Crews could break ground on the Boisfeuillet Jones Atlanta Civic Center’s long-overdue redevelopment before the end of the year, kicking off a potentially 13-year plan to bring new restaurants, retail, office space, a hotel, and around 1,500 residences — roughly a third of them affordable housing — to the mostly empty and overgrown Old Fourth Ward site.

Breathing new life into Atlanta Housing’s (AH) 19-acre property — which has offered little more than parking spaces for the last decade — will notch a big win for the neighborhood. However, the housing component leaves much to be desired, said Atlanta City Councilmember Amir Farokhi, who represents the district including the Civic Center.

“There should be thousands of housing units there,” he told Al ilmu in an interview. “The current vision for the site, while an improvement over a parking lot, falls short of what the city needs and deserves, which is more housing on a site that can support significant housing density.”

“It’s one of the few blank slates left in the center of the city,” Farokhi added — and near a MARTA station no less. “We’re in a moment where there’s significant housing demand and limited housing supply. We should be building as much housing there that’s possible — both affordable and market rate.”

There is some room to adjust the current master plan — crafted by the joint venture of Republic Family of Companies, Michaels Development Co., and Sophy Companies — but the grand vision won’t change much before the groundbreaking next November or December, said AH’s senior vice president of real estate planning and development, Trish O’Connell, on Wednesday.

“We went through a pretty comprehensive neighborhood engagement process,” she said. “The plan you see in place reflects a lot of the community’s desires and concerns.”

O’Connell said the Civic Center site’s neighbors made clear they didn’t want it to be too densely built out. “They did not want the entire site to be like a little piece of New York right there, with skyscrapers towering above,” she said.

Historic preservation considerations pose another challenge to delivering housing density. At the heart of the Civic Center site sits the iconic performing arts center for which it’s known. Built in the late 1960s, it once hosted Broadway musicals, operas, concerts, speeches from Georgia governors, senators, and a president — and a Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions.

The Atlanta City Council on Monday approved a resolution that authorizes AH, the city of Atlanta, and the developers to enter into a 10-year partnership with the Georgia State Historic Preservation Office to ensure the auditorium’s renovation maintains its historic fiber.

David Mitchell, the executive director for the Atlanta Preservation Center, commended the council for passing the legislation, which Farokhi authored. “The resolution illustrates that historic preservation is finally being viewed as an economic attribute to both development and sustainability,” he said.

He too cautioned against overly dense development, so that AH and its development team don’t eclipse the historic Civic Center with shiny high-rises.

“With a starting number of 1,500 housing units — and the possibility to build more — we risk using the very thing we seek to protect becoming the shield to allow us to conduct business as usual,” Mitchell said, referring to urbanist development ambitions.

“If historic preservation is a conversation with our past about our future, we should be very careful and focus on listening more than speaking — and let the Civic Center guide this, not potentially be suppressed by this,” he added.

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  1. This totally awesome 👍🏾 how do I apply for this new housing located @ civic center???

  2. Who are the neighbors to the Atlanta Civic Center site? GA Power, a park, the highway, a few apartments and restaurants…to say the neighbors don’t want a dense block a la New York City is silly. We piss away opportunity after opportunity to build dense affordable housing. If the damn Housing Authority isn’t for dense affordable housing in the heart of the city near Marta, a grocery store, and medical campus, then what hope do we have???

    1. You're absolutely right. It's good that Amir spoke out on this. The plan for affordable housing on this central site - next to thousands of jobs and several MARTA stops - has been woefully timid from the get-go. The trade-off in loss of housing is unacceptable for preserving a useless hulk that would require massive public rehab expense.

  3. being concerned about density in downtown is obscene. Build it all and build it tall.

    We need more housing like this in the city and our shortage affects far more than just a few crabby privileged neighbors

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