Street Car May Endanger Auburn Avenue Small Businesses

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(APN) ATLANTA – If all goes according to plan, Atlanta’s historic Auburn Avenue will get a street car line by July 2012.  [Of course, US House Republicans could attempt to pull all federal funding for the project, so aside from that.]

The Atlanta Street Car, which was approved by the City Council of Atlanta in December 2008, is said to be an essential part of creating a first class transit system in Atlanta.

The Concept 3 plan, which is the Atlanta region’s long-term transit vision, includes the street car, the Beltline, and MARTA, in eventually connecting a large portion of Atlanta.  The Concept 3 plan will allow easy accessibility to a large part of Atlanta, including main attractions like the Martin Luther King Center for Nonviolent Social Change, Woodruff Park, CNN, the Georgia World Congress Center, and all MARTA connections.

The street car is a key part of this by providing service to the King Center, which according to Councilman Michael Bond (Post 1-at-large), is the most visited tourist attraction in Atlanta.

According to Concept 3, the Streetcar is essential to providing the connectivity needed by current residents and visitors, which is needed to remain competitive for future economic growth.

According to the streetcar map posted online, the streetcar line will travel in a circle.  It will take Auburn Avenue west from the King Center to Luckie Street, Luckie northeast to Centennial Olympic Park Drive, Centennial briefly north to Andrew Young International Boulevard, Andrew Young east to Carnegie Way, Carnegie southeast to Edgewood Avenue, Edgewood east to Boulevard, Boulevard briefly north back to Auburn, and back west down Auburn again.

The streetcar will go one way down Auburn and other streets.  It is not immediately clear whether the traffic on Auburn will change from two-way to one-way, nor whether there will continue to be any parking along Auburn, something which greatly concerns several small business owners.

In recent years, there have also been efforts to open a street car line on Peachtree Street.  However, the Auburn site was chosen in order to connect major tourist attractions.

Also, City of Atlanta at one point had to choose whether to apply for funds from a federal TIGER grant for the Auburn Avenue street car or for the Beltline.

Bond told Atlanta Progressive News the main reason the City chose to apply for the Streetcar as opposed to the part of the Beltline, is because the government program allows for only one grant per city.

The streetcar was mainly funded by the TIGER grant, which was awarded by the US Department of Transportation.

The grant was declined the first time round, and originally during the second application process, both the Beltline and the streetcar were applying for the grant.

Bond said that Mayor Kasim Reed felt the street car would be Atlanta’s best chance of winning the grant.

In October 2010, the City was awarded 47.6 million dollars, and was presented a check by DOT Secretary Ray LaHood, from the TIGER grant, for the street car project.

Although there have been a few changes under the plan, Bond says “everything is now paid for.”

Bond says there was a nine million dollar increase when the federal government required the streetcars to be new, rather than refurbished street cars.

This money was funded from the same Rental Car Fund that helped build Phillips Arena.  In addition, Bond said that the City will receive a future nine million dollar credit to reimburse the City for this expenditure.

The City originally came up with five million dollars, when it initially voted to begin studying the feasibility of a streetcar project in Atlanta.

In 2009, Council Members traveled in groups and visited other cities that have streetcars to learn about how they operate.

The streetcar fare will be the current charge that MARTA charges and the MARTA cards and tickets can be used on the streetcar, Bond said.

Bond also says that the new street cars will run in the snow, which will help in the event of another snow crisis like the one this January 2011.

Although many are pleased with the streetcar, others have concerns.

Some Atlantans expressed their frustrations to the Rome News.  David Mayes, 32, whose commute has been complicated by the recent cuts to MARTA, said “it wouldn’t make a difference to me.”

Randy Maddox, 49, said he felt this does nothing for Atlanta traffic.  Of course, that was not the intention of the program.

Activist Ron Shakir has criticized the Council for spending money on a streetcar, while ignoring broken sidewalks in South Atlanta.  However, the TIGER grant was specifically for a mass transit system.

