The Avondale Commons, Art and Town Center
Challenge: Capturing History and Protecting Avondale’s Legacy
Avondale is at a historic juncture. The city-owned 4 acres at the heart of the Central Business District provide a unique opportunity to extend and revitalize Avondale’s historic architectural legacy and to define its economic, cultural, and civic destiny. To preserve the qualities that make Avondale a special community in the burgeoning twenty-first century Atlanta metro-region, the present scheme builds on George Willis’ holistic vision for a mixed-used community embracing the natural beauty of the Piedmont. In the 1920s, Willis envisioned a city where neighbors of all ages could enjoy the pleasures of peaceful living with parks, trails, and shared public space. Avondale’s downtown plan echoed the spirit and architecture of Shakespeare’s birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon, and embodied the proto-suburban ideal of the Garden City. The National Register of Historic Places recognizes this double legacy. This design scheme draws on the city’s early twentieth-century roots in the Garden City and updates the winding streetscapes inspired by medieval England, for a walkable twenty-first-century Avondale that is also embedded in and richly connected to the cultural, economic, and transportation networks of the Atlanta metro-region.
Vision: Integrated Walkable Downtown
The design holistically embraces the sloping topography characteristic of Avondale’s natural landscape and complements the historic center of the Tudor village, using the site to enlarge Avondale’s downtown while maintaining and protecting the small-town experience that we all cherish. Following the mandate of the Avondale Masterplan, Arts, Parks + Opportunity, the site will become Avondale Commons, an extended pedestrian zone that realizes our values in a livable and walkable community that is easily accessible by modern transportation. It will be anchored by extensive green space, a civic and community center, a state-of-the-art performance venue, and high quality retail space to create a genuine downtown destination as well as an economic and cultural catalyst for the entire city. The Avondale Commons will extend and update the city’s historic legacy with a city center featuring a new City Hall, performing arts spaces, a mediatheque, and spaces for cafés and restaurants, offices and retail.
Goal: Become a Regional Destination
As Atlanta has become a global city, the Garden City Avondale has been increasingly enclosed by a modern metro-region. While past residents voyaged between city and countryside or suburbia, the journey to contemporary Avondale has become multi-directional. Located in a dynamic part of DeKalb County with a highly educated population, the city-owned 4 acre site lies equidistant between two MARTA stations, with good access to highways, interstates, and the Path trail. This site thus provides a unique opportunity to realize the goal envision in Avondale’s Masterplan: becoming a thriving Regional Destination. Creating a pedestrian-oriented town center anchored by parks and green space and ringed by exceptional architecture will give the city a lively and walkable downtown that speaks to the community’s identity and historical past. Updating the model Stratford-upon-Avon and other garden cities, the Avondale Commons will establish both cultural and economic anchors in the city and connect with the Tudor Village to complete the heart of the business district. While the pedestrian zone acts as a regional destination, the individual buildings on the perimeter have dual directionality–being part of shared community space, yet activating the surrounding streets, they will create synergies with the Avila site, the Tudor village, and the Western Gateway.
Public and Commercial Uses
Avondale is a special community that needs new public spaces as it grows. The design of Avondale Commons integrates diverse forms of public gathering to enhance the entire downtown area with a space keyed to celebration, the arts, civic participation, and community service. In this new downtown center, civic, artistic, recreational, and commercial uses are placed in a dense relationship linked by a park and pedestrian zone to create regular foot traffic and interconnectivity. To enable continuous use by day and night, the holistically designed site is surrounded by three major components that renew the city’s legacy: a civic center, a regionally significant performance space, and existing and new commercial zones. Ample street, underground, and close satellite parking are included, assuring that downtown will be walkable, with Franklin Street providing a permeably paved pedestrian/biking route between new and old parts of the city.
The major components are situated to take advantage of the natural topography and provide a catalyst for adjacent areas. Placed at a prominent spot on North Avondale Road, the historic spine of the city, and hugging the sloping site, the Civic Center includes an updated City Hall, offices and public meeting rooms, and conference and event spaces. This building establishes a visual marker of arrival in the Avondale business district and will create both places for community functions and new revenue streams for the city. The two-story Civic Center footprint includes ample space for other uses such as workshops and classes. Destination shopping is also located prominently along North Avondale Road, with architecturally exciting arcades forming a bridge from the GA 278 axis to the interior of the Commons and to the Tudor Village.
On the northern edge of the park, a state-of-the-art, flexible performance space, galleries for rotating exhibitions, a garden restaurant, and beer garden anchor the opposite end of the site and provide multiple synergies toward the future Avila development, the Rail Arts District, and the current site of Second Life. High quality performing arts space that can accommodate dance, music, theatre, and performance art is currently lacking, especially on the east side of the metro region. Arts programming will engage multiple stakeholders in the Atlanta metro to ensure economic success for the venue and anchor a thriving and diverse arts economy in Avondale. An amphitheater below the civic center and a bandstand concealing the ATT structures will be in place for regular outdoor concerts and popular festivals. Across the park, the elongated property at 90 North Avondale becomes a mediatheque, a multimedia library complemented by an outdoor movie screen for movies in the park on the adjacent green space. All the venues and uses of Avondale Commons are held together by integrated park space in a hallmark pedestrian zone. Walkable connections between public buildings, shops, restaurants, and civic spaces provide a peaceful yet dynamic environment for Avondalians and others to play, shop, dine, and interact.
Benefits and Viability
The city-owned 4 acres give Avondale a historic opportunity to create cultural and economic benefits through public investment in the future. Arts-centered development has a long and successful history locally, nationally, and internationally. With arts and event spaces, retail, restaurants, and an integrated park as an experiential and visual anchor, Avondale Commons will have direct and indirect positive economic impact. Event spaces have the potential to create a significant direct revenue stream for the city, and, as a city-controlled operation, the Avondale Commons will create new jobs. Furthermore, performing arts events benefit surrounding businesses all year round; according to Americans for the Arts, arts audiences spend on average an additional $24 per person on lodging, gifts, meals, and transportation per event, with non-local attendees spending two times the amount of local audiences. Overall, the arts are outpacing growth in other sectors of the economy, including food and retail, and producing more revenue than construction, travel and tourism, or the transportation sectors.
Developing this central site as a public space will increase Avondale’s greatest asset: its cultural capital. Fulfilling the call of the Masterplan for Arts, Parks, + Opportunity, the Avondale Commons will enhance the prestige of our city, which is recognized on the National Register of Historic Places for our parks and landscaping, the Tudor village, and architectural variety. As citizens, we are charged with preserving and strengthening the assets we have inherited. Arts-centered development inspires quality architecture, and innovative site design and landscaping will create a walkable, livable downtown magnet and generate synergistic energies at the boundaries of the city’s four acres. By taking our legacy in hand and creating dynamic new downtown public space for Avondale, the city will attract new quality businesses and motivate commercial developers to adopt much more deliberate and high-quality design schemes that will maintain and update the unique feel of our city for the twenty-first century.Number207