Oct. 18: Reactivating the Brawley/Alexander Business District, the Heartbeat of the English Avenue Community

The Oct. 18 Transform Westside Summit featured a panel discussion on ways to reactivate the Brawley/Alexander business district, the heartbeat of the English Avenue community. Summit attendees heard from a panel of speakers, which included Dorian McDuffie, public art project manager for the City of Atlanta Department of City Planning at the Atlanta City Studio; Rev. Winston Taylor, Westside community advocate and owner of the historic St. Mark’s Church; Joan Vernon, director of neighborhood engagement for Westside Future Fund; and Jennifer Fine, vice president of planning and strategic initiatives for Invest Atlanta.

English Avenue resident and member of The Beloved Community, Inc., Mother Mamie Moore moderated the panel discussion, walking attendees through a series of updates regarding the Land Use Framework Plan.

John Ahmann, president & CEO of Westside Future Fund, with Mother Mamie Moore.

“This is the Westside Land Use Framework plan – I live, eat, breathe it,” she said, holding up a copy of the plan and a map of Atlanta’s Historic Westside. “The development of the Westside does not reside solely in the Washington Cluster or in Hollis Innovation Academy. It resides in this plan.”

As Moore walked attendees through the map, she specifically called out the Brawley and Alexander Business District located within English Avenue, asking each panelist to speak about their individual relationships with the Brawley/Alexander corridor.

Taylor is an Atlanta native who has served Atlanta’s Westside community as an entrepreneur, community advocate and pastor of Gospel Fellowship Church. In 1984, Taylor was one of the first investors focused on the development of affordable housing in the Old Fourth Ward, the neighborhood where he was raised. A decade later, he became active in the English Avenue neighborhood where he purchased the old St. Mark’s Church, a partially intact historic church building on James P. Brawley Drive that is often used as a community space. He also founded the Beloved Community, Inc., in 2005.

Panelists (left to right): Jennifer Fine, Joan Vernon, Rev. Winston Taylor and Dorian McDuffie.

“If we are going to restore a beloved community, we must become the builders of the beloved community,” Taylor said. “Getting involved, doing the work.”

Vernon has lived in the English Avenue community for the last 10 years. In 2016, she joined the board of the English Avenue Neighborhood Association as the organization’s first vice president and was elected president shortly after. She has helped complete the 2016 Land Use Framework Plan, as well as worked on the 2018 English Avenue rezoning, permitted uses and development controls included in the legislation. Throughout her years of service, Vernon says she is most proud of the equitable opportunities created for Westside community members to participate in the community growth uniting Westside neighborhoods.

A Summit attendee looks at a map of the current revitalization projects on the Westside.

McDuffie founded a pop-up design studio, Atlanta City Studio, moving around the city to engage in relevant work across the Westside. Now, the studio is located at 99 Broad St. SW, working closely with projects and organizations like the Gulch, Marta and others revitalizing Westside neighborhoods. She shared with Summit attendees about her work to foster and develop a more vibrant arts community downtown, inspired by the opportunity to create a cultural experience for those coming to English Avenue.

“Like Mother Moore, we have the plan as our guide for the work we’re doing across downtown Atlanta,” said McDuffie. “The principles of the Land Use Framework Plan are guiding what I’m doing on the Westside. And our studio is not just growing financially but culturally. We are acknowledging and growing the culture in our community.”

McDuffie shares with Summit attendees about the plan’s impact on her work.

Throughout the panel discussion, one sentiment was echoed over and over: accomplishing the goals set out in the Land Use Framework Plan is not simply the responsibility of one person or even one group of people. It requires the efforts of everyone tied to the Westside.

“Our first effort is to drive community conversations around how to activate this space,” said Vernon. The first of these community conversations will take place on Oct. 28 at 6:30 p.m. at the At-Promise Center.

According to Fine, these conversations and sessions are key to progress in English Avenue. “We want to be responsive to the needs of the community and what comes out of the conversation about the Brawley corner.”

During the final minutes of the Summit, Moore challenged attendees to consider what they’re doing to intentionally advance the Land Use Framework Plan. In line with the collective effort needed to accomplish these ambitious goals, she opened the floor to attendees with questions or comments regarding the plan.

A Summit attendee asks a question of the panel.

One attendee asked about the target area medium income, or AMI, for the community. Fine answered, “In general, for the rental properties, we’re aiming for between 40% to 70% of AMI.”

Westside Future Fund President and CEO John Ahmann closed by emphasizing a quote from Dr. King’s letter from a Birmingham jail:

“I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.”

“We believe strongly in the power of we,” Ahmann said.

For more information about the Westside Land Use Framework Plan, check out the Aug. 2 Summit Recap featuring an update from Jesse Wiles with APD Urban Planning and Management.

Opening Devotion with Tes Sobomehin Marshall

Opening speaker, Tes Sobomehin Marshall.

The Summit began with a devotion led by Tes Sobomehin Marshall, founder of runningnerds LLC, and director of The Race. She shared about her journey first as a runner in Atlanta and later as a race organizer. Driven by her own passion for running and her ties to the Westside, Marshall founded her own organization and began hosting races like The Race, which takes place on the Westside. “This is the Westside’s race,” she said. “Our goal is to see this even grow into an event in which all the Westside neighborhoods can be proud. This is our race; it’s here for you.”

Additional Summit Highlights

  • Next Summit: Friday, Nov. 1. Register here.
  • The last Summit event of 2019 will take place Friday, Dec. 6. Summits will resume on Friday, Jan. 17, 2020.
  • The next Westside Future Fund (WFF) Volunteer Day of Service will be on Saturday, Oct. 26. Register here.
  • Free shuttle to the Summit: The Cute Shuttle offers free, scheduled pickups on the Westside to help residents get to and from Summit events on the first and third Fridays of the month. Learn more.
  • The Home Depot Gift Card Raffle: Summit attendees who are current Westside residents or who work for a nonprofit serving Westside neighborhoods have a chance to win a $50 gift card from The Home Depot at each Summit event. Congratulations to Julius, the Oct. 18 winner, pictured below.

Meeting Materials: