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Your capitol has a new face

Posted: December 24, 2014 - 12:27am

Visitors who come to Atlanta next month to see Gov. Nathan Deal take the oath of office for his second term will find a Capitol complex that looks different from four years ago when Deal was first sworn in.

There has been a reworking of the east side of the Capitol that first opened in 1889, and it provides a more welcoming environment for the general public.

A parking deck across Capitol Avenue that had been crumbling into disrepair for years is gone – demolition crews began tearing down and carting away the aging concrete structure last April.

Where the parking
deck once sat is a newly landscaped park called Liberty Plaza that will serve as a staging area for media events and public gatherings that previously had been held on the steps of the capitol’s west
side.

Deal’s inauguration will take place in Liberty Plaza, assuming there is not a blizzard like the one in January 2011 that forced his first inauguration to be moved inside the Capitol to the House chamber.

As public projects go, this one has happened with lightning speed. In less than nine months, a parking deck completely disappeared and a plaza blossomed in its place.

Georgia Building Authority Director Steve Stancil will be happy to remind you that the $4.4 million project was financed without adding to the state’s debt load. The GBA raised the money by selling a couple of state buildings in the Atlanta area that were no longer needed.

Stancil said Liberty Plaza will include a tulip poplar tree that is descended from a “Liberty Tree” that grew in Annapolis, Md., during the American Revolution.

In that fight for independence from Britain, each of the American colonies grew their own version of a Liberty Tree inspired by the original Liberty Tree in Boston. Most of the trees were subsequently cut down by British forces, but the one in Maryland survived when the Brits bypassed Annapolis to concentrate their forces on Philadelphia.

In 1999, cuttings from that tree were used to grow new versions of the tulip poplar that were presented to each of the states. One of those trees was transplanted in Dalton, and a cutting from that tree will eventually be part of Liberty Plaza.

In addition to the redesign of the Capitol’s east side, which now will serve as the “front door” to the complex, there was another important change that happened about a year ago.

That was when Deal authorized the relocation of the statute of former Georgia senator Tom Watson from its position in front of the capitol’s west steps to a park area across Washington Street.

Watson was a notorious race-baiter and anti-Semite during his years in the political spotlight, and the presence of his statue in front of the Capitol steps had long been an embarrassment to the state.

A few months after Watson’s statue was moved, the General Assembly passed and Deal signed a bill authorizing the erection of a monument honoring Martin Luther King Jr. on the capitol grounds, a project that is still in the preliminary design stages.

All of these changes to the Capitol’s appearance were long overdue, and I think they will ultimately enhance Georgia’s image.

If Deal is giving any thought to the legacy he will leave behind as governor, that’s one achievement he can be proud of.

Tom Crawford is editor of The Georgia Report, an internet news service at gareport.com that reports on state government and politics. He can be reached at tcrawford@gareport.com.

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