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Buckhead CID leader discusses grand vision for Park Over GA400

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Idyllic urban green space illustrated in new renderings; Oct. 5 meeting could determine whether plan moves forward

Upon first hearing the idea for a potential park that would cap Ga. Highway 400 near Lenox Square, even Buckhead CID Executive Director Jim Durrett was skeptical.

"My initial reaction was, ‘This is too much of a BHAG — a big, hairy, audacious goal,’" Durrett told Curbed Atlanta this week. "I just didn’t think there was any way to do it. That was my first thought and frankly there are others who feel that way today, but (Daniel) Burnham said, ‘Make no small plans.’"

Durrett has become one of the idea’s most vocal proponents, and he said these are exciting times for the project. Especially given the vision and design concepts that Durrett and other members of the Buckhead Community Improvement District presented Wednesday to the public.

"It’s like the starting gun has just sounded," he said, "and now is the time to really engage the community in understanding the promise of this and exploring how to get it done."

According to a release from Buckhead CID officials, the proposed open space in the heart of Buckhead’s commercial core aims to create "a world class" area "that would not only become a great community gathering place, but also help to further shape Buckhead's identity – much like other iconic urban places, including Central Park, Millennium Park, and Union Square."

The design for the Park Over GA400 aims to make strategic connections to enhance the district's vibrancy, and is tailored to Piedmont Road topography, direct MARTA access, and an expansion of the commercial and cultural opportunities present in Buckhead today.

The initial design has three distinct zones: The Commons, the Plaza, and the Gardens. Each zone aims to accommodate a range of activities and events.

The nearly half-mile long park could feature plazas, lawns, gardens, and pavilions.

The news release states that a "defining feature of the design includes an allée of high-canopied trees running the length of the park that blends with Atlanta's urban forest canopy and creates broad shade and memorable open space from Lenox Road to Peachtree Street."

Durrett said Buckhead has gotten to a point in time that "demands we take seriously how we can create a place for the community to come together as the core of Buckhead develops."

Added Durrett: "You’ve got to have a vision — and a compelling one at that — before people can get behind something, and I think what we’re doing is demonstrating that it’s possible to create something truly remarkable that will serve so many people in an important way, and I believe eventually we will figure out a way … to be able to get this done."

Having developed the initial concept and shared it with the public, the next step involves public outreach, preliminary engineering, strategizing funding, as well as listening to feedback from the community.

Buckhead CID brass could vote on whether to proceed to the next phase at an Oct. 5 board meeting. The project's backers have previously pegged the cost at north of $150 million. A more recent proposal to cap a stretch of The Connector downtown — dubbed "The Stitch" — would cost twice that amount, at least, leaders have said. Still, more than 75 percent of 1,300 voters in a recent Curbed poll were at least somewhat optimistic The Stitch will happen.

Durrett echoes that optimism.

"I think Buckhead deserves to be a more complete place than it is right now, and we’re just going to figure out how to get it done," Durrett said. "People need a place … to be able to gather, to be able to decompress in the outdoors, to be in a peaceful environment, and that’s what this is going to provide."