ATLANTA — City officials hope to open a new police and fire training facility in two years and break ground on it in early 2022.
The Atlanta city council voted Tuesday night to approve the controversial facility just outside southeast Atlanta.
The city has owned the property targeted for the facility for more than a hundred years.
Surrounded by a damaged chain link fence, the 80 acres of overgrown property is on Key Road and will start to transform into what officials describe as a "state-of-the-art training facility."
"It gives us encouragement... that the citizens of Atlanta take public safety seriously," Police Chief Rodney Bryant told reporters Wednesday.
The new training facility will replace an old public school campus that was used to train Atlanta police until last month. The building had nagging issues with its roof, plumbing, and mold, according to city officials.
For the Atlanta Fire Department, the facility will replace a training tower off Pryor Rd. SE, which the city recently condemned as too dangerous to use.
The new site still has structures from the old prison farm that closed down decades ago. Police say they'll keep some of the ruins from the prison, which will depict outdated conditions that they expect to contrast with "twenty-first century" public safety standards.
Officials hope the site that will emerge there will help modernize police training and attitudes.
"They will be given the most up-to-date training, not to serve as warriors in our community but to serve as guardians in our communities," Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms told reporters Wednesday.
The facility will sit across from an old, discontinued landfill, alongside a neighborhood of modest vintage houses, a few of which are boarded up.
The city says the new training facility will include acres of attractive and usable green space that could revitalize the area. "We’re not taking the entire parcel. There are hundreds of acres there. We’re using 85 acres. There’s still going to be an urban forest there," Bottoms said.
However, the project drew sharp political lines. Backers say the new facility will help the city attract new police officers at a time when jobs are hard to fill.
The council vote drew more than 16 hours of public comment from residents who phoned in their remarks to the virtual meeting. Much of the opposition was fueled by a desire to reform police procedures, with many dubbing it "cop city."
Detractors also said the Key Road green space should have been made accessible without the police presence.
"Our police officers deserve better. We are against destroying the tree canopy. We are against destroying green space," said Alfred "Shivy" Brooks, a candidate for the city council in November's election.
"At least the legislation included a citizens advisory group. The next document that is needed is a Community Benefits Agreement, which would hold Council accountable for the promises made," wrote Allen Doyle, an advocate for the green space. He described the vote as a "missed opportunity."
Bottoms says she never considered supporting efforts to delay Tuesday's vote to next year – when a new mayor and council will take office.