Thanks largely to the Beltline's Eastside Trail and the imminent arrival of Ponce City Market, the Old Fourth Ward is one of Atlanta's hottest neighborhoods. But O4W is also one of the city's most debated areas, with the focus squarely on a road with one name: Boulevard. With about 600 separate apartments, Bedford Pine is the Southeast's largest Section 8 housing project. Crime has been so prevalent in years past that Atlanta police opened a holding cell right on the property and a substation down the street at Atlanta Medical Center.
When Wingate Capital Partners — the owner and manager of Bedford Pine — announced last month it was moving forward with a project called City Lights, the praise was effusive from many places, but not everyone was enthralled. Aimed at creating 80 housing units for low-income seniors at the corner of Boulevard and Angier Avenue, city officials touted City Lights as a sign of progress and promise. Mayor Kasim Reed mentioned it alongside "transformative" O4W-area projects like Ponce City Market. One longtime resident foresaw a new drug hotspot.
The fate of Boulevard is a work in progress. Curbed Atlanta caught up (separately) with Wingate President Mark Schuster and longtime Boulevard resident Keith De Cay for their (very different) thoughts on the past, present and future of Atlanta's most talked-about thoroughfare.
· City Lights is "emblematic of things to come." He believes the city, and particularly Atlanta City Councilman Kwanza Hall (the neighborhood booster behind the Yo! Boulevard campaign), have "made a real commitment."
· The ultimate vision for Wingate's stretch of Boulevard, according to Schuster, is to invest $200 million over seven years and create a mixed-use area for Section 8 folks and market-rate renters. Ground is expected to break on City Lights sometime in the early fall. "I think we all want something better and we've found the tools to do that," he said.
· Schuster notes: "The (crime) numbers are improving every year." He pointed to proactive measures that include 25 off-duty police officers in the area on a regular basis and the award-winning Operation PEACE project. City Lights is the first step in turning "350 sides" — the four walls and roof of all 70 Bedford Pine buildings — into 50. Wingate hopes to convert their properties into just 10 buildings, but has to do so piecemeal so no one is displaced. "It's a very different opportunity to be successful" with far fewer entrances per property, Schuster said.
· Wingate has "failed to make any improvement in the area which has caused a nightmare for all of the middle-income people that live there because of how they manage the area."
· De Cay contends that City Lights will exacerbate Boulevard's problems. "APD has to see the drug exchange, and the dealers know this, so they use a drop site exchange system," he said. "What the dealers need is a safe, public site to store their drugs and the new underground parking garage (at City Lights) … will be their new safe exchange site. The dealers get the money and just send the buyer to parking spot X."
· "If we make Wingate accountable for their past, we can make Boulevard as nice as 39th Street in Chicago or St. Bernard Ave. in New Orleans," De Cay said. "I have houses in both places and can show you how to change an area."
— By Curbed Atlanta contributor Tyler Estep
· City Lights Project, A Boulevard 'Bright Spot,' Moves Forward [Curbed]
· Is redevelopment finally starting in Bedford Pine? [Atlanta magazine]