Driving down Northside Drive these days, everyone can see the bustling progress of the new Atlanta stadium that boasts a retractable roof. While there has been much fanfare about the commercial potential of what this attraction could mean to downtown Atlanta, what about the neighborhood surrounding it?
The Vine City and English Avenue neighborhoods adjacent to the Atlanta University Center are the closest dwellings impacted by both the growth and development brought on by the new athletic structure at the intersection of Northside Drive and Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive. In August 2013, Arthur Blank, the owner of the Atlanta Falcons, vowed that he wanted to make sure that the new stadium would bring together public transportation, public safety, and lead to economic development for its neighboring communities.
In a recent Vimeo presentation released by Blank, he explains why he wanted the stadium to be developed on the west side of Atlanta.
“Decades of concentrated poverty, blight, staggering unemployment rates have left the once vibrant neighborhoods of Atlanta’s historic west side longing for meaningful progress,” he said. “While they’re suffering with all of these things, they’re spirit is still not broken.”
In the video, Blank’s presentation mentions that while metro Atlanta has an 8 percent unemployment rate, the west side neighborhoods have an unemployment rate of 25 percent. Coupled with dilapidated homes, nearly 38 percent of the households in the area earn an average of $15,000 per year, with 43 percent of the housing listed as abandoned or condemned.
In keeping with Blank’s vow to develop a long-term revitalization for the historic west side communities, the Arthur Blank foundation has worked with Westside Works to train 147 residents in the areas of construction and hospitality since March 2015. Westside Works, established in June 2014, is a partnership among the Construction Education Foundation of Georgia (CEFGA), Integrity Community Development Corporation (Integrity CDC) and New Hope Enterprises. Investors of the project include Invest Atlanta and the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation.
Breaking ground in March 2014, the new Atlanta stadium will be 1.8 million square foot, touts a retractable roof, and is adjacent to the Vine City MARTA station, giving sports fans easy access to see their home teams play. It is expected to open for the 2017 NFL season.
Tarnace Watkins, Westside TAD Project Manager, said that the Vine City neighborhood is one of the oldest tax allocation districts in the city, with millions of dollars committed to revitalize the community. Watkins says current residents will be included in that vision.
“Given the anticipated impact to the neighboring communities by the New Falcons Stadium, Invest Atlanta and the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation committed $15 million dollars from each organization to fund new programs in the Westside TAD neighborhoods,” he said. “IA has released three community-based programs in the community to assist with the redevelopment efforts: Downtown Façade Improvements Grant (“DFIG”), Community Improvement Fund (“CIF”) and Catalytic Projects Fund (‘CPF”). To date, IA has awarded over $6 million dollars in various projects in Vine City.”
However, Yvonne Jones, chairperson of NPU-L, the city planning group where Vine City is housed, said that while she can appreciate the stadium is being constructed close by, she has not seen any cranes coming through her neighborhood.
“There are certain properties that have been marked for development by Invest Atlanta, but they haven’t been developed,” she said. “What I don’t want to happen is that they ultimately come into the community for the land and push the current residents out once they get their hands on it.”
Jones, a nine-year resident of the community, would like to see more input from the NPU leadership with land and homeownership going first to Vine City citizens before it goes up for grabs to outside resources.
“Land is everything,” she said. “We know that we’re in a walkable distance to the stadium, which makes this land valuable. If you don’t own the land, you don’t have a say.”
While agents from Invest Atlanta and the Blank Foundation have developed a partnership with the Atlanta Police Department to provide homes to officers who wish to reside in the community, Jones prays that the coming police presence isn’t the harbinger for undue harassment and suspicious arrests.
“If they really wanted to be concerned about the drug element in the neighborhood, where were they 20 years ago before things really got bad?”