In my life, I have visited Summerhill many times–
providing me with great memories.
Many Atlantan’s have very fond memories of the place. What’s more, we owe the stalwart residents of Summerhill a debt as host to Atlanta crowds for many years.
Therefore, I have strong feelings about how it is redeveloped. I don’t think it needs to be a place for Georgia State University to move their central campus out of Downtown. GSU is doing too much good work downtown and have built football facilities to the east of the Capitol.
I believe it needs to be a true new Summerhill village— with everything that entails– as well as homage to the city-changing events that have taken place in one of Atlanta’s more historic neighborhoods.
I was too young to attend one of the rare American Beatles concerts at the new Atlanta Stadium.
However, for several years, my family would head downtown to enjoy the Peach Bowl. Although we were nearly frozen by the January cold and freezing rain, we were bolstered by new coats from Rich’s, plastic rain ponchos purchased at the stadium, and a red plaid Thermos of hot coffee Mom brought from our brick ranch home in Sandy Springs. Despite the weather, we enjoyed the momentous games and, especially, the Atlanta Spirit.
Hank Aaron was Atlanta’s great baseball celebrity from 1965 through 1976, when he hit his 755th home run. Later, in 1999, Aaron became 5th of the “100 Best Baseball Players”.
In 1976, I was thrilled to attend a Braves game for the Independence Day Celebration. The overwhelming fireworks display at the Atlanta Stadium was the most amazing that I remember from my early years.
During the years from 1991 to 2005, the Braves won division titles an unprecedented 14 consecutive times becoming one of the most successful franchises in baseball history. Having advanced to the World Series five times in the 1990s, they became World Series Champions in 1995. Awesome big-city style ticker tape parades through Peachtree Center in Downtown Atlanta were held to honor the Braves on multiple occasions.
Later, the news that my Atlanta had won the Centennial Olympic Games was thrilling beyond belief. Indeed, the town I had watched grow rapidly from a medium-sized, but new and exciting city– was turning to an internationally known metropolis. Still, we had no idea how large and important it would become. Atlanta Spirit– and hard, strategic work– had brought the Games to Atlanta.
I was there for the Opening Ceremonies of the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium. Well, not exactly– we watched the event from our 1903 midtown condo. The electricity in the air was so high that my Norwegian elkhound mix jumped over the sofa, onto the coffee table covered with cocktails! She had never done anything similar, but was clearly thrilled with the excitement. We walked and took MARTA to many events and truly enjoyed the new Olympic Park, which was really Atlanta’s first urban promenade since the 1950’s. It was clear that people attending had an unforgettably enjoyable experience.
At the Track & Field Finals Competition, which was held in the new Olympic Stadium, the excitement was palpable as we watched Michael Johnson’s gold medal winning performance. For nearly three weeks, many records were broken and history was made in the Atlanta Olympic Stadium and the old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium– as well as all over the city– at parks, Museums, and performance and gaming venues from Savannah to the north Georgia mountains.
After the Olympiad, sadly, the 31-yr old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium was razed as planned. However, the Olympic Stadium was refurbished into Turner Field for the Atlanta Braves baseball team, a gift to the city from Ted Turner, who had established the world’s first 24 hour news station, CNN, in Atlanta.
Today, Turner Field/Atlanta Olympic Stadium may face demolition.
But, before we get to that, a bit more important Atlanta lore…
Summerhill was established in 1865 by inhabitants who were mostly Jewish and newly freed African-Americans.
Becoming a prosperous community, it was home to influential civic and business leaders: Sam Massell, Herman Russell, S. W. Walker, Leon Eplan, and even Leo Frank. Four time world heavyweight champion boxer Evander Holyfield was raised in Summerhill.
More recently, the neighborhood has been home to great rap/R&B artists Young Dro, Ciara, as well as others.
The neighborhood has been promised redevelopment since the freeways destroyed much of it in the 1950’s. Although some successful residential communities have been built, most of the land has remained as vacant parking lots. Also, Summerhill is adjacent to Grant Park, one of Atlanta’s oldest and most historic parks and neighborhoods, which includes Zoo Atlanta.
Since the Atlanta Braves are moving to their lavish new suburban Atlanta headquarters in 2017, the Summerhill area is slated for redevelopment.
My plan includes historic adaptive reuse for Turner Field/Olympic Stadium.
Less than 20 years old, the basic structure has many good years left in it and could be transformed into a central hotel, with funky lofts, condos, apartments, and retail built among its corridors, towers and ramps. Imagine having a loft unit with a 10 foot tall steel truss running through it!
The baseball diamond would become a swimming pool and center field could be transformed into a landscaped park and lake extending out to semi-circular Georgia Avenue. There is no reason to completely raze this young, but historic structure.
Future generations will want to experience Atlanta’s Olympic Stadium. I traveled all the way to Germany and Montreal to visit their Olympic Stadia.
Neighboring streets would be connected into the redevelopment to divide the megablocks into more human-scaled blocks.
The baseball field where Hank Aaron hit his record-breaking home runs would be turned into an outdoor amphitheater with a grassy hill for seating. The new village would include single-family residences at its edges, to conform to the neighborhood scale, townhouses, small apartment buildings, and retail– including grocery stores, a major pharmacy, and sidewalk cafes. A cinema would be built, perhaps named for Ted Turner. An office building could be sponsored by the Braves to help them retain their Atlanta nomenclature after their withdrawal to suburban Cobb county. Toward downtown, a few towers could a provide a more dense supply of residences ranging from lower incomes to market rates. The higher density would help guarantee success of the retail, restaurants as well as provide a safer environment.
This design also retains grand old growth trees which exist on the site and are likely to be destroyed.
The Atlanta Streetcar should be extended down Capitol Ave to Georgia Ave, east and west to both Mechanicsville/West End and Grant Park/Zoo Atlanta.
A well-edited mixture of traditional forms and materials, along with newer textures and great modern architecture will help make the place a rich environment which honors history and modernity.
A pedestrian and bicycle bridge would help connect West End and Mechanicsville to Summerhill and Grant Park. Sculptural graphics give the neighborhoods name recognition to highway passers-by.
This is only a conceptual design– provided as food for thought only, hopeful for improved urban planning and construction of more great architecture in Atlanta, as it deserves.
Please support the best local design firms and remove design decisions from developers only planning for monetary rewards. Build Green.
This post is dedicated to the residents of Summerhill and Grant Park, Mayor Reed, Maria Sapporta, Cathy Woolard, Terry Kearns, and all Atlantans old, new and future.