Re-imagine Memorial Drive

Moderated by Rick Badie

Today, an Atlanta city councilwoman writes about efforts to retool a state road that links downtown Atlanta with Stone Mountain. Georgia Tech students studying urban design are working with residents, business owners and others to “imagine a new Memorial Drive.” Another guest writer highlights an emerging sliver of southwest Gwinnett County as a new regional hub of the entertainment industry. Finally, a veterans advocate sees employment opportunities in manufacturing for our returning servicemen and women.

Imagine a new, improved Memorial Drive

By Natalyn Archibong

Memorial Drive, the east-west spine that connects Atlanta’s iconic Peachtree Street to DeKalb’s Stone Mountain Freeway, often evokes negative and positive impressions.

The negatives are easy: Congested. Dangerous. Unattractive. Ignored.

The positives, however, are hard to ignore. It’s a corridor with its own Wikipedia page. Memorial Drive is home to the new headquarters for Habitat for Humanity, the Atlanta Police Department’s Beltline Path Force and its neighbor, Trees Atlanta.

The corridor also boasts five public school facilities, Historic Oakland Cemetery, Memorial, Walker and East Lake parks, more than 10 churches, two YMCA facilities, an eclectic mix of restaurants and bars, mixed-used developments, rental and owner-occupied multi-family housing, and most importantly, the front, side and back yards of the homes of hundreds of Atlanta residents.

Now added to this list of positives is the attention of a group of stakeholders who dare to imagine a revitalized Memorial Drive.

The idea for re-imagining the corridor came from a Reynoldstown neighbor who wanted to transform unattractive, vacant buildings into pop-up art venues. While I liked her idea, it was obvious the corridor needed more.At a quickly convened meeting with government and quasi-government agencies, there was consensus that developing a coordinated master plan that encompassed existing neighborhood plans would enhance our ability to leverage resources and attract more implementation dollars. Someone suggested I talk to Georgia Tech Professor Michael Dobbins about selecting Memorial Drive as his next urban planning studio project.

My pitch to Dobbins was simple: Memorial Drive would give planning and architectural graduate students the unique opportunity to work with a diverse group of residential and business stakeholders. It would also challenge students’ abilities to coordinate plans and resources of government and quasi-government entities such as Atlanta, Fulton and DeKalb counties, the state of Georgia, MARTA, Invest Atlanta and the Atlanta Public Schools.

The idea intrigued Dobbins. So it came as little surprise when “Imagine Memorial” was selected for his 2014 Fall Urban Planning Studio. Since that time, more than 20 Tech students have studied the corridor and all pre-existing master plans and zoning classifications and have participated in meetings in corridor neighborhoods.

Here’s what we have learned thus far:

There is unquestionable interest in this project. More than 100 neighbors and others have participated in one or more Imagine Memorial meetings. Participants exchanged ideas with each other and the students. Some of the ideas include working with the Georgia Department of Transportation for better coordinated signalization; elimination or re-design of interchangeable lanes; addressing traffic congestion at Boulevard and Memorial; reducing the posted speed limit; and adopting traffic-calming measures to enhance safety for pedestrians and cyclists.

Stakeholders also want to see a more attractive corridor. There’s talk of establishing a “Clean Team” to regularly pick-up trash and debris, particularly around MARTA stops and Crim High School.

In addition, we want to preserve what works. Neighbors want to preserve the residential and “green” feel of the corridor, especially between Clifton Street and Candler Road. We anticipate having a comprehensive assessment of the corridor’s various zoning classifications to determine if new classifications are desired, particularly within the Beltline overlay district.

After the students issue their final report, the real work will begin: finding implementation dollars and attracting residential, commercial and mixed-use development in keeping with the collective vision of the communities that border the street. Meanwhile, we are closer than we have been in decades to a fully revitalized, safe, attractive and inviting Memorial Drive.

Imagine that.

Natalyn Archibong is the District 5 Atlanta city councilwoman.

Providing a new hub for entertainment

By Chuck Warbington

When people think of the area in southwest Gwinnett County that surrounds Jimmy Carter Boulevard and I-85, most would not expect to see stars of the big and small screen at work. Luckily, there are two groups that envision a vibrant community with the makings of something truly unique not only to the metro Atlanta region, but to the Southeastern United States.

