Plans for Pullman Yard not the usual mixed-use formula

Greg, left and David Epstein at Pullman Yard. (Photo by Isadora Pennington)
Greg Ramsey, left, and David Epstein at Pullman Yard. (Photo by Isadora Pennington)

By Isadora Pennington

If you’ve ever driven down DeKalb Avenue past the intersection with Clifton, you may have noticed the looming buildings of Pullman Yard just on the other side of the tracks. The property is a sprawling combination of buildings and open spaces in various states of disrepair. Despite the graffiti on the walls, it’s rare to see anyone on the lot regardless of the time of day.

Originally built as an industrial complex by the Pratt Engineering Company in 1900, the buildings have been repurposed as both a train repair center for the Pullman Company in the 1920s and then later as an operations center for the now defunct New Georgia Railroad, which provided rail service to Athens. Since the 1990s the space has been largely abandoned except for private events and a filming location, including The Hunger Games. The property is currently owned by the State of Georgia, and is not open to the public without going through proper channels.

Photo by Isadora Pennington
Photo by Isadora Pennington

The historic buildings now stand in a state of disrepair, with collapsing ceilings and overgrown greenery. The grass may get mowed from time to time, but there is virtually no care going into the property on a regular basis. It’s no wonder that this mysterious and haunting remnant of Atlanta’s industrial history has piqued the interest of multiple organizations who foresee a vision for the property.

One of those people is David Epstein, executive director of local nonprofit Atlanta Contact Point (ACP), an organization that promotes physical activity and play for children and adults to combat obesity and encourage a healthy lifestyle. The nonprofit has, in partnership with Village Habitat LLC, has proposed a plan under the auspices of Pullman Preserve that would create a mixed-use development of art studios, urban gardening, sustainability classes, retail, a nature preserve and sports facilities.

Courtesy Pullman Preserve
Courtesy Pullman Preserve

“Atlanta needs an Intown space for its residents to be active, socialize, and learn new things,” Epstein said. “It is in an optimal space to create special programming and education opportunities for the surrounding neighborhoods, including unique space for schools, seniors and adults to play and get together.”

The Pratt-Pullman property is actually part of the quiet Kirkwood neighborhood, and the community has expressed concerns with regard to redevelopment plans. Questions of vehicle access, parking, neighborhood traffic congestion, noise pollution and how best to honor and maintain the value of the historic property have lingered in the minds of those affected by the proposition.

The joint nonprofit/for-profit vision set forth by Pullman Preserve seeks to assuage those with doubts, asserting that conservation, preservation, education, and a ‘full-bodied’ approach to the development would be forefront in their plans.

Courtesy Pullman Preserve
Courtesy Pullman Preserve

“The main concern has been how to create a financially viable model,” explained Village Habitat director Greg Ramsey. “Pullman Preserve is addressing this with its for-profit and nonprofit model designed to balance the commercial and nonprofit development to create a viable model.”

The venture would find funding from grants, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and contributions from local organizations in order to keep costs low, while also looking to generate money in studio rentals and sales at the proposed cafe, retail and market. Cooperation with inter-governmental partners, surrounding neighborhoods, for-profit and nonprofit entities would be essential in the actualization of their plan.

“The project has been crafted so that each of these entities plays an appropriate part and together create a successful project,” Ramsey said.

In sharp contrast to Pullman Preserve, the other propositions that have been extended with regard to the property have typically been a combination of retail, office and living space along the lines of Edgewood Retail Center on Moreland Avenue.

unspecified-5
Courtesy Pullman Preserve

“We do not have many properties left in Atlanta that can be utilized for the overall well-being of the community,” Epstein said. “This is a perfect opportunity to clean, preserve, and transform into a special space for people to come together to play, learn and socialize.”

Epstein and Ramsey are hopeful that their ideas for Pullman Preserve will strike a chord with the neighborhood, and empower those in the community through sustainability education.

“We feel very strongly if the state gives us a chance, we can make it happen,” Epstein said. “Otherwise it will just go to highest bidder for expensive townhomes and high-end shopping.”

To learn more about Pullman Preserve and to provide feedback or volunteer, contact David at info@atlcp.org or Greg at gramsey@villagehabitat.com. You can also see more photos, plans, and diagrams online at atlcp.org/pullman-yard.

