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As funding wanes, Memorial Drive Corridor improvement initiative fizzles

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The program helped guide more than $1.5 billion in private investment to the busy thoroughfare

A photo of how Construction bustles near Memorial Drive’s intersection with the forthcoming Eastside Trail extension.
Development is rapidly moving forward, but Memorial Drive still needs transportation infrastructure improvements.
Jonathan Phillips, Curbed Atlanta

Over the past few years, the Memorial Drive corridor stretching from downtown to East Lake has witnessed a development boom paralleled by few other areas in Atlanta.

Sure, the busy thoroughfare boasts easy interstate access and is soon to link with the Beltline’s Eastside Trail, but the explosion of new residences, restaurants, retail, and offices didn’t happen by accident; Central Atlanta Progress’s Memorial Drive Corridor Executive Greg Giuffrida played a key role in helping the area mature in a way that’s meant to benefit the city and residents.

Giuffrida’s position was created back in 2015, after city leaders commissioned Georgia Tech’s “Imagine Memorial” study, which looked at the corridor’s potential for evolution.

Since then, the Memorial Drive Corridor improvement initiative—led by Giuffrida, who studied city and regional planning at Georgia Tech—has helped guide more than $1.5 billion in private investment and tens of millions of dollars in public works projects toward the once-industrial roadway.

But on Monday, Giuffrida announced he’s stepping down from the post.

Since the beginning, the initiative has aimed to one day become a bona fide Community Improvement District, and it’s been funded entirely by donations from neighbors, developers, neighborhood organizations, and other nonprofits in the area.

But their support wasn’t quite enough, and the program is now “winding down,” according to a blog post on the Memorial Drive Corridor website.

“The current fundraising model is not sustainable,” the post reads. “Some donors have been incredibly generous and patient, while other stakeholders who benefit from the work haven’t contributed. An enormous amount of work remains for the corridor to reach its full potential as the best urban street in Atlanta.”

But this is one of those “Don’t cry because it’s over; smile because it happened” scenarios.

Public and private projects completed and ongoing on Memorial Drive have enlivened the neighborhoods it runs through and helped make the corridor itself safer, as Giuffrida and others state.

As one example, construction crews are still working on resurfacing and restriping four miles of Memorial Drive from Reynoldstown to East Lake, an undertaking that’s meant to reduce automobile accidents and make the corridor considerably more walkable.

The post notes a number of other initiative achievements along Memorial:

Ongoing design and funding for a second phase of safety improvements that will include medians, bulb-outs, pedestrian crossings, signal upgrades, and bus pullouts (estimated 2021);

Procurement of a major streetscape and sidewalk project between Connally and Grant Street (procurement in progress);

New funding for sidewalk gaps near schools and MARTA stops, bringing us close to our five-year goal of making both sides of Memorial Drive fully ADA-compliant (in planning and design);

Completion of the Imagine Memorial Livable Centers Initiative (LCI) plan (in review, adoption pending);

GDOT commitment to install two new Pedestrian Hybrid Beacons (one complete, one pending construction);

The revival of Memorial Drive Greenway, the transformational linear park between Oakland Cemetery and the Georgia Capitol (acquisition ongoing, activation in progress);

Design and coordination with Oakland Cemetery on the future East Gate for pedestrians (under design review, fundraising);

Coordination and facilitation on zoning and transportation for dozens of private development projects totaling more than $1.5 billion in total economic impact.

Giuffrida’s efforts will be missed, but Memorial Drive might not be on its own for long.

“The need for a permanent organization to advocate for limited public resources to be spent on Memorial Drive will only grow,” says the blog post. “It’s possible that a new coalition will form to continue this work in the future.”