What is the future of Hulsey Yard?

The 70-acre rail yard is the Moby Dick of Atlanta development

Hulsey Yard

Photograph by John E. McDonald

One morning in May, residents of Cabbagetown, Reynoldstown, Inman Park, and Old Fourth Ward woke up to an unusual silence. After more than 100 years of crews loading, stacking, and unloading cargo containers from freight trains and tractor trailers at Hulsey Yard, the 70-acre site owned by CSX was empty, a barren sea of concrete. And the possibility of bringing residential, retail, commercial, and—most importantly—connectivity to an expanse located between some of Atlanta’s hottest neighborhoods seemed closer than ever before.

What’s the site’s potential?
Nearly limitless. Stretching between two MARTA stations and practically on top of the BeltLine Eastside Trail, the property named after former state lawmaker William J. Hulsey is ideally situated to take advantage of transit. And it’s zoned industrial, meaning a developer could build tall. Adjacent Cabbagetown is roughly the same size as the railyard, and a new residential development could essentially create a new neighborhood. New roads and crossings under, over, or at-grade with the railroad could stitch back together communities that had been split by the tracks. Maybe that could include one or two new tunnels to compete with Krog Street, a graffiti lover’s paradise.

What are the obstacles?
For one, it’s not currently for sale, a CSX spokesperson says. But the company, which has been mum on its plans for the property, is unlikely to let the land sit idle for very long. For the past few years, CSX has reduced headcount by more than 4,000 employees and closed eight facilities, like northwest Atlanta’s roughly 300-acre Tilford Yard, to become more lean and efficient. The freight company is also looking at selling unused real estate. Most of its Atlanta-area operations have been consolidated in a facility in Fairburn, far from the white-hot development boom currently ablaze on the east side of Atlanta. Additionally, the land will surely need to be cleaned up after years of use.

Who’s looking at the land?
Considering all the advantages above, developers, MARTA, and the city. (Any estimates about the property’s value are just ballpark guesses, but $100 million has been thrown around.) Aware that the empty expanse next door could become the next best megadevelopment, residents of the surrounding neighborhoods commissioned a $50,000 master plan from urban design firm Lord Aeck Sargent. In a nutshell, residents want to see a street grid, density, minimal parking, and connectivity to each other and the surrounding areas.

Will that vision be what’s built?
Probably not. The plan, now in its final stages, could give developers an idea of the potential fight they might face against the neighborhood—and elected officials a sense of the community’s position when whoever purchases it starts asking for rezonings, variances, and other help from city government.

When can we expect movement?
Only CSX can make that call. But considering intown real estate could always cool, there’s no better time than now—or relatively soon—to start fielding offers.

Update 2/21/2020: It turns out we’ll have to wait a little longer to see what Hulsey Yard could become—Curbed Atlanta broke the news today that CSX plans to restart operations there in April, although not as bustling as before. A CSX spokesman told Curbed that work will only occur at the yard from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m., making it less disruptive, and truck traffic overall will be decreased. But it means that, at least for now, any future development ideas are on hold.

This article appears in our October 2019 issue.