8 Comments
  1. The ACP plan is not supported by the Kirkwood community that the site lies in, nor by NPU-O (Edgewood, East Lake, Kirkwood) that includes the Pratt Pullman Yard. Chief among the community’s concerns is the fact that the ACP plan is clearly incapable of generating the kind of capital necessary to preserve and adaptively reuse the historic industrial architecture and structures (c. 1904-1920) that define the site and Kirkwood community.

    Beside’s it’s inability to generate adequate capital Epstein’s pay for play model would also serve the community poorly by duplicating (for a fee, of course) resources already available (for free or at very low cost) in the 65+ acres of public greenspaces, three City recreation centers, two YMCA’s, and five community gardens already in Kirkwood and NPU-O.

    I would note as well the egregious inaccuracy of claims that the Kirkwood supported generated development model for the Pratt Pullman Yard would merely be another Edgewood Retail District of “expensive townhomes and high-end shopping.”

    Perhaps Atlanta Intown would like to obtain a more balanced reportage through research. The Kirkwood generated development model for the Pratt Pullman Yard (formally approved several times from 2011-2014 by Kirkwood Neighbors Organization and NPU-O) is available here: https://www.dropbox.com/s/nx9ots78c0hzoy9/KNO%20-%20NPU-O%20Pratt%20Pullman%20Yard%20Comprehensive%20Development%20Plan%20Revision%20%205-5-2011.pdf?dl=0&preview=KNO+-+NPU-O+Pratt+Pullman+Yard+Comprehensive+Development+Plan+Revision++5-5-2011.pdf

    with it’s most recent formal approval here: https://www.dropbox.com/s/jqf9yjcbn3bxwz0/NPU-O%20Letter%20of%20Support%20-%20Pullman%20Historic%20Development%2C%20LLC.pdf?dl=0&preview=NPU-O+Letter+of+Support+-+Pullman+Historic+Development%2C+LLC.pdf

  2. The New Georgia Railroad ran a few trips to Athens over its 8+ year existence, but mainly operated steam and diesel powered excursions on a loop made up of various CSX lines around Atlanta, as well as out to Stone Mountain. It ran a few out-of-town trips via Norfolk Southern, but most were to Macon, Brunswick, or Savannah. The steam locomotives used were leased from the Southeastern Railway Museum in Duluth, and reside at the museum today.

  3. It’s important to mention that the idea that Pullman Yard will become “expensive townhomes” if the site doesn’t go to Epstein is completely untrue. There is an existing development proposal from local developers that includes affordable housing. The plan is linked to in the first comment. As a Kirkwood resident, I would much rather see additional residents move in rather than a for-profit space that isn’t actually open to everyone.

  4. Nicolas, the townhouse proposal has housing that will cost over $300,000. If you will look at the Pullman Preserve plan, you will see that the majority of the property will be open to the community for health, wellness, urban gardens, nature center, nature preserve, artisan studios, and markets. You can find out more info here: http://atlcp.org/Documents/PullmanProgram11916GR.pdf

    If you have any questions, we would be happy to discuss the potential.

  5. In response to Kirkwood’s development model, here is how Pullman Preserve substantially meets the guidelines….learn more here: http://atlcp.org/Documents/PullmanJustificationSummary.pdf

    If there are any specific questions, please contact us….

    As far as the idea that Pullman Preserve can not generate capital, Earl has not bothered to look closely at any recent plans on how Pullman Preserve combines a for profit and non profit partnership. A substantial amount of capital will be raised by for profit entities, and the remainder will be raised by non profit entities and foundations; similar to many community development ventures, one being the Atlanta BeltLine which combines both as well.

  6. Mr Epstein will be hard pressed to claim “expensive townhomes” when the average price of an Atlanta home is now $250,000. And he will be further pressed to deny that the community supported model of medium density development driving historical preservation offers the best capital and funding sources through appropriate residential development commiserate with the growing density of Atlanta as a modern city. Medium density development of the site’s unbuilt portion, particularly in today’s market, offers a predictable source of capital to preserve and adaptively re-use the historic spaces that define the site and Kirkwood. The highest and best use of the site is served thru this model of development driving preservation.

