19 Aug 2014
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Atlanta Councilman Declares 2012 'Year of Boulevard'

Kwanza Hall promises comprehensive change to corridor long plagued by drug dealing, other ills.

Atlanta Councilman Declares 2012 'Year of Boulevard' Atlanta Councilman Declares 2012 'Year of Boulevard'

Boulevard.

Derived from French, the word describes a wide, grand city street — one that's usually tree-lined and well manicured.

By that definition, Atlanta's Boulevard, which links a string of neighborhoods from Benteen to Old Fourth Ward to the borders of Virginia-Highland and Midtown, fits the bill.

Almost.

The stretch of Boulevard between Freedom Parkway and Ponce de Leon Avenue — which is in the Old Fourth Ward — has been an eyesore for decades.

That part of the Boulevard corridor has long been a source of complaints for residents who say it's a haven for drug dealing, often in broad daylight.

Last month, for example, an Inman Park man pulling into a gas station at the corner of Boulevard and North Avenue, ended up being forced to drive around for a bit when a drug dealer jumped in the passenger seat on the assumption he was there to buy drugs.

Atlanta City Councilman Kwanza Hall, whose District 2 includes Boulevard and Old Fourth Ward, among other neighborhoods, aims to change that by focusing on Boulevard.

The corridor is one of the top 3 generators of public safety complaints to Neighborhood Planning Unit-M, which includes the Old Fourth Ward, Downtown and Castleberry Hill neighborhoods.

"I know for some people it's not where it needs to be," he told East Atlanta Patch. "Everyone should feel safe in their neighborhoods or driving through their neighborhoods."

Hall, who has dubbed 2012 as the "Year of Boulevard" will announce a number of targeted initiatives and partnerships aimed at boosting public safety along the corridor Thursday night at a 6:30 p.m. meeting of the Fourth Ward Alliance Neighborhood Association at AMLI Parkside, 660 Ralph McGill Blvd.

Among the key initiatives he is expected to discuss: the establishment of an Atlanta Police Department mini-precinct on Boulevard.

"We're trying to give more to the community," Hall said. "We have the police department and code enforcement — all the tings you would want to see in the community, we're going to do to address the blight."

As part of that, Hall said Boulevard's key anchor organizations and businesses, including the Atlanta Medical Center, several churches and service groups such as have all committed to working together toward improvements.

Wingate Management Co., which operates the Bedford-Pines apartments — and seen as a slumlord by some — also is part of the discussions, Hall said.

Bedford-Pines is a key part of any change, because neighbors have complained for years that Wingate has let the complex of Section 8 apartments become magnet for the area's decline. Wingate also has drawn criticism over the years because the company has made repeated promises to be a better neighbor, with no significant changes.

Last month, the company came under fire from some Bedford Pines renters who told CBS Atlanta of their problems with plumbing and roach infestations.

"In looking at the Boulevard corridor and the impact of the Bedford-Pines Section 8 housing community, it’s important to realize that the current situation evolved over a period of more than 30 years, so change isn’t going to occur overnight," said Kit Sutherland, president of the Fourth Ward Alliance.

Wingate is operating the complex under current U.S. Housing and Urban Development rules that allow for the concentration of one socio-economic group of people living in subsidized housing.

"This model is utterly lacking in socio-economic diversity and, at present, has little connectivity to the surrounding community," Sutherland said. "That’s a disservice to both the Section 8 tenants who live there as well as the businesses and residents of the surrounding community."

Asked if after years of unkept promises that the city should take a hardline stance with the company such as seizing the property through eminent domain and having it redeveloped, Hall said he didn't think that was feasible.

"I don't know that that could fly in these circumstances," Hall said, noting the city hasn't employed eminent domain much.

Wingate, he continued, isn't the source of all of Boulevard's ills, but he said part of the efforts at cleaning up the corridor include not just more police presence, but stepped up housing code enforcement.

"Slumlords and bad property owners who are negligent — we're going to hold people accountable for their problems," Hall said.

He said he understands why residents in his district, which also includes Inman Park and Midtown, might be skeptical, given the various efforts others have undertaken in the past to bring change to the corridor.

"This probably is our toughest challenge," he said, but nothing will improve if "no one steps up to make change."

As evidence, he pointed to recent successes in the Old Fourth Ward, such as the recent sale of and the opening of , which were once seen as longshots.

"People said we'd never get a park in Fourth Ward. People said we'd never sell City Hall East," he said. "It's not an easy thing, but we plan to make positive changes happen."

If the changes come, public safety should improve, said Matthew W. Garbett, president of the Fourth Ward Neighbors association.

"This is the first "Year of Boulevard," but it won't be the last. There are fundamental issues with that street that only proper redevelopment can cure," he said. "Redevelopment that will take time, progressing hand in hand as public safety improves.

Sutherland said she's cautiously optimistic.

"This is the first time an effort of this magnitude has been planned for the Boulevard corridor, so the scope of the task is enormous," she said.  "My expectation is that change will – by necessity – need to be gradual and phased, to address a complex problem that has been more than 30 years in the making.

"I’m cautiously optimistic that we’re seeing the first steps of an ambitious but feasible plan to re-shape the Boulevard corridor over time, as part of an overall transformation of the Old Fourth Ward that is already underway."

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