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How impact of Gulch plans on future regional rail transit could be dire

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Downtown redevelopment is a good thing, but leaving room for rail could make the land even more valuable

A view of the gulch, a large parking lot, and rail lines.
Rail lines running through the Gulch could provide a base for a new transit hub.

Last year, news of permit filings for 10 million square feet of development in downtown’s Gulch made headlines in an area long starved for investment.

The Gulch is the epicenter of historic Atlanta—once a spaghetti bowl of railroad tracks, topped by the ornate Terminal Station—but it’s festered for eons as overgrown parking lots and tailgating zones.

Talk of Gulch investment on an Amazonian scale is encouraging for the neighborhood (and the city at large), but a growing chorus is wondering what it could mean for a once-planned transit hub in the heart of the city.

Plans for a huge train and bus station that will never be built in downtown Atlanta.
A rendering of a proposed Multimodal Passenger Terminal.

A new column posted by ThreadATL explores the impact of just such a development.

Developer CIM Group hopes to build office, residential, hotel, and retail spaces atop a podium of more than 9,000 parking spaces. For advocates of regional rail transit, and those who question the sustainability of relying on cars as Atlanta continues to grow, the rise of the development seems to spell the end to the grandiose Multimodal Passenger Terminal proposal.

But could the two coexist?

An aerial rendering of Gulch development in Atlanta.
A 3D representation of CIM Group’s plans.

Of course, the argument for investing in both development and transit makes sense. After all, with both elements in one site, the land will be that much more desirable and, subsequently, worth that much more.

If commuters from across the metro region could take a train into downtown and transfer to MARTA, the character of commuting in Atlanta could change drastically for the better.

And with tens (or hundreds) of thousands of commuters passing through the station each day, commercial, residential, and office space values could soar. Couple that with train service linking Atlanta to other cities across the Southeast—including Chattanooga via a high-speed line—and the Gulch could be one of the most important places in the city. Hypothetically speaking, of course.

To be sure, there are complications with the intricacies of weaving rail transit beneath a behemoth development, but it’s been done in other cities.

While plans for the Gulch development and funding sources for a Multimodal Passenger Terminal are still very unclear, discussions about the future of the area will likely intensify as construction of something—anything—moves closer to reality.

Atlanta’s old Terminal Station, which once occupied The Gulch.
Courtesy of the Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center