What a year it’s been for residential real estate, transportation, commercial development, and generally wild happenings in Atlanta. In terms of transition, 2019 felt like the year when momentum reached a tipping point, and many things residents knew would soon come finally began to materialize, or move in a direction that allows no turning back.
Then again, these worries and aspirations have come before. So before any major declarations are made about our long-awaited arrival as America’s greatest city ever, let’s take a minute and look back at the biggest things—or most Atlanta things—that happened in ATL since New Year’s Day 2019, and think about where we’re going from here.
An armored truck makes it rain on Interstate 285
For Atlantans, it was a dream come true—and extreme test of willpower. On the evening of July 9, a Garda armored truck’s doors swung open and released more than $175,000 near Ashford-Dunwoody Road, in the Perimeter area. One man, Randrell Lewis, returned to authorities all $2,000 he says he picked up, even posing for a photo op with proud Dunwoody police afterward (and becoming a subject of some intense social media debate). Though it’s obviously illegal to take money that belongs to someone else, it left all of us who were unfortunately not there to “witness” the cash storm, wondering what our individual consciences would guide us to do. One guess: pull over.
“Beltline Kroger” debuts
Some nostalgists will never call it anything but “Murder Kroger.” Others look at the brave new world signaled by the long-awaited opening of the 60,000-square-foot Atlanta Beltline location of America’s biggest grocery chain, situated between Ponce de Leon and North avenues, and see vibrant new life. It’s sleek and modern, with a glassy exterior to match the mixed-use development at 725 Ponce, a Starbucks inside,a “pub” offering tapped craft beer and flights of wine, an outdoor seating/sipping area with Eastside Trail pedestrian views, and a satellite of the beloved B’s Cracklin’ Barbecue, whose original Atlanta location burned down in March. It’s a new beginning for the questionably nicknamed store for sure, but it does leave one question: What good are all those Kroger Plus Card fuel points now?
The rise of Tyler Perry Studios
You’re entitled to your own opinion of Tyler Perry movies and the critical importance of Madea to the filmmaking craft. But you can’t deny that Perry finessed one of the greatest Ws in history by purchasing 330 acres of the former Fort McPherson U.S. Army base for $30 million in 2015.
With seemingly endless rolling hills, 12 giant sound stages, and plenty of historic buildings at his disposal, Perry went from successful filmmaker to legitimate Hollywood mogul, hosting a star-powered dedication gala attended by Oprah, Denzel Washington, Jay-Z and Beyonce, and many other elite figures in black cinema. And while it isn’t currently open for public tours (although that’s in the plans), we did get a retouched exit sign on SR 166 letting commuters know where to turn if they’re looking for one of the largest film production studios in America. Not to mention, a couple billboards from an enterprising young actress who clearly understood the power of location in advertising.
A ballyhooed Evander Holyfield statue goes missing
After almost two years of promises, it turns out the real deal on that Evander Holyfield statue intended to be erected downtown is TBD. The bronze version of the real-life-chiseled, Bowen Homes-raised boxer, universally beloved by Atlanta and proudly name-dropped in rap songs by André 3000, Snoop Dogg, and others, never made it to its intended place of permanence in front of the Flatiron Building, even though it cost nearly $100,000 to create. Who knows if the MIA effigy will end up there or anywhere other than where it’s currently being stored (if you see something, say something), but a representative from Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’s office recently predicted it’ll be installed somewhere by year’s end.
ATL sports gonna ATL sport
We’re used to it by now. Fans of Atlanta’s football, basketball, and baseball teams get hyped up listening to overly confident sports journalists, then watch as we get somewhere near the first round of elimination. Of course Atlanta United changed this narrative significantly with their MLS Cup victory (and decidedly Atlanta-centric choice of afterparty venue), which did a lot to justify the construction of Mercedes-Benz Stadium for residents who aren’t named Arthur Blank.
But this year we’re back to falling behind, and maybe it wouldn’t feel so bad if each team didn’t recently get a brand new facility in which to lose so predictably. That’s not to minimize the teams or question their willingness to play with winning in mind, but still. A new house is a new house, and the more we let folks come in our home before wiping their feet on the rug, so to speak, the less we’ll enjoy being in these places. Just ask any of the thousands of people not sitting in those stands on game days. That said, hometeam forever! Go ATL UTD! Go Hawks! Go Braves! Go Falcons! No really… go.
No Gwinnett MARTA
Back in March, it was hard for anyone hoping to see MARTA expand into Gwinnett County to not feel a little disheartened at the result of a consequential referendum. But 54 percent of voters rejected the addition of more transit, including heavy rail, in the northeast metro Atlanta county. While some voters claimed in news stories to be in favor of increasing public transportation options, the “no” votes ranged in reasoning from tax increase aversion to lack of comfort over total cost versus benefit. Whatever the case, the result is that a new MARTA station that would have been located just north of Doraville’s near Jimmy Carter Boulevard will not come to pass, at least in the immediate future. Is that a good or bad thing? Depends perhaps on your daily commute, but either way, it’s democracy, folks!
