Grant Park parking deck, unlike Piedmont Park's, meets little pushback

Proposal features green roof, 1,000 spaces, payment kiosks and little sign so far of a battle

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Every now and then, Grant Park visitors on the hunt for parking get a little destructive.

“We do have problems, a couple of times a year, of people just trying to park in the park, jump the curb and actually park on the green space,” says Michelle Blackmon, executive director of the Grant Park Conservancy, a nonprofit that advocates for the southeast Atlanta greenspace. “It’s one of those domino effects, one car does it and then when cars are coming they assume, ‘Oh they parked over there, I can park over there,’ and so that has become a challenge for us."

Right now, that’s an occasional problem. But Blackmon says she thinks demand for parking at Grant Park is only going to rise with new developments and projects in the area: the Beltline to the east and south, Georgia State at Turner Field to the west, and the zoo expansion inside the park. There are also new developments near Glenwood Place and a wave of mixed-use and residential builds on Memorial Drive. In all directions, new projects are underway that will put more people in the area and in the mindset to visit the park.

The city sees a parking problem there too. In response, it’s planning a "semi-underground," 1,000-space parking deck where the free parking lot on Boulevard is now. Part of the site would turn into an entrance terrace or ramp for a new zoo entrance, according to draft concept drawings.  The deck will be topped with a street-level green roof — say, gardens or a play field — and maybe a restaurant. 

Oh, and it'll be paid parking: the builder should include payment kiosks on each floor of the garage, according to a request for proposals published last week

So far, the Conservancy is pretty pleased with what the city is asking for in the RFP, Blackmon says.  She said the plans are well-integrated into the park, and they like the green roof and the fact that the plan does not cause the loss of any green space. She says the Conservancy also thinks some of the deck income should be set aside for park maintenance and improvements.

The city, the neighborhood, and the zoo have been chit-chatting about the idea for at least a year and a half. (Chatter about the plan, however, dates as far back as 2007.) So far the idea has failed to spark major opposition, a la the citywide warfare over the Piedmont Park parking deck about a decade ago.

Reaction to the RFP on Nextdoor and Facebook groups has been positive overall, says Grant Park Neighborhood Association President Lauren Rocereta. And she expects that will continue to be the case because of the parking pressure on streets.

“When we have events, the cars are just all in the streets," she says. "Most Grant Park neighbors don’t have driveways and don’t have garages so they have to do on-street parking.  So when there’s a large event, we’re suffering."

However, she says GPNA is aiming to keep the neighborhood informed and will take whatever position its members take.

There are still some questions out there. For one, the city's not talking about any possible budget for the deck — that could impact the procurement process. And it's not yet clear how many parking spaces the park will net, overall. There are some 480 spaces in the Boulevard lot now, and a few hundred spaces in the lot on the park's Cherokee Avenue side. The city's draft sketches show that Cherokee lot turning into green space. However, according to the city, that's just a concept for now; and a Cherokee decision rests with the parks department.

But in a city where more and more folks seem to be skeptical of the future of cars or the desirability of parking, could Grant Park become a sequel to the Battle of Piedmont? 

Like Piedmont, Grant Park is something like a yard for neighborhood residents that is shared with visitors who attend concerts, celebrate family reunions, or ogle plants and animals. Much like the controversial Piedmont parking deck, the Grant Park facility would also partly benefit a private entity operating in a public space. And Grant Park, much like Midtown, Virginia-Highland, and Morningside, is a civically engaged community.    

Blackmon says she doesn’t think the Grant Park deck will turn into a Piedmont-type battle. She says people have seen that the Piedmont Park deck is successful. But she added it’s critical that the city communicate about the project and give stakeholders a chance to weigh in before any final deal is inked. She says the city has been open and is optimistic that they’ll keep communicating.

One of the veterans of the battle against the Piedmont deck, Virginia-Highland resident Jack White, says Grant Park looks so far pretty different from the Piedmont parking deck debacle, which he said was a total failure of process. The Midtown project involved the powerful Piedmont Park Conservancy and the Atlanta Botanical Garden. To critics such as White, the deal wrongfully, and in secret, handed the private botanical garden a previously free-to-the-public slice of Piedmont Park for a badly misconceived deck.

But Grant Park looks different: the deck is on the edge of the park, not the middle. And it would go on land that’s already paved.

In Grant Park, the space belongs to the city and the RFP says that the city will own the deck. Bids for the work are due Nov. 16. The city expects to hold a public meeting for more input once a bidder has been chosen.