Everyone is familiar with the story of Gwinnett’s boom, as the county moved from a population of 70,000 in 1970 to over 850,000 in 2013. The Gwinnett of today looks totally different than in the 1970s and ’80s. Gwinnett, and specifically southwest Gwinnett, is among the most diverse communities in the Southeast. It provides a unique international work force and a population that mirrors what America will look like in 2040.

Enter into the conversation a group of very different businessmen. One is Jim Jacoby, an experienced brownfield developer responsible for Atlantic Station and, some would say, much of west side Atlanta’s success. The other is a group of brothers in the business of distributing beer. Both have decided to capitalize on the momentum Georgia has in the entertainment industry and woo production teams to their respective sites in Norcross. That makes Jimmy Carter Boulevard “ground zero” for the state’s booming entertainment industry.As a matter of back story, the Economos brothers moved their beer distribution operation, Eagle Rock Distributing, to the former Kraft production facility off Jimmy Carter in Norcross. The building was much bigger than was needed, but from an access standpoint, the benefits outweighed the costs.

Around this time, the brothers established a relationship with a TV production company that started using their old facility to film ABC’s “Resurrection.” This spurred the idea of adaptive reuse of the excess space in their new facility as a permanent TV production studio. Construction is underway on four sound stages to open in April 2015. It is among the largest collection of TV sound stages under one roof in the state.

Separately, Jacoby has proposed a 105-acre mixed-use redevelopment of the OFS fiber optic site at Jimmy Carter and I-85. Plans call for Class A office space, hotels, residences and educational facilities — all anchored by one of the largest movie studios in the United States. Films about to be released, “Fast and Furious 7” and “Hunger Games,” have already used the facility for large portions of their productions, and demand is high for upcoming productions at the site.

That these two sites in Norcross are within walking distance of each other helps create a concentration of production facilities that can support the relocation of other, ancillary media businesses (and essentially create a whole new submarket for Atlanta). That kind of halo effect is something urban planners dream of.

With 30,000 entertainment professionals who call Georgia home, and the film and TV industry having had a more-than $4 billion economic impact on the state in 2013, the future is bright. Gwinnett and the Atlanta region are ready for our close-up and to capitalize on the benefits of this flourishing industry.

Chuck Warbington is executive director of the Gwinnett Village Community Improvement District.

Employ our veterans

By Steve Nowlan

For many men and women of the U.S. military, the fight continues long after they return from the front lines. The transition to civilian life is anything but smooth for veterans. Despite skills developed in the military that should translate to civilian employment, veterans find the American dream they fought for looks nothing like the nightmare they have trying to find a job.

Nine percent of the 2.8 million Americans who served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were unemployed in 2013. That year, a staggering 21.4 percent of veterans between the ages of 18 and 24 were jobless.

Military veterans return home with battle-tested technical skills as well as logistical know-how and leadership experience that should make them attractive jobcandidates. Many veterans, especially young ones, have received training in multiple disciplines relevant to the private sector, but struggle to translate the value of their military training and experience.

Last month, numbers show the U.S. manufacturing sector grew at its fastest pace in three years, yet employers are struggling to find workers. At the same time, according to a 2013 White House report, between 240,000 and 360,000 service members are separating from the military every year and looking for civilian employment.

Because today’s manufacturing is marked by advanced technologies that require high-tech skills, integrating talented returning veterans into the manufacturing workforce has become a top industry priority to benefit veterans, the manufacturing sector and the U.S. economy.

In Atlanta and beyond, people are working to help returning veterans seize opportunities. American Jobs for American Heroes — a nonprofit coalition with the National Guard to help unemployed Guard members, veterans and spouses find skilled jobs in the private sector — works with Georgia Guard leadership to develop a new management program that partners employment teams with non-profit experts to help Guard members seeking civilian jobs, particularly in manufacturing.Georgia is home to more than 774,000 veterans and ranks high among places with good veteran employment numbers. This week, Atlanta will host the 2014 FABTECH exposition and conference, one of the largest manufacturing shows in North America.

FABTECH, a three-day event, will open on Veterans Day; it will feature 1,400 exhibiting companies and attract 27,000 attendees to the Georgia World Congress Center. FABTECH will feature special programs on employing veterans and fundraising efforts to help organizations dedicated to providing training opportunities and connecting veterans with advanced manufacturing jobs.

Connecting veterans with manufacturing jobs is a good thing to do for the future of U.S. manufacturing and the right thing to do for our veterans.

Steve Nowlan is president of the Atlanta-based Center for America and campaign director for American Jobs for American Heroes.


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