Five University of Maryland graduate students have designed a housing-focused vision for the iconic and long-vacant Atlanta Civic Center site in Old Fourth Ward that could actually play a role in its redevelopment. 

Placing first and winning $20,000 in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s ninth annual Innovation in Affordable Housing Student Design and Planning Competition, the team proposed the “Rise of Pines” mixed-use development for the stagnant property, setting a lofty goal for an overhaul neighbors have been awaiting for eight years. 

The students reimagined the Civic Center with 1,336 apartments and 58 condos, all snuggled into seven new wood-framed high- and mid-rise buildings that would be erected around the 13-acre site’s famous performance hall, which property owner Atlanta Housing (AH) intends to preserve during the redevelopment.

The students’ design would provide 315 residences priced affordably for households earning 80% or less than the area median income, as well as 125 permanent supportive housing units and 225 homes for seniors.

The design team, composed of Sam McCormally, Maria Farieta, Donald Nuzzio, Danielle Abe, and Fadi Alajati, won $20,000 for taking home the gold in the contest, which had students across the country competing to make the best use of the Civic Center site.

The Maryland team’s ambitious project, which, hypothetically, would be supported by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs’ low-income housing tax credits, tax allocation district (TAD) financing, and other funding sources, would also feature restaurants, retail, offices, greenspace, a hotel, a grocery store, and community services, such as workforce development and educational programs—aligning with AH’s request for proposals for the site.

AH’s CEO, Eugene Jones, told Atlanta Civic Circle that elements of the Maryland team’s winning design will be incorporated in the final site plan, once the public housing agency taps a master developer during its May 25 board of commissioners meeting.

Jones said AH has narrowed its list of developers to five, but he declined to share details of their proposals before the upcoming board vote.

The AH board was expected to vote on a Civic Center developer during its April meeting, but it unexpectedly punted that decision back a month, which Jones said was so commissioners had time to vet the “best and final offers.”

In the interim, Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens last week moved to replace four of the AH board’s seven commissioners, prompting holdovers from the tenure of former mayors Keisha Lance Bottoms and Kasim Reed to resign. Outgoing are AH board chair Christopher Edwards and Robert Highsmith, both appointed by Reed, and Bottoms appointees Kirk Rich and Pat Dixon, Jr.

Expected to join the board are former Urban Land Institute Atlanta head Sarah Kirsch, former Atlanta Regional Commission leader Doug Hooker, businesswoman and former city of Atlanta chief operating officer Duriya Farooqui, and Larry Stewart, the vice chair of the Atlanta Housing Commission—an extragovernmental advisory board not to be confused with AH.

The Atlanta City Council must still approve Dickens’ new appointments, which could happen as soon as its May 16 meeting. That would mean that as soon as they’re sworn in, the new AH board members could help elect a Civic Center developer.

Watch the final presentations and award ceremony for HUD’s Atlanta Civic Center competition here:

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