City plans $100 million expansion for Piedmont Park and Atlanta Botanical Gardens

Photo by Vanessa Johnson | The Signal

On December 29, 2017 former Mayor Kasim Reed announced that the City of Atlanta had signed letters of intent for a $100 million expansion of both Piedmont Park and the Atlanta Botanical Garden. The expansion consists of 2.94 acres and has formally moved forward with the $19 million purchase of land on May 25.

The land purchased is located at the corner of Piedmont Avenue and Monroe Drive and is currently home to the Clear Creek shopping center.

According to a press release from the City of Atlanta, “The expansion project will include a connection to the Atlanta BeltLine, improved pedestrian trails and access to Piedmont Park, additional open greenspace and forested land.”

Some initial artwork of design concepts for both portions of the expansion have been released on the City of Atlanta website. The design will be developed by HGOR, a landscape architecture and planning firm.

Funding for the project will come from two sources. The first $20 million was provided by the city government, with funds coming from TSPLOST, Atlanta BeltLine Inc. and the Department of Parks and Recreation.

The remaining $80 million will be acquired through a philanthropic effort to obtain private funds.

The City of Atlanta Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) has also been integral in the expansion plans. Amy Phuong is the Commissioner of the City of Atlanta DPR who has been working on the project.

“We have over 500 amenities, which range from a tennis court to an outdoor pool to a recreation center,” Phuong said. “But many of our assets are passive public spaces.” One of the largest of those spaces is Piedmont Park.

“Our partners are at the Piedmont Park Conservancy and Atlanta Botanical Gardens, and we have regular check-ins all the time,” she said.

As a team, the inspiration for the park and garden’s expansion came from all parties.

“The expansion concept came out of a few conversations, a year and a half ago,” she said. “We were brainstorming, ‘what can we do to really take all of our work together and go to the next level and leave a legacy?’”

Phuong looks forward to the expansion process but also acknowledges the attention to detail necessary.

“Piedmont Park is our central park so being strategic about how we acquire space is critical,” she said. “As Atlanta continues on the path of urban development, the DPR attempts to retain the important aspects that parks provide.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity because real estate continues to thrive in Atlanta and these sets of owners could have chosen to further develop it,” Phuong said. “We are choosing to be bold enough to take urban development and transform it into park, which is a best-use of the space.”

Phuong has a few key strategies for making the project possible and a few ideas about what could go into the expansion as well. “We are going to be working with our partners and the community to decide on designs,” she said.

“I think there could be some terracing, kind of like a stair step but with enough space in between to be a sitting area,” Phuong said, “We are trying to push ourselves to have more flexible spaces, where we are not mandating a particular type of use, like a ballpark for example.”

Overall, this expansion provides the resources necessary for the city of Atlanta and the DPR to reach their goals.

“The city of Atlanta is part of a national union of cities that believe that every resident should be within a ten minute walk to a park,” Phuong said. “We are pushing ourselves to leverage parks and greenspaces to shape how people interact with their city, making it a place to explore and socialize.”

Piedmont Park is 211 acres in size and attracts over four million visitors each year. It is open year-round and free to the public. The Piedmont Park Conservancy is a nonprofit organization which has partnered with the City of Atlanta for the expansion project.

Amy Dietrich is the director of communications for the Conservancy, which she said, “has the position of preserving and enhancing beautiful Piedmont Park.”

Dietrich notes that the Conservancy is a key player in the expansion plans as well.

In the expansion, we play the role of mentor, advocate, community involvement, and fundraising partner,” she said.

Dietrich repeats the statements of Phuong from the DPR, seeing the opportunity as one to improve the park in ways that the community needs most.

“In regard to specifics, the Piedmont Park Conservancy will facilitate a public input process to help determine the expansion’s new features and amenities,” she said.

Dietrich includes the careful thought process the Conservancy puts into the details of the project.

“Having more space allows for more opportunity. The expansion will also mean that Piedmont Park becomes more accessible to those on the north side, and will help spread out the density of visitors,” Dietrich said.

The last main party in the expansion is the Atlanta Botanical Garden which was founded in 1976 and consists of 30 acres dedicated to plant collection for conservation, display and research. It is home to two nationally recognized conservation programs and the largest orchid collection in the country.

Mary Pat Matheson is the President and CEO of the Atlanta Botanical Garden who discussed what the expansion means to her and the garden.

“In Atlanta our property is only 30 acres, so this new opportunity has been opened up through the vision of our leaders in the city,” Matheson said. “And we are all very excited to expand both the garden and the park in partnership with the City of Atlanta”

While there are many steps in the process before finalization on the feature of the expansion, Matheson has a vision for the expansion that she is fairly certain will be reality.

“We have been doing a lot of work in Atlanta because we do so much with native plants, to make sure the plants around the whole southeast region remain healthy in their ecosystems and their habitats,” she said.

For Matheson, this core value of conservation has a vital element that needs support.

“That ties into what’s really important right now: pollinators. Butterflies and bees that pollinate are disappearing so rapidly,” she said. “As we’ve done work in natural habitats we are now bringing some of that work to the city of Atlanta. We are planting pollinator gardens in city parks, along proctor creek and on urban farms. ”

This focus is important for Matheson, in that it serves the environment as a whole. She  expanded on the specifics of this concept and how butterflies will play a large role in a new amenity.

“By that I mean we will do a butterfly center so people will be able to come spring through fall and see native butterflies inside the new center and look at the chrysalis, how the butterflies emerge and how that metamorphosis happens,” she said. “So that we can teach anyone about the importance of the linkages in biodiversity, the connections between plants and insects and animals and people.”

Matheson said that through testing, they know this is something the visitors want to see in the garden. All parties in the expansion are thrilled at the opportunities available. “I think it’s going to be spectacular,” Matheson said.