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Georgia Building Authority defends controversial downtown parking deck project

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The proposed structure’s exterior would match the facade of the historic Georgia Freight Depot, officials say

The old Georgia Freight Depot and its former backdrop—the Wyland Whale Mural—in Steve Polk Plaza, where a new parking deck is proposed.
The old Georgia Freight Depot and its former backdrop—the Wyland Whale Mural—in Steve Polk Plaza, where a new parking deck is proposed.
Getty Images

When plans emerged for a more than 500-space parking deck near a historic downtown building, Atlanta urbanists were up in arms.

On Monday, the Georgia Building Authority suspended its search for a design-build team for the potentially $9 million project in front of the Georgia Freight Depot. That calmed the nerves of some preservationists vying to keep views of the 1869 building, a popular events location, unobscured.

But putting the project’s Request for Proposals on the back burner doesn’t mean the GBA intends to nix plans for the parking deck.

GBA spokeswoman Morgan Smith-Williams told Curbed Atlanta this week the project was largely delayed due to other construction activity happening around Capitol Hill.

Officials want to ensure the new Nathan Deal Judicial Center building, which is under construction where the State Archives building and an adjacent parking deck used to stand, opens in early 2020, as planned.

The construction of downtown’s new judicial building has in part delayed the parking garage’s RFP process.
Robert A.M. Stern Architects

The GBA also recently received a Letter of Intent from POW! Entertainment, a company seeking to develop an “entertainment destination” near the Georgia Freight Depot and Underground Atlanta.

“We need to explore that deal and see what that looks like before moving forward with the parking deck,” Smith-Williams said.

a rendering of the proposed parking deck
A rendering shown in the initial RFP documents doesn’t account for plans to match the exterior with the Georgia Freight Depot’s facade.
Georgia Building Authority

As for the necessity of the proposed parking structure, Smith-Williams said the demolition of the archives building’s deck, coupled with the removal of a few surface lots to build a road linking Capitol Hill to Interstate 75/85, subtracted between 300 and 400 parking spaces for GBA visitors.

“Right now, we’re very tight on visitor parking at Capitol Hill,” she said, noting that other parking areas typically reserved for state officials have had to offer visitor parking at times.

A map shows the proposed project site
A rough outline of where the proposed parking deck could go.
Google Maps

Asked if Capitol Hill visitors should just utilize one of the many MARTA stations within walking distance of the Gold Dome, Smith-Williams replied:

“From a visitor perspective, of course if you live in metro Atlanta, MARTA is a good way to reach us. But Capitol Hill isn’t just for Atlanta; it’s for constituents all over Georgia. If you live in Macon and you’re coming to Atlanta to access some sort of constituent service, it’s a bit of difficult argument to make that those people should be utilizing public transit.”

Smith-Williams also said the Capitol Hill Accessibility Guide published each year notes that public transit is a good way to get to the Statehouse and surrounding areas.

Historic preservationists might find some solace in the fact that, once the RFP process is rebooted, it will call for the new parking deck’s exterior to match the facade of the Georgia Freight Depot.