By John Schaffner
I recently interviewed Scotty Greene, who serves in the dual positions as executive director of the Buckhead Community Improvement District (CID) and executive director of the Buckhead Alliance. We spoke about a number of topics, including the Peachtree Corridor (with streetcar) Plan, progress on the Buckhead Boulevard road and streetscape project and, yes, a somewhat controversial proposal to put a clock tower in a prominent Buckhead location.
With the primary consideration being space available, the following represents, I believe, a fairly complete presentation of his comments, with a few of my observations included (as editorial license allows).
Streetcars on Peachtree
“I am a proponent because eventually, especially for the shorter trips and the dense areas, streetcars are the answer,” Greene told me. “I think we are going to have to take a radical step. We are going to have to close at least a lane of Peachtree to make it work. I think the traffic volumes are going to be such that it is just not going to matter much. It is going to be just as congested with the lane or without. To give people the alternative to get on the streetcar is going to be key in the next five years when we plan that streetcar.”
Asked whether the streetcar is for tourists or for locals, Greene said, “for both. For tourists in hotels in the Buckhead area, the phase they have announced would have a streetcar from roughly Pharr Road to Club Drive in this concentrated area. I think you would see a lot of hotel folk walking out and getting on a streetcar and going down to the (Buckhead) Village area, to the malls and everywhere in between
“You will see that at the High Museum and the downtown connections where people can hop up and down Peachtree and see things.
“I especially think, if you have a dedicated lane and it is an efficient quick way to travel without having to pay for parking, you will see people using it during the lunch hour going up Peachtree to the malls. Like the concept of our BUC, but on rails…It is a true alternative to taking a car two or three blocks.”
What about paying to take present utility lines and putting them underground just to pay to put a new line above ground for the streetcar?
“The utility wires for the old streetcars were horrendous. There are two types of technology examined. The one (overhead) wire they run on is very unobtrusive. But, more importantly, by the time we get this thing funded, there is an expensive technology—electrified wires underground—that will be an option.
“People don’t ride buses. They ride rail. They ride rail streetcars. I don’t think people are going to commute to work on a streetcar more than a couple of miles.
“The streetcar has a lot of pluses, but the big minus is money.”
In many areas along Peachtree, major buildings and businesses are almost up to the roadway. Must we demolish these buildings to provide the wider sidewalks, pocket parks and lanes for streetcars?
“In some places you will not be able to push back the buildings and you will have to use existing lanes for the streetcars. No one is talking about adding a lane for streetcars. They are basically talking about taking the through lanes on both sides and putting the streetcar in one of them. The widening to get the median and the sidewalks is a big issue. Just the right-of-way cost for our boulevard project is $22 million and 30 percent of that was donated in Phase I. Donations are difficult to get.”
As a member of the Peachtree Corridor Task Force, Greene said he issued a warning to his fellow members: “You can show this cheeseburger deluxe with lettuce, tomato, pickle and onion. But by the time the funding environment responds to this, and the tolerance for additional taxes responds to this idea, you will begin removing the lettuce, tomato, pickle and onion and you will get down to the burger, where you put a line down on the existing street and you run a streetcar.
“The terrain of the funding environment is going to dictate what happens. Right now, the funding environment is extraordinarily difficult.”
Peachtree Boulevard update
“At present, we are negotiating for right of way for the second phase of the Peachtree Boulevard project, which goes from the Peachtree Road MARTA station up to Phipps Plaza and Peachtree Dunwoody Road. It is almost twice as big as Phase I and about double the cost. It is just under a mile and the whole project is a mile and a half.
“Phase I is about 60 days behind schedule. Like a lot of construction projects, you run into this or that. It is a cumulative problem. I think they will be finished and cutting ribbons on September 30, which is the new projected date.
“If you walk it, it is an incredible transformation—the wide sidewalks, the trees and pedestrian lights, the masts (for traffic signals) instead of the (overhead) wires, underground utilities. It is pretty big. Now they are putting the median in, which is fairly controversial but is great. There are several people who are losing the ability to turn left. But, with the densities, it is going to be the right thing to do.”
Phase II should be completed around April of 2009. Phase I goes from Maple Street (one block south of Piedmont) to the MARTA rail station on Peachtree. “There is a tiny little Phase III that is unfunded right now that goes south from Maple to Shadowlawn, which is the next block. If and when the state or the region decides to make more money available for transportation is when we start making more progress. “The business community can’t do it dollar for dollar. The business community has to put in 20-30 percent. About 30 percent of the cost of the Peachtree project in Buckhead—the mile and a half—has been from the business community. Actually more like 35 percent if you count right of way donations.”
A Buckhead clock tower?
Most Buckhead residents are totally unaware that there has been a proposition made to put a clock tower in the triangle park at the intersection of Peachtree and Roswell Roads.
At first, there were rumors of some infighting among those who have been considered to be the leaders of the Buckhead community—especially that part around the old Buckhead Village. The reason: There was talk of removing the statue of the buck, the symbol of Buckhead to replace it with the clock tower.
The concept for the clock tower began with Charles Loudermilk, one of those Buckhead leaders and chairman of Buckhead headquartered Aaron Rents. He and his son Robin, head of the Buckhead Alliance, also have had much to do about the cleaning up—or should we say, closing up—of the former Buckhead Village.
On the other hand, Sam Massell, president of the Buckhead Coalition, was instrumental in getting the statue of the buck for the park. He now is helping Charles Loudermilk obtain a bid for the clock tower that will allow it to co-exist with the buck statue.
Here is what Scotty Greene had to say about the issue: “The Buckhead Alliance is going to work closely with Charlie Loudermilk. It is not on the agenda of the Buckhead Alliance to go raise money for it (the clock tower). We are talking to Mr. Loudermilk senior about his plans and where to put it, but that is about a $1 million fundraising project.
“We have a new flagpole in the park through a little $2,000 joint Buckhead Coalition and Alliance project. The stated reason for the clock tower is to give a signature village square feel and to set the park off even more.
“The philosophical vibe behind the clock tower, I think, is a combination of Charlie Loudermilk wanting to make one more contribution and wanting a location for that.”
Even now, before the Buckhead Avenues development is put in place, that intersection is tricky to say the least. I sure hope drivers watch the road instead of checking out the time or whatever with a new clock tower.