The shop owners have their own concerns, yet try to remain optimistic.

Lamar Collier, owner of Silver Star Barber and Beauty Shop on Auburn Avenue, shared his thoughts.

Collier is excited about the streetcar, and hopes it will bring business to area.

When asked if he is concerned the rents would go up, he said “the rents have already gone up!”

Collier’s main concern was lack of parking, which he admits he currently has enough of.  It is unclear whether Collier will continue to have parking after the streetcar is put in.  And it is not clear whether the tourists and college students who will take the streetcar will patronize his shop, or whether his existing customers will have a way to get there and park.

Collier said the other shop owners are very concerned, and they do not know exactly on what part of the street the car is going or if there will be any parking remaining.

In the meantime, PARK Atlanta is putting in some new parking meters for some of the spaces which are still available.  Parking is two dollars per hour, which can make getting a haircut more expensive for locals.

Another concerned owner, Shana Byrd of Your Vitamin Lady Herb Shop, is not as optimistic, and says there are many unanswered questions.

Byrd is very concerned about several issues, and so are other owners and residents.

“We do not know what was happening to the street, and how the locals were going to survive if there is no parking, and where will the streetcar be, in the middle or side, and which side will they park on?”

Byrd depends on locals to come to her shop: “They call in an order and park outside, which is now free, so they can quickly pick up their order.  What if parking is taken away, or only expensive parking is available?  And what will happen to the funeral shop next door, where will they park?”

Byrd and other locals hope that in an upcoming neighborhood meeting, to be held next Saturday at noon, they will get some of the needed answers.

When asked if she was worried about rent increases, Byrd smiled and said that at least she was locked in.

When asked, Bond said he is not concerned about gentrification, displacement, or loss of historic sites on Auburn Avenue.

Because Auburn Avenue is in a historical district, there are strict government regulations on how the streetcar can impact the area, Bond noted.

A 354-page environment assessment, which can be viewed on the city website, was completed, as a requirement to ensure the effects on the community would be minimal.  According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, no significant impacts or effects are expected.

According to Bond, 50 percent of the route is in the historic district, and there are “inconvenience reimbursements” that are allowed for the current business owners.

Since most of the property owners along the route are “community minded,” there is not an increase in rents expected, he said.

Auburn Avenue contains many historic sites including many of importance to Black history and the Civil Rights Movement.  These include: the Apex Museum, Atlanta Daily World, Atlanta Life building, Auburn Avenue Research Library, Big Bethel AME, 100 Black Men, 100 Black Women, Ebenezer Baptist Church, Fire station No. 6, Herndon building, King birth home, King Center, King grave site, Newsmakers Journal, Prince Hall Masonic Building, Royal Peacock Club, Rucker Building, SCLC Women, Wheat Street Baptist Church, and Youth Art Connection.

‘It is projected the implementation of Georgia Transit Connector’s proposed streetcar will generate more than 40 long-term jobs directly related to the streetcar’s operation and maintenance. In addition, the streetcar will generate a significant number of short-term jobs for its construction,” the streetcar’s website says.

“Longer-term jobs resulting from new transit-oriented development are also expected to follow, as demonstrated in cities such as Portland. The total impact of the Atlanta Streetcar attributable to the construction of new corridor development between 2012 and 2032 is forecasted at 4,241 jobs in Fulton County plus 17,557 jobs in the broader Atlanta region.”

Bond states that every dollar that is spent for the streetcar, there will be four dollars of new investments.  Property values and rents may increase, but the hope is that new income generated by new customers, will make up for the increase in expenses.

Only time will tell what will happen and how the area will change, and how all this will affect the shops and local residence.

Will the Silver Star Barber, Shana’s Herb Shop, and the funeral home next door be around in five years?

Will we still be able to get that delicious sweet potato cheese cake at the Sweet Auburn Bread Company, or taste the ribs at Thelma’s Rib Shack on Auburn?  Or will these be replaced by a CVS and a Chili’s?

(END / 2011)

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