03-13-20 | Feature

Marie Sims Park

Atlanta, Georgia
by Alexis Cornell, HGOR

City Place/Marie Sims Park as viewed at dusk from the mid-rise building adjoining the 1.5-acre greenspace. The park, located in Atlanta, Georgia was designed by Landscape Architecture firm, HGOR. Construction began on the project in 2011. The park was completed in 2015.
The greenspace, which is open to the public, contains water features that also handle stormwater retention. Water captured in the park's standing ponds is used to irrigate its two lawns.
Multiple events open to the public are now regularly scheduled in City Place/Marie Sims Park.
Viewing from the lawn across the pool to terraced steps. Aquatic plants, including soft rush grass occupies the pool space.
Metal chairs extrude from the catwalk's metal decking.
ADA access connects the pond overlook with the lawn.
Streetscape and urban-scale blocks provide generous width for walking throughout City Place/Marie Sims Park.
Steps from the metal catwalk connect to the lower lawn.
The pool in the foreground, and the larger pool seen in the background, are connected via an equalizer pipe. Although not at the exact same elevation, the small pond in the foreground is at a slightly higher elevation. The two wet ponds rise and fall together functioning as one single vessel when receiving storm water. Both halves of the wet pond were designed to receive storm water during a rain event, and the rainwater rises and ultimately overflows into the adjacent lawn areas for larger rain event storage when needed.

Prior to the 2008 Great Recession, an irregularly shaped 16.3-acre site located within the Buckhead residential district of Atlanta, Georgia, zoned and entitled 3,883 condominiums to be constructed in nine individual towers. This initial blueprint treated an urban site as a single block - illustrating uses which had become infeasible in the marketplace and a composition that restricted flexibility and responsiveness to the larger urban framework. Post-recession, HGOR was retained by AMLI Residential to review the existing plans and make recommendations. The analysis showed that the economic values of the land associated with the existing plan had fallen by as much as eighty percent. HGOR then put forth a postulate for a revised plan that celebrates urban form - recovering lost value by creating a strong sense of place. Marie Sims Park was completed in 2015.

Based on the new value proposition, HGOR developed alternative site studies which sought to create efficient, walkable urban blocks with required open space aggregated into a collective common. These plans provided a more comprehensive understanding of maximum and minimum potential utilization by entitlement. Subsequently, detailed massing and density studies were prepared. Each block was planned relative to distributing density to form a strong spatial relationship and maximize views, all while maintaining programmatic densities. The new blueprint enlists the extension of existing streets to provide clear, walkable connections to the nearby MARTA Transit Station.

The allocation of the greenspace also focused on a central lower portion of the property, enabling the open space to potentially provide dual purpose for centralized stormwater management. HGOR provided support information illustrating that savings from utilizing the park for stormwater, as opposed to a traditional underground vault system, would virtually cover the cost of constructing the park and provide enhanced water quality through the utilization of aquatics and bio-retention.

The direction was accepted and HGOR led all entitlement efforts.

With the new master plan in place, a detailed design process ensued, which developed the streetscape and heart of City Place - Marie Sims Park. HGOR served as prime consultant, working with AMLI Residential and utilizing the services of civil, hydrologist and environmental engineers. The 1.5-acre park consists of a central pool / stormwater management facility flanked by terraced steps leading to lower and upper lawns. The design utilizes a tiered approach to storage - capturing two-year storm and water quality within a lower wet pond and allowing major storms to spread out over otherwise usable space. As water levels rise from the lower pond, water back flows through drains, providing storage in the upper pool and lawn areas. Aquatic plants are held in place by below-water walls. Marie Sims Park was completed prior to building to demonstrate the place being created.

Roughhewn orchard stone walls with cast stone caps provide a warmth and foil to a metal catwalk, which projects to allow storage below. Utilization of a water-level jetty allows the common plain of the water to simultaneously have smooth and rippled surfaces. The pond overlook is connected to the lawn with ADA access. Streetscapes throughout the development provide gracious walks and biodiversity of trees from street to street and surrounding the park.

City Place/Marie Sims Park demonstrates the important linkage between planning and design, which promotes how people-oriented places can produce economic value while simultaneously providing long-term environmental benefits. The complete rethinking of the master plan - from product-based to place-based - transformed not only the surrounding site, adding substantial economic value, but has resulted in a positive influence on existing properties within the area and the larger community.

The aggregation of required private open space to produce usable common space accessible to all illustrates how private development can exert community benefits. This is clearly represented not only with the park's use as a public asset, but also by the fact that it was ultimately named after Marie Sims, a long-time community parks and greenspace activist.

The comprehensive process has proven to be successful on all accounts. The new master plan returned the property to its full pre-recession value. Transferring stormwater from below ground storage to above ground cut development costs and offset the cost of Marie Sims Park, providing a dual amenity and environmental feature on a cost neutral basis. Events are regularly programmed and open to residents and the public alike.

Two of the sites are fully built out and were completed in the fall of 2015 and in 2016, with a third high-rise nearing completion. The firm began construction on the final buildout of development in 2019.

Marie Sims Park was awarded the Georgia Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects' 2019 Award of Excellence.

Team List
Owner: AMLI Residential
Prime Consultant, Landscape Architecture + Master Planning: HGOR
Engineering: Kimley-Horn
Irrigation: Clark Irrigation Design & Consulting, Inc.
Fountain Design: Roman Fountain

As seen in LASN magazine, March 2020.

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