For the first time in 25 years, one of the highest points in the city of Atlanta will be open to the public, thanks to the Upper Westside Improvement District and Friends of Waterworks.
The fences at the corner of Howell Mill Road and 17th Street at the Atlanta City Water Works Hemphill Reservoir are moving back, creating a two-acre green space, according to an announcement this week. “The resilience of the community improvement district has unlocked a critical piece of the 147-acres around the waterworks,” according to the announcement.
“Upper Westside Improvement District has never given up on the effort to open the reservoir grounds,” Elizabeth Hollister, Executive Director, Upper Westside Improvement District, said in a prepared statement. “The residents and the businesses tell us they want more parks in the Howell Mill – Marietta area, and we have a huge, magnificent space which was once open to everyone and will be again.”
The announcement comes after five years of negotiations with the Atlanta Department of Watershed Management. Upper Westside Improvement District is helping move the fences back, ensuring the hilltop is open and maintained.
The corner offers views of the Buckhead, Midtown, and Downtown skylines. Upper Westside Improvement District envisions “The Hill” — one of the highest points in the city — as a spot for picnics and pictures, similar to the Jackson Street bridge, which offers views of downtown Atlanta.
Led by Watershed Commissioner Mikita Browning, the city determined it could maintain water treatment operations while opening some land. The initiative also received support from District 9 City Council Member Dustin Hillis, who represents the area. The grassroots organization Friends of Waterworks has advocated returning the land to the public for more than a decade, according to the announcement.
“Friends of Waterworks is grateful to the Upper Westside Improvement District for taking the lead on moving the fences back,” said Friends of Waterworks co-chair Chris LeCraw. “Opening the hilltop has been a successful public, private and philanthropic effort, and we hope to continue to grow our relationship with Watershed to open even more of the Waterworks.”
Atlanta Mayor-elect Andre Dickens said he supports opening the waterworks to the public during a mayoral forum presented by Upper Westside Improvement District, according to the announcement.
Atlanta’s reservoirs were open to the public until the 1990s. Schools held track meets on reservoirs’ banks, its gazebo and lodge hosted school proms and the world-class BBQ pit was the centerpiece of community events for decades.
In 1996 the city installed the chain-link fences in preparation for the Atlanta Olympic games. Over the last decade, the surrounding area has densified, becoming known for its restaurants, shopping, creative office space, and apartment homes, while the fences remained.
In 2018, Upper Westside Improvement District and Friends of Waterworks were instrumental in transforming four-and-a-half acres on the northwest corner of Northside Drive and 17th Street into public greenspace. In June, Park Pride awarded a $100,000 legacy grant to create a water-themed learning landscape and amphitheater on the site.
Residents, business leaders, and planners have identified the waterworks campus as a solution to the lack of park space, which is reflected in local planning documents, including the Upper Westside masterplan.
Work is expected to begin before the end of the year. City plans call for making the site accessible through sidewalk improvements, and the Upper Westside Improvement District is requesting a crosswalk at the traffic light at the intersection of Howell Mill Road and 17th Street.