Moderated by Tom Sabulis
Critics have questioned its usefulness as a transportation network, but the Atlanta Beltline is seen as a success with regard to Atlanta’s quality of life. Today, a well-know chef and restaurant owner writes about how the rail-to-trail project has affected his business and community. In our second column, a federal administrator lists the many features that recently earned the Beltline a major smart growth award.
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By Kavin Rathbun
Opening a restaurant is never a sure thing. Every entrepreneur takes a risk on a new venture. Since opening our first of three restaurants in Inman Park 10 years ago, location has been key to our success. We have always believed in the vision of the Atlanta Beltline, and taking the risk to locate our restaurants alongside it has paid off.
What we’ve seen next to Kevin Rathbun Steak on Krog Street has been incredible. Even before the paved trail, people were using the Beltline to exercise, walk their dogs and get where they needed to go. Since the trail opened in the fall of 2012, it’s been a revelation. We see thousands of people on the trail every day, with up to 10,000 people a day on weekends. Many of those people have become customers.
The pedestrian traffic has been so great we renovated the patio that faces the Beltline to attract more customers, and it’s working. Not only do we get more customers dining with us, we also have more people stopping in for drinks and light snacks. Our story is not unique. Businesses up and down the Eastside Trail are opening their doors to the Atlanta Beltline, investing in new connections and entrances to attract customers.
This trend will likely continue and accelerate as new apartments, commercial and retail spaces open over the next several years. Neighborhoods that were once rough around the edges are coming to life with new residents, businesses and activity that would have been hard to imagine just a few short years ago. With Ponce City Market and other major developments opening in 2014, the Atlanta Beltline and its resulting economic activity continues to attract local residents and visitors from around the metro area and beyond.
While the Eastside Trail has been good for business, it is also a fantastic amenity for the public. It is making Atlanta healthier by promoting walkability and creating public space that enhances social interactions. People from every age and ethnicity use the Atlanta Beltline, making real the vision we had for this project from the beginning.
When we opened Kevin Rathbun Steak seven years ago in Inman Park, we never could have predicted the transformation of the abandoned rail corridor next door. We knew something good would happen. But the thousands of people who walk and cycle past the restaurant on a daily basis are proof that the Atlanta Beltline is working for residents, visitors and businesses like mine.
We believe that the Atlanta BeltLine is just in its infancy in terms of opportunity for business, the community and the city. We can’t wait for the trail to extend south next to Rathbun’s, another of our restaurants, and beyond. Restaurateurs, small business owners and large companies are quickly figuring out what we believed from the beginning: that the Atlanta BeltLine will change the city and bring economic, social and public health benefits for generations to come.
Kevin Rathbun is an Atlanta Chef and owner of four restaurants.
By Heather McTeer Toney
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has shined the national spotlight on Atlanta and the innovative work related to the Atlanta BeltLine and the city as a whole for their leadership in sustainable development. On Wednesday, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and representatives from the Atlanta BeltLine received the prestigious award for smart growth achievement. We are pleased to share that the Atlanta BeltLine was selected as the overall winner among 77 applicants from across the country.
EPA’s award recognizes two remarkable redevelopment projects along the Atlanta BeltLine: the 17-acre Historic Fourth Ward Park and the Eastside Trail. The Historic Fourth Ward Park opened in 2011 and transformed a barren, contaminated site north of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthplace into a source of pride for the neighborhood. The park is the culmination of years of work among a diverse group of partners — including the community, businesses, government agencies, philanthropic organizations and nonprofit groups. The final product is a park that reduces energy use, contributes to vital ecological processes and is maintained in an environmentally responsible way. The park incorporates an innovative stormwater retention feature that saved the city of Atlanta $15 million.
The Atlanta BeltLine is creating walkable neighborhoods – something denied by historic sprawl in decades past. The Eastside Trail, an eyesore that used to divide five neighborhoods, has been transformed into a 2.25-mile linear greenway and arboretum with a 14-foot-wide multi-use trail. It provides direct access to three major parks — including the Historic Fourth Ward Park — and connects to a 19-mile trail from downtown to the suburbs. This opens up new, safe alternative commute options and will soon feature streetcar transit connecting neighborhoods throughout the city. Incorporating smart growth features promote healthier, economically stronger and more socially diverse communities and protects the environment by reversing historic trends of urban sprawl.
The Atlanta Beltline is making a visible difference in Atlanta by creating a 22-mile greenway around the city that will connect 45 neighborhoods. It is comprised of four individual “belt lines” that were built as railroad bypass routes in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The BeltLine has become a national model for smart growth by turning what was once an abandoned rail corridor into a vibrant community space where healthy living is encouraged, culture is cultivated, the environment is better protected and economic development is taking place.
It is of no surprise that the Atlanta BeltLine has become a catalyst for economic development. Businesses are relocating to be close to BeltLine. To date, more than $400 million in new private real estate development has been invested within a block of the Historic Fourth Ward Park borders, and $775 million in new development has been invested within a half mile of the Eastside Trail. This brings more jobs to the community, with the opportunity to live and work in close proximity.
Heather McTeer Toney is administrator for U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Southeast Region.