South Downtown announcements
Once Atlantans collectively sobered up and realized Amazon wasn’t interested in our offer to move HQ2 to town (and perhaps that wasn’t such a bad thing), the lower downtown area began to show true signs of widespread investment. It’s possible that so much hype around the possibility of Bezos and co. bringing the online retailer to Atlanta made folks realize they’d better come up with something. And now, with Underground Atlanta, the Gulch, and South Downtown ostensibly getting ready to undergo big changes, it appears that if Amazon’s decision did nothing else, it broke the inertia and analysis-paralysis that continued to keep Atlanta in the bottom tier of American cities whose downtown districts were living up to potential. Should even half the plans come to fruition, a wave of restaurants, retail, residential, and office spaces will result, lending an entire new experience in terms of walkability in the long-overlooked area. When it comes to big ideas, Atlanta excels, , Atlanand this is the epicenter of them right now.
A (very brief) pop-up bike lane
If you weren’t on your bicycle on 10th Street near Piedmont Park from October 21 to the 26th, you may have missed the chance to ride in a temporary, one-way, pop-up bike lane heading toward Peachtree Street. Not that no one noticed the bulky white and red plastic dividers usually signalling construction, or the increase in traffic resulting from making the lane inaccessible to automobiles, but in traditional Atlanta fashion, it certainly seemed to be over and done pretty quickly. There hasn’t been much said about the results of the test since it ended, although one might assume that some choice words were expressed by those whose passenger vehicle commute involved the already jammed corridor for those six days. At least we can assume it made e-scooter fans feel safer, while showing that the city is thinking about solutions to Atlanta’s infamous traffic problems and non-motorist protections. Maybe it’s more of a “see you later” than a goodbye to the idea, but either way, perhaps it’s another case of a good thing gone too soon.
Paris on Ponce fire
Those out of town during the Thanksgiving holiday had to learn from a distance that one of Atlanta’s most irreplaceable places, the exactly 100-year-old building that houses vintage furniture and decor shop Paris on Ponce, was badly burned in a two-alarm fire.
While the damage was major—the roof and interior were most significantly affected, destroying a number of shops inside the warehouse space—the owners hope to rebuild and are asking for support from the community via a GoFundMe campaign. And with Atlanta’s history of being figuratively and literally lit, the good news is that no one was hurt and that there’s likely a future for the funky Ponce de Leon antique store.
Brian Littrell couldn’t have it that way (lol)
It may not have shocked many people to learn that Backstreet Boy Brian Littrell (a.k.a. the nice one that parents probably would’ve trusted with their daughters the most) was living in a town like Milton. But it certainly shocked local authorities to learn that the Kentucky-born crooner was actually renting out the property—although it’s not even clear he owns it—to others looking to throw shindigs and soirees, which the huge mansion is not allowed to host due to Milton zoning laws. The drama has calmed down a bit since the initial crescendo of voices from the city, who denied Littrell’s request to receive a permit to host such events going forward, and then realized that when he wants something a certain way, he’s gonna go for it, or at least demand to be told why (not).
A West End house asks $650K
If there was ever an example of how far the Beltline has strayed from any plan to be inclusive of all Atlantans, regardless of net worth or income, it’s been the arrival of housing prices in the historic area crossing the half-million-dollar mark. (Or in at least one case this past summer, WAY over that mark.) And these houses, while renovated to look very nice and located in close proximity to the Westside Trail, weren’t exactly so pricey until a couple years ago, when asks began creeping into $400,000 territory—and selling even higher—as more Atlantans began to realize that West End was a thing.
Obviously opinions vary on what the true value should be for such a beautiful and convenient part of town, but what’s absolutely clear, at least to anyone who’s lived in the (currently) predominantly African-American community the past several decades, is that it certainly means change is coming. But with many of the homes staying on the market for several months, maybe things are on course for a correction? Only time, and public real estate listings, will tell.
Atlanta (the city) wins Super Bowl LIII
Well, unlike a certain local sports team that won’t be named (again) in this story, Atlanta delivered a big victory in the Super Bowl. Looking back, it was a tremendous lift, and everything seemed to go exceptionally (if uncharacteristically) well, considering this is a city where less than two inches of snow can break civilization. VIPs were entertained, traffic did not melt down, MARTA operated as well as could be expected (pretty efficiently, actually), and security from downtown to the Vine City area kept everyone safe and in reasonably good spirits, depending on how your team performed.
There was, however, a pretty big story involving a West End building whose strangely timed demolition occurred on the Friday of Super Bowl Weekend, and it was not lost on Atlanta’s community of street artists that this building happened to feature a mural of Colin Kaepernick. In response, a team of creatives, led by the first mural’s creator, Fabian “Occasional Superstar” Williams, painted eight new ones in time for the “big game,” which made national news. All in all, it was a great showing of what Atlanta can do with big hosting responsibilities, and it bodes well as we look to the Final Four, World Cup, and other major sporting events to come.