- Associated Press - Sunday, May 21, 2017

ATLANTA (AP) - Atlanta is planning a park in the shadow of a new downtown stadium that community leaders hope will help spark a rebirth of Vine City and surrounding neighborhoods that nurtured the Civil Rights Movement.

City officials recently broke ground for Rodney Cook Sr. Park in the shadow of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported (http://bit.ly/2q4p49Y). The $1.5 billion stadium, now under construction, is expected to open later this year.

The park has the potential to foster revitalization in much the same way as Historic Fourth Ward Park, on the other side of downtown, officials said. Development of that park and a nearby trail led to a wave of redevelopment in the neighborhood that now features the Ponce City Market and a bustling hub of apartments, offices and restaurants.

Cook Park is part of an effort among government leaders, nonprofits and the business community to rebuild neighborhoods that coincides with construction of the new stadium. The stadium will be home to the National Football League’s Atlanta Falcons and Major League Soccer’s Atlanta United.

Falcons owner Arthur Blank and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed have committed to spending tens of millions of dollars in neighborhoods surrounding the new stadium to stimulate jobs, reinvest and improve infrastructure in neighborhoods, the Journal-Constitution reported. Those neighborhoods were once home to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and top lieutenants in the struggle for equal rights.

The 16-acre park, scheduled to open next summer, will serve a number of key roles - community gathering place; a monument to peace and Georgia’s and city’s place in the Civil Rights Movement.

Cook Park will also serve as an important flood control project, with a retention pond as its centerpiece, officials said.

“There’s a very concerted effort to protect the fabric of this community,” said Kishia Powell, the city’s commissioner of watershed management. “We’re working to make sure there’s not just investment, but investment that’s meaningful to the people who live there.”

The new park will include 18 monuments to civil rights leaders and peacemakers and the library of civil rights leader C.T. Vivian. It will also be home to a 110-foot peace column.

The park is named for Cook, the late former Atlanta alderman and state representative, who was one of the few white elected officials who voted to seat Julian Bond in the Georgia House of Representatives in 1966. At the time, Bond was a controversial civil rights leader and opponent of the Vietnam War.

Cook also championed a number of anti-discrimination causes during his time in and out of elected office. He died in 2013.

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Information from: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, http://www.ajc.com

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