When news emerged last summer that WarnerMedia intends to sell CNN Center in coming years, eventually emptying it of the 24-hour news service’s employees, Atlanta urbanists naturally wondered what might become of the hulking facility, a downtown landmark for 45 years.
Among them was Adam Hazell, a city and regional planner and Georgia Tech grad.
In this first-ever Urbanize Atlanta editorial, Hazell puts forward an admittedly radical idea—or is it?—that calls for potentially razing CNN’s current world headquarters in an effort to create a monumental downtown greenspace before it’s too late.
The idea echoes the Green Line parks concept, once pitched by Central Atlanta Progress. In Hazell’s view, this verdant ribbon could stretch from Centennial Olympic Park to the doorstep of Mercedes-Benz Stadium and on to Underground Atlanta. He writes:
I'm writing to champion the creation of more great parks and plazas in Atlanta, and in particular I wish the city would push hard to create such spaces out of two major projects that appear both eminent and critical to downtown’s revival.
Piedmont Park is a treasure, and the new Westside Park should prove a tremendous asset, but these and others are in mostly residential areas removed from other tourist attractions. Without a prominent urban waterfront like those in the world’s most celebrated cities, Atlanta lacks the natural impetus for a grand space for tourism, which is why the city created Centennial Olympic Park ahead of the 1996 Olympics.
Centennial is a great public space (albeit closed for now), but if Atlanta wants to keep growing as a destination for business and tourism it will need to consistently invest in the social infrastructure that defines world-class cities: Parks, museums, public art, notable architecture—the things that make the best urban destinations so memorable. Where possible, this should be done amidst sections of the city we also want to see grow vertically, because functional urbanity and city parks go hand-in-hand.
As such, the city should vigorously pursue ambitions for great parks and plazas at both the Gulch redevelopment, Centennial Yards, and Underground, for which I would highly recommend exploring options (with the developers) at the aging CNN Center site, and/or revisiting the old Central Atlanta Progress (CAP) Green Line concept.
Consider: We know both development groups wish to drive demand for their projects. We know these and other projects seek to foster an entertainment district between downtown stadiums, Georgia World Congress Center, and Peachtree Street. Most importantly, we know most celebrated urban destinations are typically anchored by great public spaces in tourist settings.
Imagine a Green Line like that envisioned by the Perkins & Will Architects’ multimodal proposal—a grand boulevard with a central green space stretching from the “ATLANTA” facade of State Farm Arena all the way to Underground.
Imagine the CNN Center site serving as a companion to Centennial Olympic Park, featuring an iconic sculpture, or as the location for a wholly new tourist attraction within dynamic architecture.
Imagine the appeal for the prospective developers and new businesses to be set against spaces designed for people, creating selfie-worthy settings that are unique to Atlanta.
Imagine the tourists lingering before and after major events, within these enhanced public spaces.
Now imagine the lost potential if nothing grand happens, the major developments are “value engineered,” and downtown Atlanta languishes as an urban destination.
I have no delusions about the fiscal realities for these downtown developers and the city, but truly great cities become that way through concerted efforts to do something extraordinary with their public architecture and urban form.
Atlanta might someday realize such opportunities in the dreams to cap parts of the Connector, but in the meantime we have a very realistic chance now, while both of these major developments are still sorting out their designs.
Hopefully Atlanta can take advantage.
Adam Hazell, AICP, is a graduate of Georgia Tech, has practiced city and regional planning in Georgia since 1996, and can usually be found in the front row of the supporters' end for Atlanta United home matches.
• Will Centennial Olympic Park reopen anytime soon? (Urbanize Atlanta)
• Green Line Concept (CAP)
• Downtown (Urbanize Atlanta)