A History of Cabbagetown Park, The CI and The CNIA
In 1981, the Grant Park Primary School closed its doors for the last time. The school occupied 3.5 acres in the heart of Cabbagetown. This left a large piece of property that was potentially available for creating a neighborhood park, however the property was in imminent danger of private development. In March 1995, the Cabbagetown Neighborhood Improvement Association (CNIA) initiated contact with the Atlanta Public Schools (APS) to determine the process for acquiring the land for the neighborhood. In Spring 1996, CNIA circulated a survey that indicated creation of a park was a high priority for neighbors. Conversations continueds with APS. In August 1998, more than 20 residents signed letters petitioning the School Board to authorize transfer of the land. A formal proposal was sent to the School Board in Spring 1999. Action was delayed for almost 2 years as APS initiated a comprehensive, system-wide assessment of land use. Grant Park Primary School was classified as surplus property.
CNIA initiated conversations with the Atlanta Department of Planning in 1997. The City of Atlanta Department of Parks issued a letter of support for the project in October 1999. Concerted neighborhood action succeeded in accomplishing a revision of Atlanta’s Community Development Plan that designated the School property as greenspace. At the same time, CICDC members, at the time acting under the auspices of CNIA, applied for and received a $100,000 grant from Atlanta’s Community Development Block grant funds for development of the property into a park.
Once the scale of the undertaking was understood by the community, members of CNIA came together and formed CICDC in 1999. The CICDC board membership is entirely made up of neighborhood residents. It is structured as a committee of CNIA, but with its own mission, funds, and Board. CNIA elects 4 of the CI Board members and CI has a representative on the Executive Committee of CNIA.
The Atlanta City Council passed Resolution 00-R-0201 urging the Atlanta Board of Education to convey the property to the City for development as a City Park.
The consistent and persistent efforts of the neighborhood leadership led to the designation of $750,000 of the Atlanta Greenspace Bond Issue being given to the park project. As a demonstration of the depth of community interest in the project, residents individually made $6,000 in pledges to financially support the maintenance of the park. Again, CICDC formally petitioned the Board of Education to act on the land transfer.
Given the complex, inter-agency nature of the issues, in January 2002, CICDC convened a summit of stakeholders. In attendance were: Cabbagetown’s School Board representative, Cabbagetown’s City Council member, and representatives from the School Superintendent’s office, the Department of Parks, Department of Planning, and Department of Grants Management. The group developed a plan that identified the obstacles and created strategies for their solution. Careful and exhaustive execution of the plan led to three critical events:
Cabbagetown’s City Council Member, Natalyn Archibong, arranged for Mayor Shirley Franklin to visit the site. This led to the Mayor’s support of the project, which was communicated by the Mayor to the School Board.
Neighbors contacted elected officials urging them to express support and met with each School Board member to secure a vote.
The Atlanta Board of Education voted unanimously March 11, 2002, to convey the property to the City for the purpose of redevelopment as a park.
In 2001, a half-acre tract adjacent to the park with a former day care center building came on the market. The CICDC voted to secure that property as well. Since the building, suited for use as a community center, occupies less than half of its lot, it would provide additional greenspace for the park. The Department of Parks agreed to hold title to this tract as well, as part of the park development. Under the assertive leadership of Councilmember Archibong, the City Council voted to appropriate $281,000 to purchase the old day care center for use as a Community Center.
In 2003, fortified by these successes, CI conducted the necessary environmental testing and competitively bid out a contract to create the Park Master Plan. In July, CI and CNIA organized a neighborhood Design Charette to outline the priority interests of the community. Over 75 neighbors participated. The school building was demolished and removed in November 2003. After receiving five Master Plan bids and conducting interviews with 4 of 5 bidders, CI selected Ecos Environmental Design, Inc., to create the Park Master Plan. Six dialogue sessions were conducted with the Designers, CI and CNIA members. On March 3, 2004, Ecos delivered a draft Master Plan.
On July 9, 2004, CI was awarded The Blank Family Foundation Parks and Greenspace Grant of $261,500 to support capital improvements, operating costs, and technical assistance for construction of Cabbagetown Park. Among other functions, the grant allowed CI to hire an Executive Director to oversee daily operations related to Park construction and implementation, reporting to the Board.