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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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