written by Torie Robinette
Georgia State Stadium has been a linchpin for a long-overdue look at its surrounding neighborhoods.
The history of Georgia State Stadium includes its central role in the 1996 Summer Olympics and 20 years as home turf for the Atlanta Braves. It’s a distinctive and compelling legacy, but one that doesn’t match the promise of the stadium’s future impact on Atlanta and the communities around it.
Georgia State University kicked off construction to transform Turner Field into the Panthers’ new football stadium in February of 2017. And while the difference within the shiny metal gates is dramatic, beyond it, another remarkable rebirth is in the works.
Georgia State and its development partner, Carter USA (Carter), are engaged in a multiphase movement to revitalize the area around the stadium. The land includes sections of Summerhill, a neighborhood that sits south of Interstate 20. Disconnected from downtown opportunities by freeways and sports complexes, blocks that once prospered with mom-and-pop shops have been painted with graffiti and left barren.
Under the Georgia State Stadium spotlight, the historic neighborhood is beginning its next evolution.
Phase one of Carter’s redevelopment plan calls for the conversion of Georgia Avenue’s crumbling structures into a thriving retail and restaurant corridor. Once reenergized by eateries, shops and community staples, that strip, a stadium cross street and a main drag in the area, will be an anchor for a larger vision: A mixed-use reinvention of Summerhill that entices investors, serves residents and draws downtown crowds.
Intrigued by Summerhill’s untapped potential, tenants have started to fill the dozen-or-so slots available along and adjacent to Georgia Avenue. Bringing fresh concepts, they’ll breathe new life into the early-20th century low-rises, while preserving the rich character and historical integrity.
A third location for The Little Tart Bakeshop debuted in January, and if all goes as planned, the doors of several more businesses will open in spring 2019. One such tenant is Halfway Crooks Brewing & Blending. It’ll be Georgia’s first “own-premise” brewery, meaning it will both craft and serve its suds on-site. Halfway Crooks also plans to offer a rotating food menu with bites curated by recognized and on-the-rise local chefs.
Also on deck is a fifth concept from the team behind The General Muir, The Canteen, Yalla and Fred’s Meat & Bread. Wood’s Chapel BBQ, whose name pays homage to one of the old neighborhood’s first churches following the Civil War, will serve whole-hog and brisket barbecue, plus inventive sandwiches.
Ben Johnson is one of four co-owners of the operation, and its location is particularly special to him. Johnson’s father was born at the old Piedmont Hospital when it was in Summerhill, and Johnson grew up going to games at the nearby stadium. Carter approached Johnson and his partners about bringing a restaurant to Georgia Avenue. Once they visited, Johnson says the idea for barbecue became obvious.
“It was more letting the building sort of speak to us and inform the direction we thought it should go,” he said. “We knew we needed something that could attract people even without all of the other development having taken place yet. People will travel for barbecue.”
Soft-serve ice creamery Big Softie, Junior’s Pizza, Little Bear restaurant and a brick-and-mortar realization of former pop-up outpost Talat Market will join Halfway Crooks and Wood’s Chapel in the coming months.
A sister site for East Atlanta java haunt Hodgepodge Coffeehouse is slated to open down the line (in 2021, it estimates) on the corner of Georgia Avenue and Ralph David Abernathy Boulevard. The new address was a no-brainer for owner Krystle Rodriguez (B.A. ’06), who felt an instant connection because of the location’s university ties.
As Summerhill’s retail segment progresses, a key part of the puzzle has fallen into place. MARTA, in coordination with the City of Atlanta, has been awarded $12.6 million grant that will help fund a 9.4-mile bus rapid transit line bridging the Summerhill development with Midtown. This quick and convenient transportation option is expected to be an invaluable tool for connecting residents of South Downtown to the urban core and for bringing new faces to Summerhill. Construction is tentatively set for 2021, with an opening target of 2024.
The later phases of Summerhill’s makeover plan will add student and family-centric housing, additional retail hubs, business offices and more.
Back at the stadium, cosmetic improvements continue. In the coming years, the university plans to build a baseball park on the site of the former Atlanta Fulton-County Stadium, and academic facilities on the surrounding parking lots. A Georgia State convocation center, which will double as an arena for the Panthers basketball teams, is also in the works.
As Georgia State, which earned the 2017 Marcus Downtown Economic Impact Award, expands its footprint in downtown Atlanta, the new stadium has proven a key recruiting tool. The ability to tout its own top-notch football stadium has given the university an edge in attracting athletic talent, who can now visit the field and picture themselves playing on it.
Gearing up for their third football season at Georgia State Stadium next fall, the Panthers are optimistic about a victorious year. And outside the gates, that optimism fills the air. The wins for the nearby neighborhoods keep on rolling in.
*This story was updated in March 2019.
Top Image: Jason Getz
Aerial Video Production: William Davis & Riki Prosper
Image 1: Carter USA
Images 2-5: Carolyn Richardson
Bottom Image:Todd Drexler