By Justin Boron
Development officials say the Atlanta airport's planned east terminal expansion isn't an imperative for the successful redevelopment of the Mountain View area. And the terminal's slow progress will not affect some parts of the project in north Clayton County at all.
But until the expansion makes definite headway, Emory Brock, Clayton County's director of economic development, said there is no practical way to push forward on the network of high-end hotels, retail, office space, and multi-modal transportation envisioned for the mostly vacated neighborhood.
"Obviously, the parking planned for the area is not needed until the terminal is there," he said. "You can't build a hotel until the terminal is there."
That's why the firing of the new international terminal's designer is such an influential development for the project, which, even several years after it was originally proposed, still resonates with the optimism of county officials.
In August, Ben DeCosta, the general manager of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, set back the terminal project, terminating the contract for its designer because he said its estimated costs had far exceeded expectations.
DeCosta recently assured that the 28-gate international concourse on the airport's east side eventually would be expanded, but he did not say when.
"We'll solve the problem and build the terminal," he said.
In the meantime, county officials are talking about what can be done independent of the terminal.
Lou Hisel, the chairman of the Clayton County Development Authority, said Mountain View is definitely not hinged on the airport project.
"Number one, it will have an impact," he said. "Number two, it will not determine success."
Hisel said the extension and realignment of Conley Road with Charles W. Grant Parkway will continue, resulting in an east-west corridor that in its first phase, would extend from Interstate 285 to Interstate 75. The second phase has the road leading all the way to Interstate 675.
The road expansion, Brock said, would enhance the area's already impressive accessibility, with its close proximity to a major interchange, two freeways, and what many consider the world's busiest airport.
"That is probably the most accessible piece of property in the southeastern U.S.," he said. "It's got it all right there."
Childress Klein Properties, one of the Mountain View developers, seized on a similar kind of access for its Cobb Galleria development on metro Atlanta's north side. Using the northern perimeter interchange, the company attracted several skyscraper hotels and businesses to create an affluent business district.
Right in the airport's flight path, Mountain View isn't likely to have any skyscrapers. But Brock said the developers are looking for the same quality as the Galleria.
What would tie together the economic development for the area would be commuter rail, which is planned to head straight through the project. Once the terminal comes on line, Brock said a stop is planned for a station that could grow into a multi-modal hub including other mass transit resources in the Atlanta region.
But even the commuter rail hangs on a decision from state transportation officials on whether to continue forward with the $106 million investment, kill it altogether, or put it on hold until the next state legislative session.
In terms of the Mountain View's success, County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell stressed the importance of intergovernmental cooperation.
"There's always going to be hiccups," he said. "(Cooperation) makes us strengthen at the broken places."