2014 Yields Exciting Future for Downtown
by John Izard
Over the past 10 years, more than $6 billion has been invested in Downtown Atlanta. Surrounding Centennial Olympic Park – the real legacy of hosting the 1996 Games – is a critical mass of entertainment destinations such as the Georgia Aquarium, World of Coke, Georgia Dome, Philips Arena, CNN Center, and Georgia World Congress Center.
And, as we turn the calendar to 2015, we can look back on a year that may have started to reshape both the reality and the perception of what Downtown Atlanta is.
The National Center for Civil and Human Rights opened in June on the north edge of Centennial Olympic Park, near the World of Coca-Cola. This new museum takes visitors on a chronological walk through civil rights history, detailing the struggles of minorities of all stripes to gain equal footing in both the United States and the world.
Just steps away, the College Football Hall of Fame is also one of the most notable additions to the collection of attractions Downtown, completing its move from South Bend, Ind., and opening to the public before the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic football game in late August. It’s an immersive, interactive experience for college football fans, who get to wander its halls looking at exhibits personalized to their favorite team.
Taking you to both is the Atlanta Streetcar, which carried its first passengers Dec. 30 between the south side of Centennial Park, near the Skyview ferris wheel, and the Martin Luther King Jr. Center near the Edgewood retail district. There, the Streetcar’s launch has brought with it a wave of optimism for area businesses, many of whom have limited or no parking but now see a lifeline connecting them to the heart of Downtown. Importantly, the Streetcar’s current eastern terminus is only ½-mile from the Beltline, with the City and Atlanta Beltline Inc. razor focused on completing this connection within the next 6-8 years.
Those may be the most prominent completed projects from 2014, but Downtown has plenty more in the planning stages over the next few years.
With all these new attractions, there are a number of hotel redevelopments and renovations in the works. Also, investment sales activity last year was sparked by investors purchasing older office buildings and adapting them for new uses, such as apartments, classrooms and retail/event space to take advantage of new young people wanting to live Downtown.
Due to that renewed interest in urban living, Downtown’s residential base has been growing, along with the number of apartment and condo options in the area. The area’s population is approaching 30,000, and retailers are taking notice of this growing and affluent market that’s just shy of 100% occupancy today.
One of the most anticipated examples of this is WRS Inc.’s pending purchase of Underground Atlanta. They plan to invest $150 million to $200 million in revamping the property to include new multifamily units and retail that could include Downtown’s first true full-service grocery store.
In addition, the impact of Georgia State University can’t be minimized – more than one million square feet of former commercial space is currently being developed or renovated by GSU. This includes a new law school set to be completed in the spring and the purchase of former office buildings like 55 Park Place and 100 Auburn Avenue for use by the university and its 32,000+ downtown students. GSU’s recent merger with Georgia Perimeter College has made it the state’s largest university, and this student-body presence in Downtown creates a vibrant and exciting environment for office workers, residents, and visitors alike.
Despite all it has to offer, Downtown continues to be a relative bargain, compared to other urban office markets, with competitive office rental rates and a wide range of options for businesses. While other office submarkets may be getting tighter as companies relocate and/or expand, Downtown still offers a window of opportunity for firms interested in an urban location and all the benefits that come with a Downtown address.
And there have never been more attractions than there are today. Even the New York Times has taken notice of the work Atlanta has done to turn Downtown into a destination, naming it one of their “52 Places to Go in 2014,” sitting alongside world luminaries like Dubai, The Vatican and Athens, Greece.
In summary, there’s a lot more going on in Downtown Atlanta that you may be aware of. Do yourself a favor and come take a look – there’s an exciting 24/7 neighborhood for businesses, residents, and visitors that has unjustly been out of the limelight for far too long. Last year set up Downtown for plenty of success, and there’s no reason to think the momentum can’t continue for 2015.