The World’s First Project Certified as LEED, SITES, and Parksmart

by Sumner Byrne

Atlanta’s Grant Park Gateway has LEED, SITES, and Parksmart certifications. / image: Dorian Sky

In 2018, the City of Atlanta addressed the need for a new parking garage near Zoo Atlanta and the BeltLine, two of the city’s most iconic public spaces. With increased calls to reduce traffic congestion and improve community safety, the existing eight-acre surface parking lot was unable to keep up with increasing demand.

Faced with a major renovation, Atlanta’s Parks and Recreation Department (DPR) used the opportunity to invest in a multifunctional, sustainable space, using certifications as a tool to direct their work for the greatest community benefit.

Today, the Grant Park Gateway offers over 1,000 parking spaces topped with a two-and-a-half-acre green roof and restaurant space, providing a grand lawn area, a shaded terrace plaza, terraced seating, a water feature and a pedestrian overpass, as well as nearly nine acres of green space. It is the first project in the world to achieve LEED certification, SITES certification for sustainable landscape development, and Parksmart certification for its parking structure.

This triple-certified project’s success is thanks to the visionary efforts of the City of Atlanta’s DPR, design-build lead the Winter Johnson Group, lead landscape architect HGOR, Smith Dalia Architects, sustainability consultant the Epsten Group, Breedlove Land Planning, the residents of the Grant Park neighborhood, and many others.

Some of the collaborators shared their thoughts on the pursuit of multiple certifications and how LEED’s integrative process became more relevant than ever on the Atlanta site.

Aerial view of Grant Park Gateway / image: Dorian Sky

In Pursuit of Triple Certification

“The project scope was a blend of infrastructure, site improvement and new building construction, all of which were equally important,” shared Todd Fuller, ASLA, a principal at HGOR, the lead landscape architecture firm for the project. “Pursuing multiple certifications created benchmarks for performance appropriate with each individual scope, to ensure that all aspects of the project were high-performing.”

Beth Ament at Epsten Group, the sustainability consultant, described an ordinance put forth by the City of Atlanta in 2017 mandating that all new construction projects owned by the city and of a certain size and cost must achieve LEED Silver certification. Epsten Group reached out to DPR early in the process to share information on Parksmart, since most of the project scope encompasses a parking facility, as opposed to a building.

“Through the work being performed at neighboring Zoo Atlanta, we understood that there was a larger project boundary at play that made SITES certification for sustainable landscape development a reality,” says Ament. “Our teamwork with Breedlove Land Planning and their overall vision for the larger boundary of work is what made SITES possible. We executed due diligence to educate the entire project team about the crosswalks across the different rating systems, helping them to understand that this also meant a reduction in the amount of work needed on our part.”

With the three rating systems, says Ament, there was overlap in particular requirements that was easy to address within the project scope. “For the LEED project, the number of points available were very slim, and we knew the project could not live up to the city’s requirement of a LEED Silver project. However, we were able to apply our SITES Gold certification to the LEED application. We were awarded all of the points within LEED’s Sustainable Sites credit category, pushing the LEED project up to Silver,” explains Ament.

Grant Park Gateway/ image: Dorian Sky

Building Atlanta’s Resilient Future

Grant Park found solutions that accommodated more parking in a greener way, as well as enhancing access for alternative transportation.

“The project removes an existing surface parking lot from Atlanta’s oldest park, and replaced it with usable green space, while improving safety and access for pedestrians and bicyclists coming to the park and within the park,” says Todd Fuller of HGOR, the project’s landscape architect. “Increased parking had the double positive benefit of granting a broader access to the park from residents across the city traveling by car, while relieving the impact of off-street parking that was previously occurring on neighborhood streets,” he adds.

DPR was thrilled to take part in such a transformative project with multiple sustainability features, according to Keith Hicks, director of park design for the city. “[It creates] an inviting and dynamic experience for residents to enjoy gatherings, festivals, recreational activities, outdoor dining and people-watching,” says Hicks.

The city of Atlanta has experienced “explosive growth” in the past few decades, says Ament, and making that increase true “smart growth” is a priority for the Atlanta Office of Resilience. “Equal access to resources, amenities, and preservation of the natural environment are all visions set forth for the city,” Ament shares.

The combined certifications for this project are a reflection of a resilient strategy and far exceed the City of Atlanta’s Ordinance 17-9-128, Sustainable Development Design Standards. And as the first space in the world certified to LEED, SITES, and Parksmart, the project serves as an example not just for Atlanta, but for any city around the globe.

Team leads for the Grant Park Gateway Project:

  • Architect of Record/Design Lead: Winter Johnson Group, Design Builder, working with Smith Dalia Architects
  • Landscape Architect: HGOR

Major subconsultants:

  • Planning & Urban Design: SHAPE/Studio H (MBE)
  • Civil Engineering & Landscape Design: Breedlove Land Planning
  • Parking Planning & Design: Tim Haahs (MBE)
  • Structural Engineer: Sykes Consulting (MBE)
  • Sustainability Consulting: Epsten Group  (J.U.S.T. certified)
  • Mechanical Design & Engineering: TMC (Tebarco Mechanical)

Learn more about the project.

This article was originally published on the Sustainable SITES Initiative website.

Sumner Byrne, LEED Green Associate, is Senior Manager, Digital Marketing, for the U.S. Green Building Council.

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