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'Waterworks Park' Vision Moves Ahead Despite Complications

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[Historic postcards, images courtesy Friends of Atlanta Waterworks.]
[Historic postcards, images courtesy Friends of Atlanta Waterworks.]

Chris Palmer says Atlanta's burgeoning Westside badly needs a park, and he knows the optimal location for it: "We have little to no green space currently on the Westside, and few places offer a better combination of location, picturesque views, and history than the Waterworks." Palmer, a member of the Friends of Atlanta Waterworks group, has watched the proposal to bring down fences around Atlanta's 200-acre reservoir complex gain traction recently with city officials and hundreds of Westside residents. Fundraising efforts will continue this month, but Palmer and other backers of the grassroots campaign to create "Atlanta Waterworks Park" know this won't be as simple as removing barbed-wire-topped fences. It's recently come to light that city construction plans could delay a full conversion of the grounds for years. Still, Palmer remains upbeat.


Mayor Kasim Reed's office announced support for the Atlanta Waterworks Park initiative last year but stressed that the reservoir will serve as more than a waterside picnic spot with pristine city views. The city plans to renovate the nearly century-old Waterworks facility and beef up a piping system to increase Atlanta's water reserve from seven days to more than a month. Proposed is a tunnel that would extend from existing Waterworks infrastructure to the Bellwood Quarry. From there, water would be piped in from the Chattahoochee River via another tunnel completed several years ago.

The tunnel's construction would complicate things for park boosters. Areas they'd hope would soon become public — an empty lot and green space outside the fencing along Reservoir Drive, for instance — would instead be used to stage heavy equipment during the tunnel project. Tunnel construction could begin as early as August — and take between three to five years to complete.

"The announcement of the construction project has indeed changed the scope and timeline from what we originally envisioned," Palmer wrote in an email to Curbed. "Initially, we just wanted the fences to come down, but now the development of this area into a public green space is becoming part of a larger plan for the neighborhood.

"While that does extend the timeline for the opening of the full area, it does not necessarily mean that we won't have any space for several years."

Palmer and company are in discussions with the city about several "quick-win projects," such as hiring security and allowing public access to an area around a structure known as The Lodge. Historically used as an events space, the roughly 3,500-square-foot building had become a homeless encampment and suffers from septic issues. But park supporters believe it has potential to be Westside's answer to Piedmont Park's Magnolia Hall, a magnet for weddings, meetings and other events.

Palmer's group has proposed renovating The Lodge with funding they're raising. He said Watershed Management officials are mulling that offer.

Prior to the Centennial Olympic Games, the Atlanta Waterworks property at 17th Street and Howell Mill Road was a cherished public space, hosting running races and allowing for leisurely strolls for nearly a century. Concerns of terrorists poisoning Atlanta's water supply during the Olympics necessitated fences that have encircled the property ever since.

The idea of bringing down those fences, to allow for public use again, has been floated for years. But as the Howell Mill corridor has blossomed with restaurants, retail and new residents, the vision has gained the support of the mayor, city council members and Beltline officials.

Two fundraisers last year — an event at Monday Night Brewing, which neighbors the Waterworks, and a fashion show at Westside Provisions District — raised $27,000 for the damn-those-fences campaign.

Another fundraiser, scheduled from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday at Monday Night Brewing, will feature progress updates and detailed renderings by Friends of Atlanta Waterworks — in addition to beer and nosh from Westside Provisions District tenants. Palmer said a few speakers will also reminisce about visiting the park — even getting married there — before the fences went up. Tickets start at $15 for non-drinking guests. For more information, or to purchase tickets, head over here.

Funding from ticket sales and donations, Palmer said, will be used to "further engage the community through campaigns and events in order to build support" and help shape any potential projects.

"In short, we're prepared to do whatever it takes to bring green space to the Westside," Palmer said. "And in that sense, there's no shortage of opportunities to use our funds in meaningful ways."

· Momentum Builds for 'Atlanta Waterworks Park' Vision [Curbed]
· Atlanta Waterworks Park [Facebook]