Denise Starling is encouraged by the progress made with the Path400 Greenway Trail in Buckhead and excited about the upcoming completion of its latest phase.
“Whenever I’m on it, I see a handful of people … out (there). (Interest) is definitely going to pick up more when we get it down to Miami Circle,” said Starling, executive director of Livable Buckhead, the nonprofit leading the project.
Path400 is a 5.2-mile stretch of trails mostly along Georgia 400 right-of-way or land owned by the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT). Once complete, it will connect at its south end to the Atlanta BeltLine and at its north point to a two-mile extension the city of Sandy Springs and the Perimeter Community Improvement Districts will build north under the 400/Interstate 285 interchange improvement project to Hammond Drive, where it will eventually connect to other cities.
Livable Buckhead is partnering with the Path Foundation, an Atlanta-based organization that has built trails all over the state; the Buckhead Community Improvement District, a group of self-taxing local businesses that includes part of the area through which the Path400 goes; MARTA; Atlanta Public Schools and the city, state and federal governments on the project.
The organization is working to complete its fourth phase, where the trail will go from East Paces Ferry Road south to Miami Circle. Though that phase won’t be done until early 2020 (it was originally supposed to open this month) and more work will remain after that, Livable Buckhead is commemorating the trail being about 80% finished.
It will host Party on the Path, a celebration of the trail’s near-completion, Oct. 20 from 6 to 9 p.m. It will take place in the parking lot of Eclipse di Luna, 764 Miami Circle in Buckhead, which is near the southern end of that part of the trail.
General admission tickets are $75 (plus fees) and include dinner, an open bar and a scavenger hunt, and VIP tickets are $150 (plus fees) and include those items plus a commemorative glass, a Miami Circle merchant gift bag and a hand-painted watercolor map of Buckhead. Livable Buckhead members get discounts of $10 for general admission tickets and $25 for VIP ones.
“It’s a sneak peak (of that trail segment), so it won’t all be done, but it’s something we’re looking at doing, beginning an annual event like that,” Starling said of the party. “There will be a scavenger hunt with Cluetown Books, scooters on hand, salsa music and sangria.”
Starling said once the Miami Circle segment is completed, Livable Buckhead will partner with Buckhead’s hotels to promote Miami Circle’s shops, galleries and restaurants to attract tourists to the area through the trail.
She added that when Path400 connects to the BeltLine, it will also tie in with the Peachtree Creek Greenway and South Fork Conservancy trails to the west and east, respectively.
“That’s going to bring a lot of people more toward us to create more activity along us,” Starling said. “We’re also doing a lot more to activate it to get people on it. We’re doing everything from dog training, the third or fourth Saturday each month to the Party on the Path to getting people aware of where it is and how they can use it and to introduce them to it. You have to have a lot of programming to get people out.
“We’re seeing a lot of demand (today) where five or 10 years ago, people didn’t come out to community (events) as much then, but now they’re asking for more of them. We have companies asking for team-building activities such as painting birdhouses, painting picnic benches, invasive (plant) removal.”
Path400 grew out of a need for more greenspace and/or trails and a creative way to accomplish that mission in Atlanta City Council District 7, which was determined to be the district with the least amount of parkland in the city.
Longtime District 7 Councilman Howard Shook helped Livable Buckhead and its partners get the city’s backing, securing $5 million in TSPLOST funds. He’s also worked as a liaison with GDOT and other partners.
When the city announced in December there would be a $400 million funding shortfall for its TSPLOST and Renew Atlanta bond projects, Shook helped ensure Path400 remained one of Atlanta’s top priority projects so the funding stayed intact.
“The project is being really well received from what I can see and hear about it,” he said. “When the original segment (from the Buckhead Loop north to Old Ivy Road) was completed, it kind of went from nowhere to nowhere. It was kind of a short segment. So there was some skepticism from people who said, ‘I don’t get it. I don’t see any people on it.’
“Now that it’s stretching out and connecting destinations with one another, you’re seeing the demand and there’s people hopping over construction fences and walking and biking and jogging on the part not finished yet.”
Path400 will cost $28 million, with the bulk of it for construction ($17.13 million), plus design ($1.08 million), right-of-way acquisition ($7.69 million), contingency ($741,173) and programming ($132,000).
It broke ground in 2014 and the first phase opened in January 2015. The second and third segments, from Old Ivy to Wieuca Road and from Sidney Marcus Boulevard to Miami Circle, both opened in December 2016. Once the fourth phase is completed, Livable Buckhead will move on to the segment from Wieuca north to Loridans Drive (which could be split into two phases), plus some smaller segments on other incomplete parts of the trail.
Also, the portion from Sidney Marcus to one of three to-be-determined locations at Piedmont Road will connect the south end to the BeltLine. Starling said she hopes the trail can go under Piedmont so it won’t have to build a crosswalk there.
In addition to the Oct. 20 party, Path400 has had much to celebrate. It’s won several awards, including the Socrata People’s Choice Award from American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials at its annual meeting in Atlanta in September 2018. The honor is given to the America’s Transportation Award project that gets the most online votes from the general public.
“This project has become a national model in some ways on how state DOTs can work with community-based partners to make use of a right-of-way,” said Scott Higley, a GDOT spokesman.
Kimberly Nesbitt, GDOT’s state programs delivery administrator, was nicknamed Path400’s “secret weapon” by Starling for her role in getting the project done quickly and smoothly thus far. Nesbitt served as the project manager on the first two phases and has overseen current project manager Andrea Smith-Calloway on the third and fourth ones.
“We’re excited to be Livable Buckhead’s partner,” she said. “It’s a revolutionary concept to have them within the right-of-way for a live/work/play space. We’re excited to see them move along and we know they’ll be successful and Georgia will be excited when this is open to have a more active quality of life.”
As Path400 nears completion, Starling compares it to the process of building a house from the ground up.
“That’s one of the things I love about my job. I’m involved in every single part of it,” she said. “So I get to come down and talk to the actual guys who are building it and find out how they’re building it. That’s really fun. The next day I’ll have to line up money for it or get clearances or whatever.”
Shook is happy to see some residents’ attitudes toward the trail change for the better.
“It’s hard not to notice the transition over time from neighbors who were originally concerned about the security issues (associated with Path400). … What we’re starting to see now is … (at) some trail segments already established in other parts of Atlanta, those same neighbors who wanted walls separating their yards from the trails, they’ve have put in doors through their walls (so they can use the trail).”