on the horizon, set to go out, “hopefully,” by the end of August. Once the RFQ drops, he said, AH will evaluate developers’ proposals and select “two or three for a presentation to staff and the community.”
AH had previously engaged real estate investment firm Weingarten Realty to lead the Civic Center’s redevelopment, although Jones said the company’s involvement is “still being discussed.” Weingarten representatives have not yet responded to Atlanta Civic Circle’s requests for comment.
All said, what could become of the languishing building and the land surrounding it is anyone’s guess. Some local urban planning experts, city officials and mayoral candidates, however, have a few ideas.
City Councilman Amir Farokhi, who represents the district where the Civic Center is located, previously told Atlanta Civic Circle that he thinks the property has the potential to spawn hundreds — if not thousands — of new residences.
“The Civic Center site is a blank canvas that we don’t want to mess up,” he added on Friday. “What I hope for is not only ample, if not copious, affordable housing, but also mixed-use development, potentially the development of additional greenspace and a grid system, while maintaining the Civic Center performance venue.”
Matthew Garbett, co-founder of urbanist blog ThreadATL, echoed Farokhi’s desire to restore the street grid, but said, “I don’t think that’s possible with what bounds the property on the north and east.”
The property’s future needs to support vertical construction, he added, as well as “expanded sidewalks, maximum parking requirements and small- to medium-sized commercial spaces that can accommodate a variety of uses and adapt as the neighborhood goes through changes over time.”
Like Farokhi, Georgia State University urban studies professor Dan Immergluck said he’d like to see the property reimagined as a haven of affordable housing, with units that are attainable by the city’s most marginalized populations.
“I certainly hope there will be many deeply affordable units there — those affordable at less than 50 and even 30 percent of the area median income (AMI) — and not just a small percentage,” he said. “Hopefully, at least 50 percent or more of the units will be affordable at these deeper levels, where the need is greatest, rather than the 80-percent AMI level that is so common in the city.”
Asked about Immergluck’s vision for the site, Jones said, “I agree.”
Jones also said he backs Immergluck’s insistence that the housing authority “retains ownership of the site and retains long-term control.”
“After giving up ownership and/or control of so much of its land in recent years,” Immergluck added, “[AH] needs to retain all the land it owns that is suitable for housing.”
Kasim Reed, who was serving as mayor when AH purchased the Civic Center in 2017, “believes that any redevelopment of the site should include a collaborative process with the surrounding community and provide working people the opportunity to live in an area with access to transit, employment centers in Midtown and downtown and high-quality schools,” according to Anne Torres, a spokeswoman for Reed’s current mayoral campaign.
City Council President Felicia Moore, another mayoral contender, said the same — that the property must include “quality greenspace and truly affordable housing for families and the service industry employees who work in the Old Fourth Ward, downtown and Midtown districts.”
Also vying for the mayor’s seat, City Councilman Antonio Brown said he, too, would “like to see Atlanta Housing conduct community engagement sessions with the surrounding communities to understand what they would like to see the Atlanta Civic Center developed into.”
Andre Dickens, a city councilman and mayoral candidate, noted that, with close proximity to a MARTA rail stop, the Civic Center has the potential to become an important “transit-oriented development with many levels of affordability.”
Like his competitors, Dickens said he wants comprehensive community engagement to contribute to the planning process “to make sure we get the best possible development with enough affordable housing and the ability to preserve the unique character of downtown.”
Adding to calls for affordable housing and greenspace, attorney and mayoral hopeful Sharon Gay said the new development “should be a major job creator, since it should include offices, significant retail and restaurant spaces and a major grocery store.”
“It could even include a new hotel ideally located close to Atlanta’s business center downtown,” she added.
Gay also said, “given the magnitude and significance of this project,” it’s critical that the planning process isn’t rushed. “The next administration must be significantly involved in this major development, and no big decisions should be made before the inauguration of the next mayor.”
What do you think should happen to the Atlanta Civic Center? Sound off in the comments.