Along what was once a stretch of rusting, trash-strewn railroad tracks cutting through Atlanta, young professionals now enjoy an evening out for tapas and skate boarders zoom past funky art installations and chic new condos.
The Atlanta BeltLine is among the largest and most ambitious of a growing number of urban renewal projects transforming abandoned railroad tracks around the world into livable green space. Joining the ranks of New York City’s High Line, Paris’ Promenade Plantée, Philadelphia’s Reading Viaduct, and Chicago’s Bloomingdale Trail, the BeltLine is uniting communities with new parks, jobs, housing and transportation options.
Atlanta BeltLine Inc. CEO Paul Morris calls the BeltLine a comprehensive urban redevelopment project.
“The overall goals of the project are to utilize historical railroad corridors to unite historically divided parts of the city through the introduction of light rail transit, bike and pedestrian trails along a 22-mile largely abandoned corridor that would connect to reintroduced housing, job and economic development, parks and open green space improvements,” Morris said.
The BeltLine, originally proposed in 1999 by Georgia Tech student Ryan Gravel as a mass transit project, links together 45 neighborhoods in metropolitan Atlanta. The project is primarily funded by local taxes, which will cover $1.4 billion or a third of the program cost. Federal funding and other private and public partnerships provide another $179.5 million for the project.
Emory University graduating senior Krista Tremblay said, “It’s really refreshing to walk down a path and see so many fellow Atlantans walking around and spending time with their family and just slowing down and being social.”
The BeltLine is benefitting area businesses, as well.
Nicolette Valdespino, co-owner of Paris on Ponce, an antique furniture and design shop, said that the BeltLine has led parades of new customers to her store. To leverage their prime location, Valdespino said they added a coffee and juice bar and opened a new entrance directly off the BeltLine.
“Part of this revamp is getting people to know who we are again,” Valdespino said. “People often pop in not knowing who we are, and we have an opportunity to reintroduce ourselves.”
Atlanta-based artist John-Patrick McChesney said business is exploding for his custom-made furniture and artwork, which he sells at Paris on Ponce, and his workshop expanded from a garage to a 30,000-square-foot warehouse. He attributes his success to the BeltLine, which has spotlighted his work to new clients.
“I’m typically there, and it provides an opportunity to engage with them about my work,” McChesney said. “What’s happening now is that the word has gotten out— the BeltLine
While still expanding, the BeltLine already has garnered national accolades. In February 2014, the BeltLine received the Overall Excellence Award for Smart Growth Achievement, the highest honor presented by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
In May 2014, the International Real Estate Federation recognized the BeltLine as “the best environmental rehabilitation project in the world” at the World Conference on Building Humanity. Adding more than 1,300 acres of parks, 20,000 new housing units and 30,000 new jobs, Morris said the BeltLine is being noticed for its positive impact on urban life.
“You’ve got a lot of millennials and inventive startup companies that want to move into a historic warehouse, be in the city, have proximity to work but also to where they live and to hip new restaurants, great new public plazas and parks,” Morris explained. “And these kinds of corridors afford that opportunity in ways that traditional real estate does not.”
Property values have appreciated in all areas where the BeltLine has been introduced, according to Morris. But he said that with such an extensive trail, land values still vary widely.