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Photos: Exploring East Point’s ‘model mile’ PATH trail and how it could shape the city’s future

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Now under construction, the project could connect southside cites and neighborhoods with the Atlanta Beltline one day

A trail project beside a busy road.
A section of the PATH initiative under construction now.
Photography by Mike Jordan

With sections of wide sidewalk established alongside East Point’s Dick Lane Velodrome, and hazard cones blocking a right lane in front of Tri-Cities High School, construction of the East Point PATH Trail’s “model mile” is officially in progress.

And expectations for what the multiuser path could mean for the south ITP city are high.

Jackhammers began busting up asphalt on Norman Berry Drive—the thoroughfare connecting East Point to Hapeville heading east and Atlanta’s Greenbriar Mall to the west—at the beginning of autumn.

Funded by Fulton County T-SPLOST and expected to take five years to complete, the PATH project will be comprised of at least 9.6 miles of multi-use trails and greenways, and could eventually total 25 miles of development connecting to the Atlanta Beltline’s Southside Trail, all intended as part of East Point’s new blueprint of making the city more walkable and interconnected through bicycling and pedestrian corridors.

The PATH masterplan shows that the city believes in the project’s potential to have a positive effect by increasing property values, job growth through attraction and retention of new employers, and overall community health by encouraging walking and physical exercise. The location between downtown Atlanta and the world’s busiest airport, as officials point out, isn’t a detriment.

While job opportunities may take more than an “if you build it, they will come” ethos to become reality, there are clear benefits to the model mile’s configuration.

Closer to two miles than one, this first “model mile” phase of the project begins just before the velodrome, at the corner of Kimmeridge and Headland drives, at Sumner Park.

A park at right with a sidewalk in the foreground, and autumn trees.

The velodrome—which is public, but requires an entrance fee—soon appears. It’s one of just 22 similar bicycling facilities still operating in the country.

Four pictures of a velodrome bicycling facility with an oval raised track just south of Atlanta.

The freshly paved sidewalk, which winds around the edge of the velodrome, continues past Warren Way, with construction pausing at the corner of Semmes Avenue. The work resumes just before the overhead bridge of Main Street, in downtown East Point, where Headland Drive becomes Norman Berry Drive.

An intersection of two streets shown in winter light.

From there, bulldozers are making room for concrete adjacent to a Dairy Queen restaurant and Tri-Cities High School, ending at Harris Park at the corner of Jefferson Avenue.

A concrete path being installed beside a roadway and a Dairy Queen in the distance.

Another angle on the path currently being formed.

Jonathon Penn, the City of East Point’s director of parks and recreation, is excited about the PATH’s implementation and potential. “We’re at the beginning of construction, but they’re moving along really fast,” he says.

In addition to pedestrians who regularly visit Sumner and Harris Parks, and residents of nearby communities Jefferson Park, Semmes Park, and Frog Hollow, Penn says Tri-Cities students were top of mind in deciding where the model mile would begin.

“It’s a safe walkway for the students,” says Penn. “A lot of them walk; that’s why we chose that segment to be the first leg.”

Barring an unexpected amount of inclement weather, Penn says this phase should be complete by summer 2020, and that the next phase will include working with the community improvement districts (CIDs) of Aerotropolis, whose masterplan he’s also been involved with creating.

Penn says planners are still in early stages of coming up with the concepts for how PATH connections will work. But the goal, he says, is to take it across Norman Berry to the Wagonworks and Buggyworks buildings.

Two old buildings shown with a road between.

From there, it’ll connect to the East Point MARTA Station, which sits across from downtown East Point, where the newly completed City Hall building and StationSoccer field have replaced unused spaces.

“That’s going to be a major piece,” Penn says.

A historic looking bridge structure with an old building at left.

The pedestrian bridge at the beginning of Cleveland Avenue would be a connecting component.

The bridge crosses railroad tracks that run parallel to Main Street downtown.

East Point MARTA Station is to the immediate left on the opposite side of the bridge.

Half a block to the right is the recently renovated and reopened East Point Library.

Across the street to the left is East Point StationSoccer, Oz Pizza, Kupcakerie, and a bar called Chairs, former home of metro Atlanta’s first Corner Tavern.

A Morehouse College graduate from Michigan who’s been in his role for four years and has worked for the city for more than a decade (and who admits his fast-growing family has kept him in Hampton, even though he hopes to move to East Point when feasible), Penn says the PATH project is more than just a professional endeavor.

“It’s truly exciting to see this become a reality,” says Penn. “It means a lot to me personally, and to the community it means a higher standard of living, and not only the economic development that’s gonna spur from this. It’s going to bring people to the city. People want to see the amenities that allow them to get out, explore the community and be healthy.”

Penn sees additional benefits the trails will provide for the wider Tri-Cities area, marketed today as the “ATL Airport District.”

“I see a green city, a technological city. These pathways are going to be the bridge for that,” he says. “There’s so much you can do along paths from the technological standpoint… I think we’re bridging the gap.”

For now, with sidewalks 10-feet wide, 4-foot-wide cycling trails, and greenways planned to be cut through neighborhoods with low volumes of motorized traffic, the PATH is giving East Point residents new reason to champion places where one of history’s greatest rap groups would meet before recording classic hip-hop records. That history could influence the look of a portion of the initial trail segment, too.

Penn says the city will work with students of Tri-Cities High School’s magnet program to come up with a mural to cover the gray concrete of the Main Street bridge crossing Norman Berry, which they’ll paint. It’s just west of the school where Big Boi and Andre 3000 met before becoming a duo.

He wants the students to “own it,” and will go along with their creative decision after communicating the meaning of the PATH to them—as long as there’s nothing obscene. But he admits he hopes OutKast will at least be considered.

“I’m very much open to it, especially after seeing the mural in Little Five Points that they did,” says the parks and recreation director. “I’m a huge OutKast fan. Headland and Delowe! I’m all for it.”

Continuing a tour, construction is spotted near the corner of Milledge Street and Norman Berry, across from Jefferson Station, which the City of East Point used as temporary offices as the new City Hall was being built.

East Point’s new 32,000-square-foot City Hall building, opened at the end of April.

Milledge Street, heading around the back of Tri-Cities’s football stadium.

A currently sketchy sidewalk behind Tri-Cities’s football field.

The sidewalk continues alongside the railroad tracks and MARTA line.

The sidewalk empties to the PATH construction, and the bridge Tri-Cities’s magnet students will help paint over.

Past the sidewalk on Milledge, the PATH will end, for now, at Harris Park, which itself segues into Bryan Park, one of the city’s “mini” parks on Bryan Avenue.