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The Stitch: How confident are you, Atlanta, that this will really happen?

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Ambitious plans to cap downtown Connector could create 14 acres of opportunity, mend interstate wound

Plans for The Stitch — a $300-million proposal to cover Interstate 75/85 with greenspace and private development — sound pretty quixotic right now. Like some visionary describing a pipe dream to recoup what once was lost in the name of urban "progress."

But, in fact, it’s a real concept being pushed by a group of neighborhood boosters and downtown landowners. The gist, as Atlanta magazine first reported this week, goes like this:

The Stitch would cap the downtown Connector by building concrete over the million-laned interstates from the Spring Street flyover southeast to the Piedmont Avenue Bridge, turning a half-mile stretch of highway into a long tunnel and the space above into 14 acres of opportunity.

For the most part, the immediate area is currently home to a series of parking spaces, empty lots, and a blighted building or two. The proposed set-up would — here it comes — "stitch" back together the historic fabric destroyed decades ago by the freeway, which upon its construction effectively divorced Midtown and downtown.

Central Atlanta Progress — a nonprofit that champions the preservation of downtown Atlanta and its economic vitality — reportedly spent $100,000 commissioning a concept study outlining this whole vision.

The 114-page document, which can be found here, surfaced this week.

"We’re trying to create an urban amenity that will spur development," A.J. Robinson, CAP president, told Atlanta magazine.

Ideally, the area would include public greenspace for concerts and other events as well as groups of hotels, residential buildings, and office buildings. But in a way it all echoes the Gulch-capping Green Line Redevelopment Plan of a decade ago — a vision that obviously sputtered and died. Anyone remember this?

In fairness, Atlanta is a different city now, and these new plans will (hopefully) not have a crippling Great Recession standing in their way.

According to Central Atlanta Progress’ website, The Stitch would specifically consist of three "character zones" programmed with a variety of uses. It all sounds good on paper:

  • Emory Square: A dynamic urban plaza set atop a regional bus terminal. The plaza will connect St. Luke’s Episcopal Church on the west to a re-imagined Emory Square MARTA station, as well as to Emory’s future "Medical Arts Institute" building and to new retail and residential areas.
  • Peachtree Green: A three-acre town green with active program elements on all sides including water features, a restaurant and café, a pavilion space for markets and art shows, an art walk, a "Mayor’s Walk," and a civic heroes memorial.
  • Energy Park: A mixed-use residential area intertwined with an urban park made up of lawns, a dog park, a playground, water features, a splash pad, a flex-use pavilion, and a garden walk. Its location next to Georgia Power’s headquarters will provide opportunities to use green construction and power technologies.

The state could sell air rights to developers of surrounding properties, ostensibly offsetting the cost of capping the highway. The study predicts the finished product would increase property values and lead to massive redevelopment in the area.

Robinson told the magazine a first phase of construction for the public-private partnership could be completed within five years. Not that far off, really.

So, is it all a (very expensive) dream or a soon-to-be reality? Below, cast a vote for how you feel and have a gander at the vision in greater detail: