Give and take: Previous decisions cause community hesitation for Georgia State’s acquisition of Turner Field

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Signal Archives

For every action, there is an opposite and equal reaction.

For every action Georgia State has made in the past year and a half, the Atlanta community has reacted with a blaring opinion.

While Georgia State spokeswoman Andrea Jones said she feels community members are entitled to their opinions, it is difficult for Georgia State to respond to a “general sentiment” when viewpoints are so varying.

Even as the university powers forward, the community continues to make itself heard.

Parking lot love

ATL Urbanist blogger Darin Givens, who leads the Save the Bell petition, said Georgia State’s recently unearthed plans to demolish the Bell Building and replace it with a temporary parking lot has generated reserved feelings toward the university within the community.

“It’s really caused me and some downtown residents and people in the preservation community as well to think about our relationship with GSU and GSU’s relationship with the city and how it might not always be a positive depending on long-range plans and the leadership,” he said.

Givens said he first read about the historic building located off Auburn Avenue a few months ago in an article by the Saporta Report. He said Georgia State President Mark Becker mentioned tearing down the building while explaining what he was going to do with the $23 million in Woodruff Foundation cash.

At the time, Givens said he didn’t know it was called the Bell Building. Now, he is leading the Save the Bell movement.

Givens, who lives Downtown, said he cares about the general development in the Downtown area and has “had nothing but praise for Georgia State University.”

“Georgia State has injected so much life into downtown Atlanta,” he said. “Year after year more students [are] living downtown, [there’s more] street life, and it’s alive in a way it wasn’t before. So I’ve just had positive feelings about GSU.”

Jones said she hears more “positive sentiments about Georgia State’s role in downtown Atlanta than negative ones.”

But with Georgia State’s decision to raze the 108-year-old building, Givens said it has affected his confidence in the university.

Givens said he admits the Turner Field decision differentiates in that it is “sort-of on the city” to ensure the approval process includes the voices within the community, but he still holds the university accountable.

“I will not automatically feel that this is someone who is going to do the right thing, that we don’t need to watch over them like a hawk or anything like that,” he said. “If GSU acquired Turner Field property, we would want to keep a watchful eye on them.”

Matt Garbett, a Turner Field Community Benefits Coalition (TFCBC) member, also said he believes Georgia State’s decision to raze the Bell Building has put a damper on his attitude toward the university.

“I think that GSU has been phenomenal for downtown and phenomenal for Atlanta,” he said. “I think that from the Bell Building to WRAS to some of the choices about parking decks [has caused] a little reticence on the part of people now to believe GSU has the best interest of downtown in mind vesus their own best interest in mind.”

Givens said he echoes Garbett’s sentiments.

“I am really concerned that GSU is maybe not keeping the overall community, the needs of the overall community, in mind when they’re developing plans for real estate,” he said.  

Silence on the airwaves

When Georgia State announced they were forcing Album 88.5 WRAS, the university’s student-run radio station, to split air time with Georgia Public Broadcasting (GPB) because of a partnership, Atlanta fell into a frenzy.

Georgia State senior and WRAS DJ Christian Bowman said it was a devastating blow.

“It kind of just dropped on us out of nowhere,” he said. “They didn’t really care what we thought, at least that’s what it seemed like. And that’s what it kind of still seems like.”

The underground station is known for sparking careers of local and non-local artists, Bowman said.

“A lot of bigger artists were played on Album 88, if not first, then we were one of the first stations to play them,” he said.

Listeners aren’t just students, according to Bowman. He said WRAS, who has been around for roughly 40 years, appeals to parents and grandparents and even those late into their 60s.

To Bowman, the station, which he said is pretty integrated into the Atlanta community, received high volumes of on-air calls asking what was going on when the partnership began.

“I know Mark Becker had a lot of backlash from the Georgia State community as well as downtown, so we had a lot of support on our side,” he said.

Becker had told The Signal in a Q&A last August that “Georgia State entered the partnership because it was good for the university and students.”

However, Garbett said the partnership ended up doing more harm than good in the interest of the community.

“You know, [Becker] thought that giving WRAS to Georgia Public Broadcasting was best for the community,” he said. “So he’s lost a little bit of credibility.”

Walking the tightrope

If Georgia State acquires Turner Field, and if Georgia State listens to community input, the university will have a tough road ahead of them.

Garbett said Turner Field’s giant parking lots decorating the majority of the land has financially hurt surrounding neighborhoods.

“The AFRCA (Atlanta Fulton Recreational Authority) owns it,” he said. “They’re not paying property taxes. They’re no sales being generated there. That’s a major portion of the blight of the neighborhood.”

Robert Welsh, another member of the TFCBC, said the lack of funding has caused adverse reactions from other Atlanta residents because the neighborhoods haven’t had sufficient funding for upkeep.

“I saw some comments on the AJC after the news broke around the Braves leaving, and it really hurts the type of inconsiderate comments,” he said. “People will say, you know, it’s not even worth it. It’s a dump.”

But Welsh said he feels otherwise.

“It’s real people, real lives and the situation didn’t get created overnight,” he said. “We need to be doing everything we can to create some economic diversity and focus on stabilizing neighborhoods by getting middle class stable families with integrated into the local economy.”

Garbett said the difficulty with new development in the area will be balancing building new communities while not driving out the resident’s that already reside in the area.

“That’s the tricky thing,” he said. “If [Georgia State and Carter] actually builds a walkable neighborhood, grocery store, retail, things that people need, [it will benefit the community.] [If it’s] hipster bars and all the housing just goes to students, well then you could have a push on the current residents.”

For Garbett, Georgia State’s responsibility rests with ensuring the university does what’s best for the community, not just what’s best for Georgia State.