By Maria Saporta
MARTA currently plans to spend $259.4 million to rebuild the downtown Five Points train station, with more than $200 million coming from More MARTA’s limited revenues.
But key stakeholders are describing the redevelopment as “moderate” and prioritizing buses rather than creating a lively, pedestrian-centric downtown space that serves as a crossroads for MARTA’s east-west and north-south rail lines.
Former Atlanta planning commissioner Tim Keane, now director of planning in Boise, Idaho, wasted few words on the proposed redesign.
“It’s appalling,” Keane said in a phone interview on Sunday. “What is currently being proposed for the MARTA station Five Points should not be built. It is better to do nothing than to do what MARTA suggests.”
Keane is not alone in his criticism of the proposed redesign of MARTA station Five Points.
AJ Robinson, president of Central Atlanta Progress, sent a letter to MARTA general manager Collie Greenwood on March 7, in which he copied a variety of city officials and MARTA board members and specifically stated that “we are considering the design that is currently in circulated, do not support .”
Also, Atlanta City Council members Amir Farokhi and Jason Dozier sent a letter to Andre Dickens, Mayor of Greenwood and Atlanta, expressing concerns about the proposed design because it gives buses priority over pedestrians.
“The design has seven bus bays on the street (four on Alabama Street and three on Forsyth Street),” the letter reads. “These on-street bus stops threaten the overall vibrancy and pedestrian orientation of the area.”
In separate interviews with Robinson, Farokhi and Dozier, they both expressed that despite various communications with MARTA officials, they remain concerned.
Dozier said he felt better after meeting MARTA officials, “but I still worry about the bus bays.”
However, Robinson and Farohki remained steadfast in their opposition to the proposal.
“You’re spending a lot of money to create this beautiful square with a new canopy and now you’re lining it with bus bays,” Robinson said. “We have seen no evidence to justify this type of prominence for buses.”
Farokhi went one step further.
“Placing the buses outside the property does not correspond to a vibrant and safe downtown street life,” Farokhi said. “This feels mediocre and our ambition for Five Points should be world class. We should take the time to get it right. Most of us in the city have world-class aspirations for Atlanta, and we need MARTA to share those aspirations.”
Up until a year ago, MARTA was working with the city on a completely different design for Five Points Station.
Keane worked with MARTA on a call for proposals for a design that would reconnect Broad Street as a city street and restore the original street grid.
“When the station was built, it was like a spaceship landing in the middle of Broad Street,” Keane said. “It destroyed the city’s road network.”
Greenwood sent a letter to Farokhi and Dozier on Monday, saying that MARTA had determined that it was “not feasible” to restore the road network because “the roof of the existing hall would have to be lowered to a point that was unacceptable for his.” current use would be impractical” and that “gates and other services would have to be relocated at great expense”.
Farokhi said MARTA’s credibility is “slight” given recent public presentations about More MARTA.
Under the 2021 RFP, two tracts at the southern end of the Five Points station would be reserved for Transit-Oriented Development (TOD), sites promoting economic development that could generate both new revenue and ridership for MARTA.
“There is no station better suited to transit-oriented development than the Hub Station,” Farokhi said.
The current plan does not identify locations for TOD at Five Points. One idea for TOD was for MARTA to relocate its headquarters to the center of its system at Five Points. For decades, Robinson and others have urged MARTA to establish its headquarters at Five Points rather than its current location at Lindbergh Station in Buckhead.
For Keane, Atlanta should ask itself whether Five Points’ investment will create a stronger and more vibrant city.
“What is being proposed is actually going to lower the quality of this space,” Keane said. “How can you spend hundreds of millions of dollars to create an inferior place?”
At their March 9 board meeting, MARTA officials stood by their plans to move forward with their proposed design — saying that if construction begins in August, the project could be completed by March 2026, in time for the World Cup. But Greenwood softened that schedule by saying supply issues could delay that schedule.
For Farokhi and Robinson, this means the station could be under construction during the World Cup.
“My gut feeling is that this is a half measure, that we are improving the existing five-point station for the World Cup,” said Farokhi. “Right now, this proposal doesn’t reflect what we should build.”
“Let’s not use the World Cup as an excuse to spend so much money and not get it right,” Robinson said. “Let’s do it right.”