To the City of Atlanta: It is encouraging to see progress made towards implementation of long-anticipated transportation plans. That progress was made clear when the City of Atlanta, along with a variety of partners, signed the Beltline Framework agreement in March 2009. This kind of collaboration is necessary to solve Atlanta’s growing transportation problems.
The Beltline Framework includes a number of items that will make the Beltline possible, including redefining the function of the downtown Multimodal Passenger Terminal (MMPT). DOCOMOMO Georgia believes that this reevaluation of the terminal design is an opportunity to seriously consider rehabilitation and adaptive use of the historic Atlanta Constitution Building.
While existing plans for the MMPT (that predate the recent agreement) include demolition of the Constitution Building to make way for passenger platforms, we understand that new platform arrangements under consideration may provide an opportunity for integration of the Constitution building into terminal plans, providing opportunities for development of retail and office space. We also believe that the Constitution Building could be adapted for below street access to and from the MARTA Five Points station, and that a rehabilitated Constitution Building could become an around-the-clock asset, not just a train platform – abandoned after rush hour.
Research of public records conducted by the DOCOMOMO Georgia indicates that GDOT planners never considered adaptive use of the building a real option, even after the structure was found eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995. Now is the time to seriously consider adaptive use of the Atlanta Constitution Building.
Why preservation is important
The Constitution Building’s value as a historic resource cannot be questioned: It is the largest and most significant remaining Moderne-style structure in Atlanta; it was designed by Robert and Company during Ralph McGill’s tenure at the newspaper; and it served for decades as the Atlanta headquarters of the Georgia Power Company.
It is clear that there is substantial support for preservation. The Constitution Building has been listed on the Atlanta Preservation Center’s list of endangered places since 2003, and the movement to preserve the building has been the subject of several newspaper articles. DOCOMOMO Georgia has collected over nine hundred signatures in support of preservation of the building.
Many significant changes have occurred affecting both downtown Atlanta and the expectations for the MMPT since the early 1990’s: The Atlanta Constitution Building was acknowledged as eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995; plans for the MMPT have been drastically scaled back (and likely will not include high-speed rail service and perhaps eliminate Amtrak service as well); there is now a better understanding of the negative environmental impact when large buildings are demolished; and the impact of the Beltline upon the MMPT is only now being considered, since the concept did not exist when initial studies were conducted.
What can be done?
DOCOMOMO Georgia believes that the earlier finding of no significant impact (FONSI) prepared during initial design of the MMPT in 1995 and updated during 2000 was incomplete at the time and is severely outdated. It does not include consideration of the impact of the Beltline upon the design; the increased awareness and understanding of the historic significance of the Constitution Building, given the additional years since the first evaluation; nor the significant environmental impact of such a large demolition project.
DOCOMOMO Georgia therefore encourages the City of Atlanta to request that the GDOT reconsider the MMPT FONSI for these reasons, and to include serious consideration of adaptive use of the historic Constitution Building as part of this reevaluation, before finalizing turnover of the property to the GDOT.
DOCOMOMO Georgia thinks this remains a good question to ask the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) and City of Atlanta.
In fact it is a very important question to ask, as the GDOT gears up to once again reevaluate design of the Multi Modal Passenger Terminal (MMPT) due to changes to future high-speed and Amtrak service once planned to serve the terminal. After a recently publicized conflict with the Beltline planning efforts and neighborhoods, GDOT announced that it would not be using the “Decatur Belt” for routing of future high-speed passenger service, rather would be considering a new “western trunk” for this purpose.
At a presentation last week, GDOT representatives outlined the implications of this change (download a copy of the presentation here). They apparently include: No westbound Amtrak service to the new MMPT, instead would use a new “intermodal” station located elsewhere, while southbound Amtrak trains could still access the MMPT; acquisition of additional right-of-way to make the “west trunk” concept work; and that design of the MMPT should include north-south rail passenger platforms.
The Atlanta City Council called a special meeting March 23rd at which a resolution was passed to move the Beltline planning forward through an agreement between parties including the GDOT and the City of Atlanta. A copy of the resolution is available here.
While no one knows the potential impact of the new “Concept 7″ that will be studied for the MMPT, wouldn’t it be a great time to look at a design that acknowledges the historic value of the Constitution Building (it was acknowledged as elegible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places over a decade ago) and seriously consider reuse of the structure?
DOCOMOMO Georgia has noted in the past that there has been limited or no consideration of rehabilitation or reuse of the historic Constitution Building in past design studies for the MMPT, and that the latest plans for the MMPT had been scaled back to include little more than platforms and shed required for the long-planned Lovejoy-Atlanta commuter rail line.
What’s up with the Atlanta Constitution Building? Good question.
Recent developments suggest that implementation of a planned Lovejoy-Atlanta commuter rail service may be in jeopardy. As a result, construction of a new multi-modal transit facility in Downtown Atlanta may also be delayed or canceled.
A January 12th Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC) article “Lovejoy rail backers lose DOT seats,” details political maneuvering resulting in the loss of two members of the state Transportation Board who had once voted to support the Lovejoy rail line. “Commissioners veer rail plan off path, “ a January 4th AJC report details the Clayton County Commission’s reversal regarding an earlier decision to cover the Lovejoy rail line’s estimated annual operating deficit of $4 million for 50 years.
Current multi-modal terminal plans require demolition of the historic Atlanta Constitution Building (see photo above from early 2004) to make way for a minimal rail platform (described as “bare bones” in the local press). The funded portion of the project does not include accommodation for AMTRAK service or construction of a new bus terminal. Plans for this terminal were developed with no consideration for adaptation of the Atlanta Constitution Building – even though the building is eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.
In late 2005, the City of Atlanta voted to transfer ownership of this property to the Georgia Department of Transportation for demolition.
Ignoring Georgia’s apparent aversion to mass-transit for a moment, what do these developments have to do with the fate of the Atlanta Constitution Building? It is a difficult question to answer. According to tax records, it appears the city has not transferred the property to the Georgia Department of Transportation as of January 2007.
The building remains vacant, with no indication of construction work – for demolition or otherwise. It is deteriorating at a rapid pace due to the lack of proper roof, numerous openings offering no protection from rain, and evidence of continued vandalism due to its unsecured condition.
Read more about the building and multi-modal transit plans here.