Another Rail Yard Story
Atlanta council members green light controversial $5 billion Gulch project
It’s official. Atlanta is about to take on one of the most ambitious and controversial building projects in its history. Last Monday, in a midnight vote before election day, the Atlanta City Council approved a $5 billion proposal to redevelop “The Gulch,” a 40-acre swath of sunken rail yards and parking lots in downtown Atlanta. Thanks to the decision, CIM Group, the Los Angeles-based agency that’s been eyeing the site for some time, will now likely receive a large government subsidy as the sole bidder on the project. CIM’s big plans for The Gulch came to light last November when people started speculating the meaning of an impact fee assessment filed with the city that month, which proposed the redevelopment of over 10 million square feet of publicly-owned land next to the Philips Arena. Over time, it became evident that CIM, a company founded by the brother of Atlanta Hawks owner Tony Ressler, was responsible for the filing and wanted to offer The Gulch to the city as part of Atlanta’s bid for Amazon’s HQ2. Despite news that Amazon will definitely not be coming to Atlanta, it seems that CIM’s plans to revitalize The Gulch are still underway. The scope of the project is nearly unparalleled, comparing only in size to Manhattan’s 28-acre Hudson Yards neighborhood and CIM’s 27-acres Miami Worldcenter development. Within The Gulch, the developer aims to create 9 million square feet of office space, one million square feet of retail, as well as room for residential and hospitality. The “mini city within the city” will sit atop a podium of parking garages and connect with a new grid of streets and parks. It could include more than a dozen new buildings, completely reshaping the city’s skyline. Newly-elected Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is a large supporter of the project. Leading up to last week’s vote, she started a massive campaign to “Greenlight the Gulch,” asking for the public and the city council to approve the around $1.9 billion subsidy package for the private project. In a tight 8-6 vote, her plan won out. Though the government is now on board, many locals aren’t game. Critics of the project say the area should be dedicated to a new transit hub (an idea that started in 2012), while others argue that an increase in luxury housing will raise rents and property taxes in low-income communities near downtown. While Bottoms's proposal requires CIM to build at least 200 units of affordable housing within The Gulch and invest $28 million into a citywide trust fund for affordable housing, some still hope for a better deal. Many say the process for approvals has been rushed and the public hasn’t gotten enough say. Since CIM’s plans were unveiled last year, things have moved at an unprecedented speed. Even opponents seem eager to build something in The Gulch, but only if it benefits the city, not the just owners who develop it. Given CIM’s large-scale goals for the site, this will be a fight with the public for decades to come.