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City says it's time to improve Underground Atlanta

2:00 PM, Jan 3, 2013   |    comments
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Underground Atlanta

ATLANTA -- Susan Oliver has lived off Peachtree Street SW near Underground Atlanta for more than five years, and for more than five years she has combatted the crime right outside her door.

"You think, I see this drug transaction, I'm going to pop around the corner and call 9-1-1, and it will stop. There have been over 500 9-1-1 calls on this block in under 5 years," said Oliver.

The police have stepped up patrols, but Oliver says that just pushes the crime inside, where where too many business owners and landlords turn a blind eye.

David Wardell with the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District, or ADID, understands her frustration.

"Some of our challenges are absent property owners, they aren't here and don't seem to be as invested in our community as those that are here and local," said Wardell who oversees public safety for the district.

But city council member Kwanza Hall says even some local landlords need to be called out in public, and he's prepared to do it. Hall is helping to spearhead a master plan for the area, that will in part,  focus resources on removing bad businesses and attracting new ones.

But several improvements are already in progress.  A federal grant will soon help blanket the neighborhood with security cameras, and sharing agreements with federal entities and MARTA will allow local police access to their cameras.

The ADID is working with code enforcement to aggressively clean trash and graffiti and improve the visual aspects of the community.

"We're looking at ways we can widen the sidewalks to make them more pedestrian friendly, more street lights to match the other lights," Wardell added.

Wardell says he's also noticed a difference in panhandling, now that the city's new ordinance has gone into effect.

The city has yet to say how many arrests it has made, but ADID ambassadors stopped 400 panhandlers in October. In November, that number dropped to 75.

The city is currently locked in a legal battle over street vendors.  Many would like to see them removed or put in more permanent kiosks to deter loitering and crime.

In the meantime, MARTA has been asked to come up with a plan to improve the station's appearance, enhance safety and even relocate the Underground bus stop.

But Oliver questions whether the city really has the political will to kick out the bad businesses and drug dealers that have been allowed to operate for so long.

"It's beyond exhaustive to the point that you know you have to keep doing this, because if we don't, who will?" she questions.

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