BeltLine would transform Atlanta, first phase opens

ATLANTA — The city this month opened the Atlanta BeltLine Eastside Trail, a 2.25-mile stretch of trail to be incorporated into a 22-mile loop of trails an transit connecting 45 neighborhoods throughout the city.

Proponents say the ambitious BeltLine project, a public-private partnership that uses abandoned, underused and active railroad right-of-way, would form a loop around the heart of the city. The loop would cut through popular city neighborhoods, including Buckhead, Inman Park, Old Fourth Ward, Poncey Highland and Virginia Highland.

The section that opened this month includes 14-foot-wide concrete sidewalks, 30 acres of greenspace and right-of-way for trolleys to be added in the future. With the opening, there are now six miles of trails within or near the BeltLine.

“The opening of the Atlanta BeltLine Eastside Trail will be a revelation for Atlantans who can traverse their city, neighborhood-to-neighborhood in unprecedented fashion,” Mayor Kasim Reed said in a statement earlier this month. “This world-class public space is the result of great public-private partnerships. It creates new mobility options, lays the foundation for transit along the Atlanta BeltLine, promises improved health and enhanced neighborhoods, and is already spurring sustainable economic growth and development.”

The entire $2.8 billion project is expected to be completed in five to 10 years, depending on the estimate. It will connect with MARTA, the city’s mass transit system.

The BeltLine, proponents contend, will spur new development and neighborhood revitalization around the corridor. They point to $775 million in new development that has been completed or started since 2006.

But, all hasn’t been blue skies for the organization. The BeltLine’s CEO stepped down in August amid controversy that he used organization funds to cover personal expenses.

“The Atlanta BeltLine remains the single most compelling vision for the future of Atlanta,” John Somerhalder, chairman of the Atlanta BeltLine, said at the time. “It came to fruition through deep, broad and passionate grassroots support that brought communities across this city together like never before.”

To drum up public interest in the project, Atlanta BeltLine has sponsored three-hours tours of the right-of-ways and neighborhoods it would affect. The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation recently donated $40,000.

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Todd DeFeo loves to travel anywhere, anytime, taking pictures and notes. An award-winning reporter, Todd revels in the experience and the fact that every place has a story to tell. He is the owner of The DeFeo Groupe and also edits Express Telegraph and