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Sunday Conversation with… David Epstein Visionary has sights on Pullman Yard for inner-city play

By Ann Hardie   — from AJC on Octo­ber 6th 2012  http://www.ajc.com/news/news/local/sunday-conversation-with-david-epsteinvisionary-ha/nSS79/

You could look at the aban­doned Pull­man Yard train facil­i­ty between intown’s Kirk­wood and Can­dler Park neigh­bor­hoods and see blight. Or you could be David Epstein and see a future site where kids and grownups mix it up on lacrosse, soc­cer and Ulti­mate Fris­bee fields. Epstein most like­ly sees him­self at the roller hock­ey rink. And what about those aban­doned his­toric brick and steel build­ings? Epstein envi­sions them with indoor skate parks, bas­ket­ball and vol­ley­ball courts, a place where folks receive phys­i­cal ther­a­py for their sports injuries and where home­school­ers and local ele­men­tary stu­dents exer­cise and play to their heart’s con­tent. Ear­li­er this year, Epstein, a finance guy turned preschool teacher and ten­nis coach, found­ed Atlanta Con­tact­Point, a non­prof­it com­mit­ted to build­ing indoor and out­door recre­ation spaces in the heart of the city. Epstein talked about how Atlanta is woe­ful­ly lack­ing in qual­i­ty places to play and how he hopes to change that. First stop, the Pull­man Yard, cur­rent­ly owned by the State of Geor­gia. For more on Atlanta Con­tact­Point, vis­it atlcp.org.

Q: You walked away from your own fundrais­ing com­pa­ny to teach preschool. Why?

A: I real­ized that life isn’t worth run­ning around chas­ing mon­ey. It is real­ly about doing some­thing you enjoy.

Q: When did you decide that intown Atlanta need­ed places to play?

A: We were play­ing roller hock­ey at Emory — tech­ni­cal­ly we weren’t sup­posed to be there because it was pri­vate prop­er­ty. Then Emory turned that space into a park­ing lot and we were out. I had the real­iza­tion that we were real­ly lack­ing in facil­i­ties and yet we have more and more fam­i­lies mov­ing here. I thought, where are all of these kids going to play?

Q: Why do Atlantans need access to sports facil­i­ties?

A: There are lot of stud­ies on how impor­tant sports are in terms of social­iza­tion and self-con­fi­dence. It is all that but it is also a way to be active and fit.

Q: Can you talk about your non­prof­it?

A: Basi­cal­ly the mis­sion is to edu­cate and engage the com­mu­ni­ty with com­pre­hen­sive well­ness pro­grams and activ­i­ties. The vision start­ed with sports and has grown to include fit­ness and nutri­tion and envi­ron­men­tal stew­ard­ship. I fig­ure if we are going to cre­ate facil­i­ties, we should look at hav­ing solar ener­gy and water har­vest­ing and gar­dens.

Q: What are you doing now?

A: We have a short-term goal of cre­at­ing a local net­work and being a clear­ing­house for infor­ma­tion on our web­site on sports and fit­ness and health. We are cre­at­ing events high­light­ing some of the local orga­ni­za­tions. The first one was last month in Can­dler Park, called PLAY DAY. We are plan­ning four more for 2013. All of this is lead­ing up to a new intown facil­i­ty, a mod­el that the city can be proud of.

Q: You have your sights set on the Pull­man Yard, cor­rect?

A: To me it is a per­fect fit. It is 25 acres, with 120,000 square feet of his­toric build­ings. It sits between two MARTA stops with a bike path run­ning into it. We would like to buy it or arrange a long-term lease.

Q: Who would come?

A: I envi­sion this facil­i­ty being used from the ear­ly morn­ing until the ear­ly morn­ing, from 5 a.m. to 2 a.m. I envi­sion it being used by young, old and dis­abled peo­ple, by leagues rent­ing space, by kids in after school pro­grams, by the pub­lic. I see hav­ing a home­school pro­gram and part­ner­ships with schools, basi­cal­ly most of the com­mu­ni­ty.

Q: Is this a pipe dream or do you real­ly have a shot at this?

A: We real­ly have a shot. Obvi­ous­ly it is a dream but dreams do come true espe­cial­ly when you have a thriv­ing city like Atlanta. You have an under­uti­lized space and you have a demand for space. To me, it has to hap­pen.

The Sun­day con­ver­sa­tion is edit­ed for length and clar­i­ty. Writer Ann Hardie can be reached by e-mail at ann.hardie@ymail.com.

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