Somerhalder said there has been $775 million in private redevelopment completed or underway within a half-mile of the trail since 2005. And, he said, the positive response to projects like the Eastside Trail will help build on the $41 million in private fundraising, much of it from Atlanta's major philanthropic groups.
In recent weeks, the trail has been a beehive of activity.
"I like it. It definitely cleans it up," said John Timlin, 29, a worker at New York Butcher Shoppe, whose back door abuts an increasingly crowded trail. Sales have gone up about 20 percent since the trail opened.
Camila Brioli, 21, a Brazil native who is studying piano performance at Georgia State University, jogged on the trail recently and stopped at the various public art works, including a temporary piece by artist Misao Cates where passersby wrote messages on white ribbons and attached them to bamboo poles. She left one in Portuguese about Brazil's soccer team, one of more than 1,000 left by people.
"I love it because I am a pianist," she said, adding that she was talking to her mom on Skype moments earlier and used it to show her some of the works.
The new trail, which links century-old Piedmont Park to the well-known Inman Park and Old Fourth Ward neighborhoods, also evokes the past. From one bridge, a visitor can look down on a large shopping plaza and lot that was once occupied by Ponce de Leon Park, home of the minor-league Atlanta Crackers until the Braves came to town. A magnolia tree that was prominently just right of center field still stands.
The trail also passes a 2-million-square-foot red-brick building that was a Sears, Roebuck & Co. regional warehouse and store for decades before it became city offices for a time.
The city last year sold the building to Jamestown Properties, owner of Chelsea Market in New York, for $27 million. Plans call for turning it into restaurants, apartments and offices.
Fred Yalouris, director of design for the Beltline project, said the Eastside Connector has turned out well, drawing on the area's new apartments and condos as well as an influx of 20- and 30-somethings. But planners still must figure out how to better connect neighborhoods that were long separated by railroad tracks.
"There are communities in some parts of the BeltLine within 200 feet and hardly no (one knows) each other," he said.
Two Urban Licks, a popular Atlanta restaurant, used to have a 6-foot-tall privacy fence to shield its back patio, garden and bocce courts from the kudzu-covered railroads tracks. As the trail was built, the fence came down — and now the eatery may set up a host stand out back. General manager Shireen Herrington called the BeltLine "a great use of something that's just there, been sitting there."
But Herrington said police need to adequately patrol the trail given past crime problems. She also favors adding lighting and call boxes.
Officers patrol the segment by bike, and officials say future plans include lighting.
Farther down the trail, a battered old wooden railroad bridge still stands alongside a new span over Ralph McGill Boulevard. There on a recent day, Sabine Markham helped her 6-year-old daughter Savannah learn how to roller blade.
"It's our first time trying it," the Germany native said of the trail. "It's pretty. It's nice they're doing something that lets people do something outdoors."