    Far more so than vague health and wellness proposals that historically develop little, if any, capital on a scale needed to achieve preservation and re-use of the approximately 180,000 s.f. of historical structure to be preserved. Particularly when Mr Epstein’s proposal duplicates a good deal of resources ALREADY available freely, publicly, and accessibly in the community’s 65+ acres of public greenspaces, three City recreation centers, two YMCA’s, and five community gardens.

  7. The for profit model of development that Earl refers to is a good for profit model; the other development approach is to integrate a for profit and non profit model, the Pullman Preserve. Pullman Preserve LLC is a partnership between for-profit and non-profit entities. The for-profit components of the project will monetize the site acquisition, fund the site development, and facilitate the restoration of the historic buildings. Combined with the Brownfield and Historic Tax Credits, this will permit a viable historic buildings redevelopment, allowing a mix of for-profit and non- profit uses. The non profit aspects will provide great value to people’s lives.This is the only model that can integrate the last 13 acres of green space in the area as a nature and farm center, while still incorporating for profit development with 120 units of housing and other neighborhood commercial uses. Many people who are looking for a nature/farm center currently have to travel long distances (Chattahoochee Nat Ctr) for this type of activity. The 13 acre farm and nature center will reinforce facilities like the Wylde Center for the neighborhoods appetite for these types of programs.

    While there are other green spaces in the neighborhood, there will never again be an opportunity to combine a farm/nature center and historic buildings preservation on a 26 acre site intown. To have a special space for the community to come together (kids and adults) for arts, sports, gardening, education, nature preserve, healthy food; all in one place is something unique to the area and the city.

    These two approaches are not in contradiction to each other, if sufficient support from the non profit and foundation community are not leveraged, then the for profit commercial solution will be the most appropriate. If the non profit and foundation support is leveraged, the Pullman Preserve will be viable. Both approaches preserve the historic buildings, and preclude uses that are not neighborhood compatible.

  8. The frank truth is that the uses of the site proposed by ACP will not generate the level of capital needed to preserve and adaptively re-use the approximately 180,000 s.f. of historic structures of Pratt Pullman Yard that define Kirkwood and inform a great deal of Kirkwood’s history. With the continued absence of for non profit – for profit partnerships (none of which have ever materialized to date for ACP’s proposals) uses such as community garden, urban farm, playing fields, and a variety of undefined “centers” (neighborhood, garden, education, farm operations, wellness activity) will not generate the significant capital needed for preservation. Even with for profit partnership it is unlikely that adequate capital could be realized given the amount of the site ACP proposes for non capital generating uses.

    A word on greenspace and public resources. Kirkwood and NPU-O are well served by greenspace, recreation, gardening, and wellness resources, the overwhelming number of which are free or very low cost. These resources include well over 65 acres of parks and a forest prserve, three City recreation centers, a Senior center, two YMCA’s, five community gardens, a mental health center, and two public health outpatient facilities. We really don’t need prime unbuilt developable space used to duplicate these resources particularly when appropriate development of that space will drive preservation of our history through capitalization of restoration and adaptive re-use.

    The “last 13 acres of green space in the area” is neither the last nor suitable for conservation beyond the essential 75′ stream buffer needed to protect Hardee Creek and the spring from which it originates. The majority of it is invasively overgrown industrial field. It’s also a bit disingenuous to ignore the presence of Kirkwood Urban Forest Preserve only 1/3 mile south of Pratt Pullman Yard, a REAL example of urban greenspace preservation and management.

    It’s also important to note this iteration of ACP’s ongoing series of Pratt Pullman proposals appears to have expanded it’s scope well beyond the site into planning for Kirkwood itself. The words presumptuous and inappropriate come to mind when looking at their connectivity plan:

    1. ACP suggests Kirkwood bicycle routes even though this is undeniably the role of the community. This is particularly disconcerting given that KNO and NPU-O approved the NPU-O Bicycle Route Plan in 2012 and most of the plan is incorporated into the City’s transportation plan and 2011 Comprehensive Development Plan.

    2. ACP indicates a surprising number of properties as apparently dedicated greenspaces including HJ Russell property in Edgewood, privately owned property along PATH at Wade and Rogers, APS property, and residential properties on Hardee Creek between KUF North and main KUF Preserve. None of these are part of the Pratt Pullman site and it is simply not appropriate for ACP to be making these suggestions for unrelated properties in the neighborhood.

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