If a new park is successfully built atop Ga. 400, it won’t be Buckhead’s first major highway-capping project. In fact, it would be built near the first: the Atlanta Financial Center, a three-tower office complex.
The park would span the highway between a spot near that building and the Lenox Road overpass, whose concrete beams would be incorporated into the park.
Since 2015, the Buckhead Community Improvement District has been spearheading an effort to build a highway-capping park that would provide 9 acres of green space between Peachtree and Lenox roads. The CID, which has been forming an independent nonprofit to oversee fundraising efforts and later the park, announced in May that it has received its first grant from public funds. An unidentified donor also is interested in pledging $1 million, the CID announced at the time.
The Atlanta Financial Center was specially built in 1990 to accommodate Ga. 400, which came three years later. The first tower of the building was completed in 1982. Then the owner decided to expand in 1984 and agreed to straddle the right of way for the future Ga. 400, building a cap over a highway that did not yet exist. The Georgia Department of Transportation and the building owner were able to work out a deal that allowed the building to pass over the highway’s route. Today, the towers connect over the highway on several floors.
The tunnel that runs under the center is named in honor of Justus C. Martin, the former chairman of Robinson-Humphrey Co., now known as SunTrust Bank. SunTrust still anchors one of the towers.
Martin helped make the Ga. 400 extension possible by agreeing to allow it to pass beneath the Atlanta Financial Center, GDOT said when it named the tunnel in 1993.
The Atlanta Financial Center backers were adamant about building the expansion, said Sam Massell, the president of the Buckhead Coalition, which was heavily involved in the Ga. 400 extension. They owned the land, and although the state could use eminent domain, it would be a legal fight with high costs, Massell said.
“They were going to build that building with or without Ga. 400,” he said.
After a lot of negotiation, the state agreed to the deal with safety measures, including large exhaust fans within the tunnel to funnel out fumes, he said.
“They agreed to these big exhaust fans. In case anything happened underneath, it could be helped before damaging other people, other properties or the building itself,” he said.
The person credited with successfully negotiating the deal to build the center over Ga. 400 is Arthur B.L. Martin, who was a partner at the Morris, Manning & Martin law firm, which still anchors one of the center towers. Martin served on the Buckhead Coalition at the time and was later a board chair, Massell said.
Martin, who died in 2014, was remembered for his work on the deal in a press release announcing his death.
“His many notable accomplishments included negotiating and drafting all the documentation for the construction, ownership and operation of a tunnel under the Atlanta Financial Center in Buckhead,” the release said at the time.
Massell said the center is his second-favorite building in Buckhead, behind Tower Place, which is where the coalition office has always been located.
“I think it worked out well, definitely. We are proud to have that building,” he said.
On the north end of the proposed highway-capping park, several cement columns cross horizontally over the highway around the Lenox Road overpass. Those will be incorporated into the park design, CID director Jim Durrett said.
Massell previously tried to convince GDOT to allow an Olympic monument, called the World Athletes Monument, to be placed on those beams, but the agency wouldn’t allow it due to weight concerns. GDOT compromised and donated land in Midtown for the monument, which is a tall structure with athletes holding up a globe, he said.
The statue, which was dedicated at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, is still located in Midtown on Peachtree Street at an intersection known as Pershing Point, Massell said.
Lobbying in support of construction of Ga. 400 through Buckhead was the first initiative the Buckhead Coalition undertook after its 1988 formation, Massell said. It faced enormous opposition from neighborhood groups who feared house-takings.
“It’s understandable because they felt it would split the community in half,” he said. “It was not a pleasurable experience, for them or for us.”
The park over Ga. 400 is proposed, in part, as a way to reconnect a part of Buckhead that was split in two by the highway.