Atlanta Trades Downtown for a Shopping Mall

On one hand; shame on Atlanta for allowing the Gulch to become the Gulch. City planners failed us all. On the other hand, decades of incompetence now gives rise to a unique opportunity that few cities get to experience—a downtown, “do-over”.

Atlanta has been talking about the Gulch for years. To outsiders, the City’s plan seems little more than waiting for an angel/developer to come along and fix the problem for them. As you would expect, nothing happened. When you don’t have a plan of your own, as they say, any plan will do. So, when someone at City Hall answered a Developers phone call, Atlanta suddenly became the dog who finally caught the car. Now what?

The CIM plan, the only plan from which citizens can choose, calls for a multi-billion dollar mini-city to be created from the Gulch complete with a mix of office, retail and residential spaces. Wow, this checks every box. Atlanta can finally put this Gulch nightmare to bed. Politicians are really pushing hard, in large part, because they’ve already begun design on their commemorative plaques.

To be truthful, I have not studied the CIM plan. But, does it really matter? I’ll bet the plan calls for a killer outdoor Galleria-look with a chain restaurant or two. I am certain it’ll be pretty with lots of realistic looking faux finishes. And, I am certain it will generate tax revenue. But, I am equally certain the project will disappear into the background after a few years of being built, and the city won’t be any better for it. City Hall traded our downtown for a shopping mall!

I have nothing against CIM. I hope they build dozens of Avalon-like communities across America. Good for them. But, the Gulch is the downtown core of our city. This is an opportunity for all of us to design and have impact on Atlanta, 50-100 years from now. Other than Builders, who cares about a shopping malls? Building something that all of Atlanta would be proud of, will be much more difficult.

I have to believe the City has heard many different Gulch proposals. Surely, they conducted some level of due-diligence before presenting voters with a single option. But, I wonder about the process. I say that because, the Sales process for City, has been such a let-down. If you are selling the Gulch as a rat’s nest of train tracks and impossible logistical challenges, you would be telling the truth, but also selling all of Atlanta short. Selling ugly and problematic, is a failure in approach. A failure in Sales. Is there any wonder why a Shopping Mall is our only option?

Sales 101 tells us just how great Atlanta is. By any number of economic and growth metrics, Atlanta is off the charts. Our highly regarded downtown Universities are second only to Boston. We have significant corporate investment and commitment. Hartsfield-Jackson is the best. Sport teams, a thriving theater scene, museums, food, culture, music, Atlanta has it all. Who wouldn’t want to develop the Gulch?

Amazon would be lucky if we took them in. Unfortunately, our ultra-conservative State politics will most likely keep them away, but I’ll bet they’ll regret that decision in 5 years.

You want to fix the Gulch, don’t talk to Mall builders, because that’s what you’ll get. You want to fix the Gulch, talk to artists, historians, architects, playwrights, students, or anyone who has passion and visions for what could be.

Amazon had their City competition. Why can’t Atlanta hold a competition? Calling all architects, planners and artists, give us a Gulch that people NEED to visit. Give us a Gulch that inspires and moves both soul and spirit. Give us something that brings pride to everyone throughout Georgia. Give us AWE!

Worried about tax revenue? Cue; James Earl Jones:

They’ll come to Atlanta for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn down Peachtree, not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at the Gulch as innocent as children, longing for the past.

They’ll sit there in shirt-sleeves on a perfect afternoon. It’ll be as if they’d dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick, they’ll have to brush them away from their faces.

Atlanta has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But the Gulch will mark time. It’s a part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good, could be again.

Ohhhhhhhh, people will come. People will most definitely come.

And, if City Hall doesn’t want to do this, because, “it’s just too damn hard”, who do we see about getting a Whataburger for the new downtown Mini-City Mall? Straight outta MCM!

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