New Coalition Challenges GSU’s Turner Field Development Plan
The stadium and surrounding property are up for grabs when the Atlanta Braves baseball team leaves for Cobb County in 2017.
Georgia State University (GSU) is vying to acquire the real estate and has partnered with Carter real estate firm, which bills itself as one of the country’s largest development firms.
In May 2014, Carter and GSU released a 300 million dollar redevelopment plan that includes a football stadium, a baseball stadium, student housing, market housing, and a “retail village.”
On Tuesday, June 02, 2015, representatives from GSU and Carter held a public meeting to present the plan. It was the first time the entities had reached out to residents who would be impacted by the plan they conceived over one year ago.
Last year, Mayor Kasim Reed made statements suggesting disregard for neighborhood input.
More than one hundred people showed up to express concern with the proposal.
“I don’t think two stadiums is what the community is looking for,” Arthur Grier, pastor of a 125 year-old church, Main Street Church of God, in the Summerhill neighborhood, told Atlanta Progressive News.
Grier attended Tuesday’s meeting. His church is among more than thirty organizations that launched the Turner Field Community Benefits Coalition in March 2015.
The coalition’s stated goals are to establish inclusive planning, transparent development, and community benefits.
“I’ve been around since before there was a Georgia State,” Grier, 56, said. He grew up in Atlanta’s Mechanicsville neighborhood, just north of where the Turner FIeld stadium is today.
When Turner Field was built for the 1996 Olympics, many of the houses in his neighborhood were razed.
APN reported on Atlanta’s pattern of using imminent domain to destroy working class neighborhoods, all in the name of public projects like Turner Field and Civic Center, only to get tired of those projects within decades:
“My parents’ house was one of the few left on the block that wasn’t turned into a parking lot,” Grier said.
Displaced residents were directed to new, so-called affordable housing developments, according to Grief. But they weren’t actually affordable for many of the area’s low-income residents, he said.
“People are tired of being lied to,” he said.
This time around, residents are ahead of the game.
In February 2015, the Atlanta Regional Commission awarded a 212,000 dollar grant to the City of Atlanta through its Livable Centers Initiative (LCI). The money will fund a study of the community’s needs in regards to transportation, infrastructure, housing, commercial development, and greenspace.
On May 29, 2015, the city issued a Request For Proposals to conduct the planning study. The RFP stipulates that the study must include at least two conceptual plans––one that keeps the stadium and one that doesn’t.
The LCI project management team includes a representative from the Turner Field Community Benefits Coalition. Coalition members say the representative’s job will be to connect the consulting firm with community members in a way that prioritizes their input.
Carter and GSU came up with their plan independent of the LCI and haven’t indicated that they will backtrack and participate in the LCI process. That’s partly what rankled many of the residents who showed up to the meeting.
“We were saying, let the process work,” Trudye Nesbit, a coalition spokesperson, told APN.
“We don’t yet know what everyone in the community wants. That’s what the LCI is going to give us. We don’t want to be bumrushed into anything,” she said.
When the planning study is completed and a final plan chosen by August of 2016, another round of RFPs will solicit developers to make the plan reality.
There is still some lack of clarity regarding how those final decisions will be made. The 77 acre Turner Field property is jointly owned by Atlanta and Fulton County. The two have not agreed to a decision-making process.
The Atlanta Fulton County Recreation Authority manages the property, but doesn’t have decision-making power.
“It’s not like the neighborhoods get total oversight. But they get a seat at the table to vote,” Tim Franzen, an organizer for Occupy Our Homes Atlanta (OOHA), told APN.
OOHA is a member of the Turner Field Community Benefits Coalition and has been active in Peoplestown, a neighborhood south of Turner Field. The organization, which has primarily focused on stopping evictions and foreclosures, recently launched a new initiative to organize tenants.
Their first victory came when the owners of an apartment complex called Boynton Village agreed to renew its contract with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for the next twenty years.
As landlords’ HUD contracts near expiration, there’s a risk that they will transition to market-rate housing and become unaffordable. OOHA is working with tenants in a number of complexes to ensure that their homes remain subsidized.
Franzen was at Tuesday’s meeting and said, “It was clear [GSU and Carter] weren’t interested in anything that didn’t involve stadiums. Instead of respecting the [LCI] process that was agreed upon, they came there with a charette with two stadiums on it.”
“Not one, but two stadiums,” Grier, the pastor, marveled.
“So many of the people in the community have never been inside Turner Field because they can’t afford it. People want something we can participate in and enjoy. We don’t have a movie theater. We don’t have a major chain grocery store and clothing store in the community. Small businesses, restaurants, that’s what people want,” Grier said.