A plan to build a one-mile linear park linking the Capitol to Oakland Cemetery along Memorial Drive is coming closer to fruition.
Totaling 12 acres, the Memorial Drive Greenway will be filled with greenspace, fountains, restaurants and public art connecting five historic Intown neighborhoods.
“For all the criticism Atlanta gets about cultural identity and preservation, here we have an opportunity to create something that serves the past and future of Georgia. We won’t get it again,” said Greg Giuffrida who serves as Memorial Drive Corridor Executive for Central Atlanta Progress and as a volunteer with Friends of Memorial Drive Greenway.
A green game changer
Renderings of the park demonstrate how integral it would be to the city’s southeast side. While the park will not be contiguous – there will be streets separating sections and a pedestrian bridge over one of them – it is linear. There will be a section set aside for a performance lawn, an area for a chapel, and open spaces prime for outdoor classrooms and playgrounds.
The pièce de résistance is the park area just east of the Gold Dome where a proposed cap over the Downtown Connector will be installed. It features a large open space, lush landscaping, a fountain and a sculpture garden.
The origins of the greenway are murky at best. According to sources, the idea for the park has been floating around for nearly 50 years, but due to factors including the economy and politics, it has sputtered and stalled.
During the last five decades, the park has received boosts with the purchase of land parcels and redevelopment from organizations including the Atlanta Housing Authority, nonprofits, the state government and federal groups such as HUD and the EPA.
However, momentum to link the land and complete the park was hit hard during the economic recession. But with the economy roaring back to life and Atlanta’s collective interest in greenspace on the uptick, the reality of the park is gaining ground.
Brent Beatty serves as founder of the Friends of Memorial Drive Greenway, the all-volunteer nonprofit group that virtually ties all the stakeholders together and serves as the engine for the park’s efforts. The group, which is fiscally tied in with the park advocacy nonprofit, Park Pride, is experiencing significant success.
“We’ve got some momentum over the past year,” Beatty said. “We’ve learned that this idea is embraced by local communities and businesses and is a very easy thing for people to galvanize around.”
A friendly effort
With a project this significant in this area of the city, there are bound to be numerous entities involved in the buying and swapping of land.
As of press time, the city of Atlanta Department of Parks and Recreation currently owns and manages nearly one-third of the land parcels within the proposed park. Funds from the Eastside Tax Allocation District (TAD) are committed to acquire more parkland, while the proposed interstate cap would require both state and federal approval.
The mix of stakeholders hasn’t dampened enthusiasm for The Friends of the Memorial Drive Greenway. Earlier this year, the organization kicked off a $200,000 capital fundraising campaign for the park. The funds will be used for everything from buying new trash receptacles and landscaping to acquiring land.
The campaign is off to a robust start. By late October, over $40,000 had been raised with more fundraisers on the docket.
Beatty said the interest of the community, businesses and civic organizations has been highly encouraging. When asked if he was surprised at the progress and momentum of the greenway, he was upbeat.
“I actually thought it would happen a lot faster,” Beatty said. “I understand that capping the Connector might take some work, but the majority of the park could come together in just a couple of years.”
That sentiment is shared by Katherine Huded, who serves as communications lead for the Friends of Memorial Drive Greenway.
“There is always a concern people will taper off in their enthusiasm and I think we’ve seen the opposite of that,” she said.
The funds have come from a variety of sources including individuals and businesses. The Friends of Memorial Drive Greenway is also working with Park Pride on acquiring grants.
Visit the Friends of Memorial Drive Greenway’s Facebook page at facebook.com/FriendsofMDG to see more detailed maps. make a donation and keep abreast of the project.