‘The Stitch,’ as seen in this 2015 illustration, is an initiative of Central Atlanta Progress and the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District in partnership with the city to ‘cap’ the Downtown Connector with parks, plazas and walking trails, and reconnect Downtown and Midtown. (Central Atlanta Progress)

The World Cup comes to Downtown Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium in four years and federal funding is finally being invested in “The Stitch,” a longtime vision to reconnect the historic city center with Midtown.

It’s an exciting and busy time to be in Downtown with these kinds of opportunities, said A.J. Robinson, president of Central Atlanta Progress and the Atlanta Downtown Development District. Robinson was speaking at the July 27 town hall sponsored by the private business organizations. The town hall was held at the Chick-fil-A College Hall of Fame.

“There’s a lot of work to do, a lot of work to do,” Robinson said. “But we are optimistic that these coming years will be a time of renewal and exciting, new things.”

The World Cup

Atlanta will be on the world stage in 2026 when the World Cup comes to the city, just like it was in the Summer of 1996 when it hosted the Centennial Olympic Games. The anticipation and planning that comes with hosting a major international sporting event is a thrilling experience, Robinson said.

“But it can also be an incredibly productive time,” he said. “So we have to focus everybody on this idea that we can make our city look so much better in these next three or four years because … this is a huge opportunity in terms of exposure for Atlanta, once again, just like the Olympics.”

A.J. Robinson, president of Central Atlanta Progress and Atlanta Downtown Development District. (Dyana Bagby)

Mercedes-Benz Stadium stands within walking distance of three large Downtown projects: Centennial Yards, a 50-acre, $5 billion redevelopment of The Gulch into a sports entertainment district; Newport RE’s South Dwntwn, adjacent to Centennial Yards, that includes the redevelopment and adaptive reuse of 46 buildings spanning six blocks; and the redevelopment of four blocks surrounding Underground Atlanta. The Five Points MARTA station next to Underground Atlanta is also getting a $150 million makeover.

Voters recently approved $750 million in infrastructure bonds and the renewal of a transportation sales tax to fund street repairs, new sidewalks, bike lanes, public safety and park improvements. These improvements are on track to start soon and officials are watching the clock to meet the 2026 deadline, said City Council President Doug Shipman at the town hall. Showcasing Atlanta’s cultural and artistic scene during the World Cup is also a priority, he said.

“This is going to be a guiding North Star for us,” Shipman said of the World Cup.

“It’s going to be calendar item where we can say, ‘What can we get done in four years, how can we get there?'” he said. “And how can we make the city not only what we want to present to the world but actually create the city we want for this next generation.”

The city should also benefit heavily with the revenue expected to flow in as visitors from around the world come to Atlanta to watch championship soccer, he said.

“The World Cup coming in four years is a huge deal,” Shipman said. “Every World Cup match is 1.5 Super Bowls in its economic impact. We will have somewhere between four to six matches in a month’s time four years from now.”

Shipman didn’t give a figure. The NFL says a Super Bowl brings up to $500 million to a host city, although some economists disagree.

The Stitch

Over the years, Downtown has witnessed many transformative projects such as Centennial Park and now Centennial Yards, Robinson said. CAP’s years-long vision for The Stitch — a project that would would cap part of the Downtown Connector with a park — is “the next big thing,” he said.

“The Stitch really would create a front yard for Downtown and Midtown and finally bring [the neighborhoods] back together like it was in the 50s,” Robinson said. “We really do believe that it will serve the community well and really create a solidified area between Downtown and Midtown.”

Robinson was upbeat about the project. He noted Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg mentioned the project when The Stitch last year received a $900,000 Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

“We’ve achieved national attention,” he said. “It only took us 20 years.”

A full-time development manager was recently hired for the project, Robinson said. CAP is applying for more federal funding to come from President Joe Biden’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure package. The package includes $1 billion to reconnect communities that were split apart in the 1950s by federal highway projects, such as Downtown’s historic Sweet Auburn district.

U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams successfully advocated for more funding to be used to reconnect neighborhoods.

“This is the type of project that really does qualify for those big dollars that could come down from the federal government,” Robinson said.

Plans for The Stitch are to unite all areas of the city through a series of elevated interconnected parks, plazas and walking trails that would spur transit-oriented development, including affordable housing.

The project would create 14 acres atop a new, ¾ mile platform spanning the I-75/I-85 Downtown Connector between the Civic Center MARTA Center at West Peachtree Street and Piedmont Avenue. 

Dyana Bagby

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