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Gulch redevelopment plans could jeopardize Atlanta’s regional rail potential

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A CIM Group project official said passenger rail is “not a consideration” in the design

The overarching Gulch vision, complete with new construction aplenty.
CIM Group’s vision for the Gulch could cost Atlanta its chances at developing a regional rail network. But is it worth it?
Rendering courtesy of CIM Group; designs, Perkins + Will

As with any development project of its stature, CIM Group’s plan to build the Gulch into a bustling, tax-churning mixed-use hub will come with pros and cons.

Last week, it was announced the Los Angeles-based company could collect upwards of $1 billion in public funding help, if it can bring between $3 and $5 billion of investment to the desolate swaths of old buildings, rail lines, and parking lots.

And earlier this week, CIM Group unveiled jaw-dropping renderings depicting the Gulch as something of a mini-city, packed with buildings, green space, privately owned streets and hardly a remnant in sight of the downtown ditch that Atlantans have come to know—and resent—so well.

Everyone knows the long-neglected Gulch is overdue for some construction love, but some people suggest the way CIM Group has mapped things out could mean metro Atlanta might never have a robust regional rail network.

According to urbanist blog ThreadATL, Atlanta City Councilman Matt Westmoreland, during a work session discussing the Gulch’s tax allocation district, asked CIM reps if passenger rail was in the cards for the downtown overhaul.

And with one fell swoop, the developer reportedly shot the idea down.

“The lead representative from CIM Group, the project developer, very bluntly responded that rail is ‘not a consideration’ with the design,” ThreadATL reported.

As the website notes, a multimodal passenger terminal or high-speed rail line to Chattanooga (or the long-discussed brain train idea to Athens) would require new rail in the Gulch.

Another contingent that includes Atlanta’s mayor eyes the possibility that Amazon could pick the site to build its second headquarters, bringing to life a long-festering hole in the city’s fabric. (The Atlanta Business Chronicle now reports CIM is in talks with a Fortune 500 company that isn’t Amazon about possibly calling the Gulch home). And it’s worth noting that grand multimodal plans, bandied about for years, have consistently gone nowhere, although legislators did at least bring the subject up a year ago.

But by ThreadATL’s thinking, cutting out the potential for future intercity rail development might dampen Atlanta’s chances at scoring the e-commerce giant’s pick.

“Is Amazon really going to choose a city for HQ2 that’s this cavalier about the potential of regional rail? Atlanta already has a massive federal investigation holding it back as an attractive choice,” the blog post said.

Another option, the blog posits, could be adding transportation infrastructure requirements to incentives bundles for Gulch redevelopment. That’s what went into wooing Kia Motors to set up the manufacturing plant in West Point that essentially rescued an economy.