An early illustration of “The Stitch,” a planned park to cap the Downtown Atlanta Connector with a park and new development.

The Atlanta City Council approved legislation today authorizing the administration to apply for $10.5 million in federal dollars to fund preliminary engineering for The Stitch, a project to cap the Downtown Connector with a park that city officials say would catalyze new development in the city’s center, including affordable housing.

The bill to seek up to $10.5 million from the new U.S. Department of Transportation’s Reconnecting Communities Pilot discretionary grant program was introduced by Council member Amir Farokhi. Council members Jason Winston, Byron Amos, Jason Dozier, Liliana Bakhtiari, Alex Wan, Andrea Boone, Matt Westmoreland, Michael Julian Bond, and Keisha Sean Waites co-sponsored the paper.

The bill also received letters of support from the Georgia Department of Transportation, U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, and U.S. Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock. 

“I am grateful to my peers on council for their vision, as well as the state administrators and federal officials who are part of this effort,” Farokhi said in a news release. He was not able to attend the Sept. 19 meeting.

“Hopefully, this mass show of support will push this catalytic project to the top of the national application list,” Farokhi said. “This is a generational opportunity to repair wounds of the past, add housing and park space to our center city, and prove that our ambitions can become reality.”

The deadline to apply for the federal grant is Oct. 13.

The $10.5 million requested from the Reconnecting Communities Pilot discretionary grant is a 1 to 1 match. The Atlanta Downtown Improvement District is putting in $500,000. The city of Atlanta is matching with $10 million through Invest Atlanta by “drawing funds from the Eastside Tax Allocation District or other applicable funding streams,” according to the legislation.

President Joe Biden’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure package included $1 billion to reconnect communities that were split apart, such as those in the 1950s by federal highway projects including Downtown’s historic Sweet Auburn district.

If Atlanta is awarded the total $21 million, the funding would go toward preliminary engineering for The Stitch, the a three-quarter mile platform that would span the I-75/I-85 Downtown Atlanta Connector between Ted Turner Drive and Piedmont Avenue.

The platform would create space for a 14-acre park in the “heart of the city,” reconnect Downtown to Midtown, and is projected to spark 14 million square feet of new development, with a high focus on generating affordable housing and attracting residents to Downtown Atlanta, according to the city.

Sen. Raphael Warnock said in a letter to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg that The Stitch would “reconnect divided communities, [and] promote equitable-development and environmental justice through affordable housing and transportation.

“[It will] catalyze economic development, facilitate people-focused mobility and community connectivity, enhance environmental resilience, and improve the health and wellbeing of Atlantans,” Warnock said.

At the Sept. 14 Transportation Committee meeting, Council President Doug Shipman said The Stitch is not only a Downtown transportation project, but one that could also “change the geography” in a way that will help attract more private sector dollars and other public sector dollars to build affordable housing.

“This project is very much about equity, and about reconnecting what was divided when the Connector was built between the neighborhoods of Auburn Avenue, the old Buttermilk Bottom neighborhood and Fourth Ward,” Shipman said. “And so I think that this is an investment that is much larger than just the investment and infrastructure … I think it can be transformative.”

If Atlanta is awarded the grant, the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District would oversee the design and engineering of the project. ADID last year received a $900,000 Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation and has hired a full-time development manager for The Stitch.

“Years of hard work have gone into advancing the Stitch project to where it is today,” said A.J. Robinson, president of Central Atlanta Progress and the Atlanta Downtown Development District.

“This is our moment to capitalize on unprecedented federal support and funding opportunities for the project and secure critical funding for shovel-ready engineering of The Stitch.”

The bill now goes to the mayor’s desk for final approval and the administration will work with ADID to complete the application by the Oct. 13 deadline.

Dyana Bagby

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.