Three days after Christmas 2008, a woman was attacked while jogging in Buckhead, a district of Atlanta, near a wooded area overgrown with kudzu and covered with construction debris. The woman was knocked to the ground and punched by the assailant, who tried to cover her mouth as she screamed, according to an Atlanta Police Department report.
The attacker ran off into the woods when a car came around a corner. The woman was not seriously hurt, but the incident shocked the neighborhood and roused attorney Daniel Weede to do something about the run-down lot.
After more than three years of first struggling with state and local authorities, then beginning work on their own, Weede and his neighbors have changed the area under a Georgia 400 highway overpass into what is now known as Mountain Way Park.
Weede is an attorney in the Atlanta office of Carlton Fields, with a focus on real estate and hospitality. In 20 years of practice he has represented hotel brands, owners, developers, lenders and managers in all aspects of hotel ownership, management and financing.
He is a founder of the Atlanta Hospitality Alliance, a trade group with about 200 members. Local hospitality leaders meet quarterly for professional development and networking.
Networking was a big part of galvanizing Weede's neighbors after the 2008 incident. Weede talked to the Daily Report about the ongoing effort to transform eight acres of land that he says touches on topics including saving green space, community improvement, and use of legal skills in nontraditional ways.
After the attack in 2008, what was the initial reaction from the Atlanta Police Department and people who lived nearby?
I felt at the time, and still feel, that, other than filling out a police report, APD did nothing to address this. To this day, the attack is not reflected in the APD crime statistics for our neighborhood since APD opts to classify the attack as a "simple assault" instead of an "aggravated assault" that would require them to report the crime to the FBI. The neighborhood was alarmed, but there was no organized effort to address the public safety issues that the site posed.
The area is under an overpass for Ga. 400. Can you describe how it looked at the time?
The site had not been maintained since Ga. 400 was constructed. It was a dense forest of trees and privet, and a third of the site was covered in thick mat of kudzu vines. Construction debris and illegally dumped trash literally filled the site. Many neighbors would simply avoid the area because of its perceived safety issues and remote location. Because the site sits right in the middle of [a Georgia Department of Transportation] right-of-way, there are no houses within 500 yards of the site.
How did the park project get started?
I initially viewed this as a public nuisance and public safety issue, so I lobbied GDOT, the city of Atlanta and private landowners that adjoined the GDOT site to clean up their areas of responsibility. While each group took small steps to address my concerns, none of them could or would take the dramatic steps needed to fundamentally address the dumping and crime perception issues.
I soon realized that if we wanted to see this area changed, instead of continuing to rely on others to do it, we would need to do it ourselves. I approached my state representative, Ed Lindsey, in February 2009 and asked him to arrange a meeting with the DOT to discuss the possibilities of the DOT donating eight acres of their right-of-way below their overpass to the city as a park. Representative Lindsey arranged the meeting in his office, and the DOT was very supportive of the idea, and our goals moved more to focus on the establishment of a new park.