One day in 1999, a Georgia Tech student and masters candidate named Ryan Gravel had an idea. The transportation alternatives in Atlanta were severely lacking, so he came up with a plan. A vision for what could be possible in his city. He devoted his thesis to the idea, and with the help of two colleagues, summarized it and mailed copies to two dozen influential Atlantans.
One of the first supporters to see the same vision that Gravel saw and to throw her weight behind the idea? Cathy Woolard, the first openly gay person to be elected to office in Georgia. She joined forces with Gravel and his colleagues and pushed the idea out to business leaders and neighborhood groups throughout the city over the next several years.
Flash forward to December 2009. After 10 years of blood, meetings, sweat, votes, tears and plenty of money flying around to figure out how to make it happen, ground is broken on the first trail.
And now we’re seeing how an idea can become a reality, and how that new reality gave a city a new way to look at itself―by winding through the previously unknown trails and passageways we used to fly by in our cars on the way to the next errand, the next meeting, the next bar. We’re slowing down and taking it all in, step by step.
Simultaneously, the army of people behind the BeltLine are speeding up―introducing a slew of new activities and events to take part in, ramping up the process of connecting those missing links we didn’t know we had a craving for.
Here’s what they’re doing.
The road less traveled…
Lee Harrop is program management officer for the Atlanta BeltLine. The openly gay Harrop is clearly a BeltLine disciple―loving his job while spreading the gospel of the BeltLine.
The BeltLine Overview map shows the current state of the BeltLine. The trails in red have been completed, construction will start this summer on the trails in yellow, and the ones in blue are in planning or design.
It looks like a daunting task, but several initiatives are in place, with a big construction project on the Westside Trail about to break ground this summer, with Washington Park on the north end and University Avenue/Adair Park neighborhoods and the Urban Agriculture Site on the south. The Westside Trail will end up being just as long as the Eastside Trail, which is anchored by Piedmont Park.
“The Eastside Trail went through all of those great communities that the gay community knows and loves,” Harrop says. “This Westside Trail is going through the up-and-coming neighborhoods.”
Harrop also teases that construction is happening right now connecting Historic Fourth Ward Park and the Eastside Trail right behind the Masquerade, due to open this summer.
“And we’re reopening the Edgewood Avenue Bridge which has been a huge disconnect,” he says. “That will include stairs and a ramp down the trail, so folks using the trail can get up and go to all of the restaurants in Inman Park.”
Construction has also started on the Eastside Trail Extension, which currently ends at Irwin Street. When complete, the trail will end at Memorial Drive right at the restaurant H. Harper Station.
Beltline a ‘great asset’ to LGBT businesses
Rumors have spread about what’s going to happen in Ansley Square. Will gay and gay-friendly businesses throughout the complex be redoing their facades to take advantage of the impending BeltLine foot traffic?
“We’re working with Mixx,” Harrop says. “They’ve hired an architect to look at the patio, with bike racks and dog bowls, the whole nine yards. We’re helping facilitate that.”
Harrop says they would love for Burkhart’s to do the same thing, but that Mixx is taking the lead on it.
“Certainly when the BeltLine is finished back there and there are improvements with security and the path itself, once those occur and we see a marked increase in traffic, we’ll follow course,” Burkhart’s manager Steve Tallas tells GA Voice.
Tallas said the Burkhart’s team is eager to support the BeltLine, especially if it’s going to increase business, “but like I said, the owner wants to follow a wait-and-see plan,” he says.
Jenny Odum, communications coordinator for the Atlanta BeltLine, tells GA Voice that on March 2, trail counters logged 1,000 users at Lewis Gulch, a spot on the stretch of interim hiking trail just south of Clear Creek and Burkhart’s.
“The Path Force, our dedicated squad of police officers that patrol the Atlanta BeltLine parks, trails, and surrounding neighborhoods, also patrol the interim hiking trails for public safety,” Odum says.
Odum says that stretch of trail is slated to go into construction during Period Two of the BeltLine’s Strategic Implementation Plan.
Mixx General Manager Kish Devaraj refused to discuss with GA Voice any plans the bar has for redoing their facade to take advantage of the BeltLine. The BeltLine’s Harrop also notes that they are in conversation with Halpern Enterprises, which owns Amsterdam Walk, to develop a ramp or stairs to make the connection to the BeltLine.
Harrop is excited by the prospects for all of the LGBT and LGBT-friendly businesses in town.
“When we first started the Eastside Trail, none of the businesses knew what to expect,” he says. “Last Sunday there were 9,700 people on the trail. I would love to see Midtown Art Cinema make a connection. We’re working with the adjacent properties as they realize it’s a great asset.”
“They’re going to catch a lot of good business, and I think other businesses will follow suit,” he says.
The art of the deal
One of the enduring legacies of the Atlanta BeltLine, and what adds to the constant surprises in addition to the new avenues unearthed by pedestrians every day on the trails, are the art installations littering the entire line.
People who never had the time or the inclination to explore a museum are stumbling upon works of art as they round each corner of the BeltLine and are being exposed to new experiences. The works of hundreds of visual artists, performers and musicians are being displayed all along the corridor. And the numbers keep growing.
“Art on the Atlanta BeltLine” is in its fifth year as the city’s largest temporary public art exhibition.
“We have a call for artists until mid-April,” Harrop says. “It will start right after Labor Day with the Lantern Parade and run through early December. Proposals are still coming in. It’s the fifth year, so we want to do a little something a little extra―I’m not sure what though.”
A similar question perplexed one masters candidate 15 years ago. “How do I make this situation better?” he asked. The answer came, and a city flocked.
This is a sampling of the many events available through the Atlanta BeltLine. Most of these occur on multiple dates throughout the week and month, so check www.BeltLine.org for a full list of events.
Atlanta BeltLine Bus Tour
March 28 from 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
Inman Park MARTA
Arboretum Walking Tour
March 28 from 10-11:30 a.m.
March 28 from 9-10 a.m.
Gordon White Park
March 29 from 10-11 a.m.
D.H. Stanton Park
Eastside Bike Tour
March 29 from 10 a.m.-1 p.m.
Atlanta BeltLine Bicycle (Eastside BeltLine Trail)
March 30 from 1-2 p.m.
Washington Park (Tennis Center)
March 30 from 1-5 p.m.
Boulevard Crossing Park
Westside Bike Tour
March 30 from 2-5 p.m.
The Hammond’s House (Westside Trail)
April 2 from 5:30-7 p.m.
Eastside Trail Extension (H. Harper Station)
Atlanta BeltLine 101 (Northeast)
April 3 from 6-7 p.m.
Keller Williams Midtown
Art on the Atlanta BeltLine
April 3 from 7-9 p.m.
Abernathy Arts Center
April 4 from 7:30-9:30 p.m.
Washington Park (Natatorium)
Eastside Bike Tour
April 5 from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Atlanta BeltLine Bicycle (Eastide Bike Trail)
April 7 from 6-8 a.m.
Historic Fourth Ward Park Skatepark
Atlanta BeltLine 101 (Southeast)
April 15 from 6-7 p.m.
Historical Concepts Brasfield
Earth Day on the Atlanta BeltLine
April 19 from 8:30 a.m. – 12 p.m.
500 10th Street NE
Atlanta BeltLine 101 (Northside)
April 23 from 6:30-7:30 p.m.
2014 Northside 5K
April 26 from 8-10 a.m.
Tanyard Creek Park