Atlantic Station is Ready for an Evolution

New direction for massive development is coming, new owners say.

From the toxic, industrial wasteland where the Atlantic Steel plant once puffed smoke above the neighboring Connector, Atlantic Station rose as a pioneering and oft-heralded example of brownfield development. With it came promises of a thriving cultural hub where residents might ditch their cars – and the long-commute, suburban mentality – and walk to where they eat, work and play. 

Five years later, on the heels of a recession, the 150-acre development is suffering from an identity crisis. Some city leaders and residents fear the development may have become too much like a mall, too suburbanized or too inviting to the wrong sort of demographic, such as loitering teenagers who stay long and buy little.

But Atlantic Station's new owners want to change that.

Pam Barnett, the corporate communications director for Atlantic Station’s new master developer, CB Richard Ellis Investors, sees great potential in the development’s future.

CBRE Investors closed a deal with former owners American International Group on Dec. 31. The sale included 14 acres of undeveloped land and the 25-story office building at 271 17th Street. The company also entered into a joint venture with North American Properties to acquire the Town Center, a central district with key components like Publix and the Regal 16 Cinemas, Barnett said.

The price tag topped $168 million but represented a sharp decline in pre-recession real estate values, the Atlanta Business Chronicle reported.         

To the deep-pocketed leaders of CBRE Investors, the development still holds its luster and is capable of being the 24-7, mixed-use cultural hub once envisioned.

“It’s a high-quality property in a phenomenal location,” Barnett said. “And there was a great vision for the property that had just not been fully realized.”

The 14 undeveloped acres once called for a high-rise hotel and more residential space. Barnett said those parcels are scattered throughout the development, from 17th Street to frontage on Interstate 75, and are zoned for a variety of uses.  

The company has no immediate plans to build on the land, but it does have the luxury of time, Barnett said.

“One of the advantages of being a well-capitalized, new owner is that we can be patient,” she said. Whatever is eventually undertaken “will build on the original vision of a well-located, urban, 24/7, mixed-use, cultural hub for Midtown Atlanta and its neighboring communities,” she said.

A separate but related CBRE Investors fund in November purchased residential portions of Atlantic Station, the Park District and Icon apartment communities, Barnett said. 

CBRE Investors are seasoned players in the Atlanta market, with more than 2 million square feet of Class A office space around town. But an undertaking with the scope of Atlantic Station is a company first.

“(We haven’t) done anything quite like this,” Barnett said. “However, we’ve been a quiet but active player in Atlanta for years.”

The new Atlantic Station controllers seem to have their ears to the ground, in terms of gauging the opinions and implementing the needs of intown residents, especially those that live in Midtown.

Mark Toro, managing partner at North American Properties, in a recent interview spoke about the "evolution" that will come to Atlantic Station. North American Properties manages the retail portion of Atlantic Station. 

"We need to reflect our shopper base," said Toro, a Midtown resident and board member of the Midtown Alliance. "We believe the Midtown resident is anti-mall."

Toro said his plan is to change between 20 and 25 percent of the retailers at Atlantic Station. That means of the 1.3 million square feet of retail space, about 150,ooo square feet will be retooled, he said. The development's major tenants IKEA, Dillard's and Target shall remain, Toro said. 

"Midtown is a mecca for the creative class," Toro said. He said he wants Atlantic Station to bring in those retailers that appeal to "Generation Y" shoppers. He said he hopes local boutiques and mom-and-pop restaurants will be among the new tenants. "The national chains have not done well here."

Toro said Atlantic Station will evolve over the next three or four years. "It is going to be slow, but steady," he said. But Toro said leaders will immediately be more engaged with Midtown residents.

Toro encouraged people to send recommendations about what they'd like to see at Atlantic Station via its Facebook and Twitter pages.

"We're listening," he said. "We'd like to know what you want to have here."

Lee March 03, 2011 at 02:43 AM
My husband and I have been looking at condos in the gorgeous Atlantic Residences. As we neared the possibility of making an offer we decided to visit Atlantic Station on Saturday night. It was filled with teens who seem to have made the area their social play ground. The retail stores and the eating establishments really do not reflect the average midtown consumer. It would appear that the majority of the places that are there are catering to a demographic, teens and 20 somethings, who will not be capable of supporting the growth and vitality of this area. The previous developers really missed the mark with respect to their audience and I am not sure how that could have happened when you don't have to look too hard to determine your market in Midtown. Atlantic Station is in an incredible location and it has the ability to draw in professionals and second/third time home owners/buyers all of which have the cash flow to support the businesses in Atlantic Station. However, all it takes is one visit there on a Saturday night to deter buyers seeking high-end living to re-think their decision. I was thankful to see that the new owners have both the vision and the capital to support a change for the future but I won't be considering a move until those plans are in the works.
doni April 05, 2011 at 02:43 AM
I am a African American Buckhead resident and I will not visit Atlantic Station on a Saturday night. I can not stress enough how the previous owners did not work hard enough to deter "undesirable elements/demographics." I remember when Atlantic Station first opened and it seemed like a great place to mix and mingle with like minded urban professional, entrepreneurs and high end culturally divers artists however after a while it became a hang out for a completely different demographic. I am married and have 2 beautiful daughters and there is absolutely not way I would feel comfortable having them in "that" environment on a weekend evening. The sad part of this is that we have also visited during the week in the evening and it seems like the same change is starting to occur on week nights. I hope the new management does something creative yet fair to resolve these issues.
Jahn April 10, 2011 at 01:24 PM
You need more mom/pop restaurants. You need an arcade. You need live music that performs EVERY weekend ( changes your demographic just like THAT ). You need not only more retail stores, but outlets. You need more shows/performances. You need water, a fountain or something. And last but not least, you need a gigantic screen , that plays music videos, etc. Similar to the giant screen you see in manhattan at time square. Chao!
thwg April 11, 2011 at 08:22 PM
I don't understand how Atlantic Station is catering to intown residents. They have one of the largest and cheapest parking areas in Midtown which only draws people from the suburbs. The security and management is also hostile to groups of cyclists. Any time I've been there with a group of cyclists, we've been threatened to be kicked out and/or arrested. It's also not very easy or inviting to walk to from other areas in Midtown. The only reason I ever go there is because they have one of the largest theaters within cycling/walking distance, but I always prefer Midtown Art Cinema if it's an option. None of the restaurants there are interesting either, they're just expensive chain restaurants.
jolie June 25, 2011 at 03:01 AM
@ doni african american buckhead resident your daughters are already hanging out with the "undesirables" when you and Clarence Thomas are out playing golf on wednesdays. The "undesirable elements/ demographics" are at your house eating up your food and watching dirty movies with the girls. Get your head out of your a** and stop thinking the "white mans ice is colder"


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