Things are heating up along ATL's "Ring of Fire"

The ATL phoenix is rising again and, this time, it's BIG!

This is Part One of a two-part newsletter that describes ATL’s Ring of Fire. Part Two goes into detail about ten transformative projects that are planned or being built along the Ring of Fire. If you would like to have access to Part II, you will need to become a subscriber. Thank you.


Unbound by wild desire, ATL is on fire!

With all due respect to the great Johnny Cash, I’d like to tell you about Atlanta’s Ring of Fire. The ‘OG’ Ring of Fire — also known as the Circum-Pacific Belt — is a 25,000-mile path along the Pacific Ocean characterized by active volcanoes and frequent earthquakes. Seventy-five percent of Earth’s volcanoes (more than 450 of them) are located along the Ring of Fire. Ninety percent (90!) of Earth’s earthquakes occur along its path, including the planet’s most violent and dramatic seismic events. We are talking about some serious energy here!

The Ring of Fire — also known as the Circum-Pacific Belt — is a 25,000-mile path along the Pacific Ocean characterized by active volcanoes and frequent earthquakes. Image: National Geographic Society

For our purposes, the term Ring of Fire refers to an area in downtown ATL that is in the early stages of a massive transformation. The fire part refers to the economic development — capital formation, investment, construction, jobs, tax base, etc. — that will be occurring over the next 10-20 years. The catalyst is a mind-blowing collection of large-scale real estate projects that are located on (mostly) abandoned industrial sites. The video below offers some excellent views of the ATL’s Ring of Fire

ATL Ring of Fire Google Earth Map

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Transformative development in the ‘womb’ of ATL!

The transformative projects described below are listed in the order in which they appear on a walking tour I created and lead (in person) from time to time. My mission with ATLsherpa is to help you connect with ATL’s past, present, and future. On this tour, you get all three! 

ATL’s Ring of Fire is significant for at least three reasons…

  1. The sheer size of these projects and the economic impact they will have on ATL. This will be a multi-decade development cycle that will create tens of thousands of jobs and generate tens of millions in new tax revenue for the city. As in the Pacific Ring of Fire, there is some serious energy here!

  2. The transformational nature of these projects is virtually incalculable because the sites upon which they sit have been abandoned or underutilized for many decades. It is not a stretch to say that most of this area has been an “industrial wasteland” for 50+ years.

  3. The historical significance of this land. These massive developments are being erected in the very “womb” of ATL. This is where a fledgling railroad town called Terminus was born in 1837. The phoenix is rising again and, this time, it’s BIG! More on Terminus in an upcoming issue of ATLsherpa…

This 1864 map shows the railroad junction (triangle) that was located in the core of the city. That is what we call “The Gulch” today and it is the epicenter of ATL’s Ring of Fire.

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Past as prologue…

If you have been living in ATL for more than say, 50 years, you might be justifiably skeptical about all this “transformative development” talk. After all, the area of town in and around the Ring of Fire has been a veritable no man’s land for the better part of 60 years! That said, there is evidence that might provide a window into the future — and that evidence is a window into to past!

DISTANT PAST: The photo below, taken in 1934, offers a nice view of the Gulch looking north. The building on the right is the Southern Railway Building (one of the stops on my Ring of Fire Walking Tour). The smallish white building in the top left is the Terminal Station Interlocking Tower (recently demolished) and behind it is Atlanta’s Terminal Station, which was razed in 1971 to make way for the Richard B. Russell Federal Building.

Note: The center of the photo below is about where it says, “Macon & Western R.R.” in the triangle on the historical map above. Map = 1864. Photo = 1961.

RECENT PAST: The photo above — taken in 1961 by Ken Patterson, an AJC photographer — is our window into the past. Take a few minutes and study this photo. This is what the “Gulch” looked like just 60 years ago! It was a sprawling (thriving) train yard. Now, study the next photo…

PRESENT: The angle of this 2020 photo is slightly different than the 1961 photo above it (this one is facing more south than west) but the view is essentially the same. What a difference 60 years makes, right? Now, let’s take a peek at the future…

The tentative, overarching vision for Gulch redevelopment that project leaders say could take a decade to fully realize. Rendering via CIM Group; photo by Curbed Atlanta

FUTURE: The image above came from an excellent article in Curbed Atlanta from October 2019. They superimposed a rendering from the developer onto a photo — right into the Gulch! The vantage point here looking northeast toward Downtown (180 degrees from previous photos) but you get the idea. This is what I mean by transformative development!

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Now entering the “Ring of Fire”

The ATL Ring of Fire boundary (denoted with a black line on this map) is somewhat arbitrary. The area is roughly defined by Northside Drive on the west, North Avenue (appropriately) to the north, Marietta Street to the east, and Whitehall and McDaniel Streets to the south/southwest.

This interactive map shows the Ring of Fire boundary (black line) and identifies the many transformative projects that are in and around this historic area. Map by: ATLsherpa (click on image to access live map)

My tour map includes ten of these transformative projects: Underground Atlanta, South Downtown, Freight House Flats, Centennial Yards, Artisan Yards, Smith & Porter, Reverb Hotel, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, State Farm Arena, and the Margaritaville Hotel. The map also identifies twelve additional projects that are just outside the RoF boundary. More on those in a future issue of ATLsherpa!

Let’s take a closer look at each project…

In Part II of this paper, we will explore the individual project in ATL’s Ring of Fire. In keeping with my mission of helping you connect with ATL’s past, present, and future, we will drill down and consider the historical context, current status, and potential impact of each site.

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ATLsherpa is an educational resource for people who would like to know Atlanta on a deeper, more meaningful level. Our mission is to help you connect with ATL’s past, present, and future. As a subscriber, you gain access to content that includes articles, newsletters, virtual tours, interactive maps, multi-media learning tools, videos. Click here to learn about subscription and membership options.