The debate over the future of Turner Field and surrounding neighborhoods has been lively over the past three years. As Atlanta’s progression steamrolls through the preservation efforts of long-time residents, trust in reliable measures being made have steadily been in decline. The now Georgia State owned stadium, alongside Carter Development, has set its focus on housing more school departments and boosting neighborhood appeal. The current plan is to establish GSU’s sports and hospitality departments as well as housing for students, workers, and the obligatory retail, coffee shop, restaurant routine popping up around the new and multi-used Atlanta. Many, however, have made it very clear that they will not stand for a project that does not cater to surrounding communities.
Tent City ATL, a long-standing, in-your-face sit-in style protest is one of many efforts that takes on this new development. Running since April 1st, the encampment finds its stand on the corner of Georgia Avenue and Hank Aaron Drive—resting and resisting right outside of Turner Field to ensure visibility. The encampment perseveres to fight against the project and its foreseen displacement of residents. In efforts to hold Carter Development and GSU accountable, the protesters are calling for documentation ensuring that the developers work to the benefit of surrounding communities and focus on measures that prevent displacement. The encampment is the manifestation of residents, students and social justice groups including: The Housing Justice League, Turner Field Community Benefits Coalition, Mechanicsville Civic Association, Pittsburgh Neighborhood Association, and others
The camp’s main goal is a Community Benefits Agreement with Panther’s Holding, the combined GSU and Carter company. While being an active protest, daily life for the camp itself comes with its own needs for sustainability. It’s not all sharing stories and passing out flyers. With the threat of possible police intervention during less inhabited hours and supplies being dependent on community support, the effort takes a lot of work to maintain. Surviving off of monetary donations via a youcaring.com fundraiser and donation of goods from supporters, Tent City has kept its stride strong. Which it plans to do until an agreement is met.
Looking at the relationship between these communities, city officials, and developers, it comes as no surprise to see action in the form of Tent City. Residents have come to expect little cooperation on issues of housing security and transparency, as developers and officials make plans behind closed doors for these neighborhoods. While progression does happen and development is an eventuality, some say the usage of aggressive tactics, misinformation, and the shutting out of public input is more than enough reason for the uproar. “Long term residents want development, but they don't want to be treated as disposable objects,” states Timothy Franzen, member of the Housing Justice League. The Turner Field Community Benefits Coalition (TFCBC), for instance, have requested audience with Panthers Holding LLC, and their requests have gone ignored since its date of sale. The group, a democratically elected body of community inhabitants, has also experienced a more politically connected part of their organization gain favor with the LLC, only to have access denied to stakeholders from impacted neighborhoods.
Mechanicsville resident Deborah Arnold, who has been camped out since April 1, describes the ordeal as so: “For years, we have met with residents across Peoplestown, Summerhill, Mechanicsville and Pittsburgh to develop a Community Benefits Agreement to ensure that any development on the 80-acre turner field property benefits the community and our future generations. More than 1700 of us have participated in community meetings to develop this CBA since the Braves announced they were leaving, but Carter Development and GSU have refused to meet with us, and instead have slandered us and pushed forward plans for development that doesn’t meet community needs.”
On April 24th, the TFCBC met with Panther’s Holding, but an hour before the Monday meeting, a report from the AJC titled “GSU-Turner Field neighborhoods strike deal to address community change”, was released much to the confusion of residents. The “deal” being two separate deals; one for GSU and one for Carter. A major issue is that these deals were struck with no input considered or even requested from the community-at-large. The Coalition was allowed to see the two deals for GSU and Carter for the first time during that meeting, and requested time to review the documents with plans for a follow-up meeting on May 1, 2017.
Sherise Brown, a long term resident of Peoplestown and core member of the coalition attended said meeting. In a press release sent by the Housing Justice League she had this to say: “Although I think our meeting today with Panthers Holding LLC was productive and moving in the right direction, we have not received a commitment from them for a Community Benefits Agreement. We are looking forward to our follow up meeting with GSU and the developers. At this point we are beginning to build a partnership with Panthers holding LLC. We have not, I repeat we have not, reached any agreement. We are still in discussions.”
As the many groups and neighborhoods plan and resist, Tent City remains a focal point. It’s a place of gathering and protest for these voices and to the media. As GSU student Patricio Cambias a GSU and camper sees it “Tent City will continue to grow until a deal is reached...We will be there the whole summer if need be. Even when a deal is reached, it will be a fight to ensure the right deal is made and actually honored.”
Matt Jones is your average carefree black boi, community worker, and sensei. As an Atlanta based artist he dreams to foster community and advocate real change for issues involving but not limited to mental health, queer life, and POC disparity.