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Is the Streetcar revitalizing Atlanta's downtown area? | News

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Is the Streetcar revitalizing Atlanta's downtown area?

ATLANTA (WXIA) -- Caryn Liss was excited when her store, Modern Tribe, moved to the corner of Piedmont and Auburn avenues.

“We made a point to have a whole line of things made in Atlanta,” Liss said. “We were part of the ‘Pop-up Shop’ program, in conjunction with the streetcar of Atlanta.”

That program gave grants to more than a dozen businesses -- including three of them opening in one building at the same streetcar stop. Eighteen months later, those three are moving out.

“What percentage of your customers came off of the Streetcar?” asked 11Alive’s Matt Pearl.

“It’s low – it’s 10 percent, maybe?” she said. “It’s pretty rare. Maybe once a week? It’s pretty rare.”

The Atlanta Streetcar cost tens of millions of dollars to construct, and came with the promise of revitalizing areas like Sweet Auburn. The owners here say they’re leaving because of – not the Streetcar – but the ending of a lease. But they didn’t necessarily get a Streetcar boost.

“I just don’t know if the Streetcar really affects if we would stay or go, because, like I said, we don’t really see a lot of foot traffic from it,” Liss said.

Mayor Reed says the closing of three stores doesn’t tell the whole story. He urges Atlantans to look past this one stop, and check out the whole line.

“I can give you story after story where businesses and investors are making consequential investments,” Reed said.

Wednesday afternoon, the city sent over a spreadsheet showing an estimated $2 billion in real estate investment around the streetcar route. Reed encouraged people to take the long view.

“Everybody that’s launched a streetcar system has had growing pains, and I consider this to be part of them,” he said.

“It’s a historic area that needs to be revitalized, and I think it’s in the middle of that?” Liss said. “I think people were hoping the streetcar would contribute to that, so I hope it does.”

The Atlanta Downtown Improvement District, which was founded in 1995, is a public-private partnership which "strives to create a livable environment for Downtown Atlanta," according to AtlantaDowntown.com

The district contains more than 200 blocks in an area which stretches from North Avenue on the north, Memorial Drive on the south, Piedmont Avenue and the Downtown Connector on the east, and the Norfolk-Southern rail line on the west.

The Atlanta Streetcar project was designed to be both "transportation and a tour guide" as it would take riders all along the district. However, that has not been the case.  

The project cost $98.9 million to build and began charging riders $1 back on January 1. Despite being free throughout its first year, ridership was lower than official expected by almost 200 riders, according to an 11Alive investigation. 

It also hit numerous roadblocks along the way. The city of Atlanta planned to collect a fare in 2015, but was delayed while a collection method was found

The streetcar came under scrutiny after estimates projected the system operations would cost the city more than the $3.2 million planned -- up to $1 million more annually. In April 2015, Executive Director Tim Borchers resigned. He blamed the higher costs on inflation and rules that required two MARTA safety consultants be added to the management team. That addition added $575,000 to the project's costs.

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