Areas around Woodruff Park begin transformation
By Doug DeLoach
During the period leading up to the 1996 Olympic Games, the downtown area that became Centennial Olympic Park underwent a dramatic transformation the impact of which reverberates today. The park now serves as one of the city’s largest outdoor event spaces. Facilities such as the Georgia Aquarium, College Football Hall of Fame and Center for Civil and Human Rights are popular destinations for tourists and locals, which has been a boon to retail and hospitality businesses.
A few blocks south, a surge of development activity is prompting speculation about a similar renaissance transpiring in the vicinity of Woodruff Park and Five Points, which for decades was considered downtown Atlanta’s primary greenspace and commercial hub.
Following an exodus of corporate enterprises and retail businesses in the 1980s and 1990s, the area lay nearly fallow. Today, spurred by renewed interest in intown living and a recovering economic landscape, corporate and institutional developers have capitalized on the situation by acquiring distressed properties at bargain prices, which are now being reconditioned and repurposed.
“I believe we’re on the front end of a major transformation on this end of downtown, with the addition of more living spaces, the renovations to large office spaces like the Equitable building, and the completion of the Atlanta Streetcar,” said Jim Hannan, CEO and president of Georgia-Pacific. “We’re also excited about the potential for attracting startups in the Flatiron building, and what’s in store for the redevelopment of Underground [Atlanta] a bit further south.”
In the absence of the same political impetus and financial investment that supported the Centennial Olympic Park initiative, developers are nevertheless encouraged by transformative steps taken in recent years, such as the assumption of stewardship duties at Woodruff Park by Central Atlanta Progress/Atlanta Downtown Improvement District (ADID). Since 2007, ADID has been responsible for daily upkeep and programming at the park, and for securing ongoing developmental funding.
“You see positive changes across the entire downtown sector, but a lot of activity is concentrated around Woodruff Park including the good work CAP has done around management of the park environs,” said Mark Becker, president of Georgia State University.
In 2006, as part of a master development and expansion plan, the Georgia State University Foundation Inc. purchased the SunTrust Bank property for $52 million. The purchase included the 26-story office tower and lobby, a six-story annex building, a four-story vacant building, and an eight-story parking deck. The GSU College of Arts & Sciences has been moving into the tower.
In 2013 GSU purchased the 55 Park Place building for $33.5 million. With nearly 560,000 square feet over 19 floors including two interior atria, the former Georgia-Pacific Plaza will be the new home of the J. Mack Robinson College of Business and the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies. A few blocks north at Park Place and John Wesley Dobbs Avenue, a new building slated to open in the spring will house GSU’s College of Law.
In late 2014, the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation announced it was giving GSU $22.8 million to transform the three-story former SunTrust bank lobby at Edgewood Avenue and Park Place into the Creative Media Industries Institute, a media production center.
“The transformation of the old Trust Company Bank (SunTrust) main branch and executive office building will enliven the Woodruff Park neighborhood,” said Russ Hardin, president of the Woodruff Foundation. “The renovation of the ‘Cube’ will be the next step in the evolution of our old central business district into a vibrant urban university campus.”
In market research, GSU officials found prospective students and their parents wanted an academic institution that provided internship opportunities within a range of industries. “That’s in our sweet spot, particularly with MARTA and the proximity of the campus to those types of opportunities,” Becker said. “Many people saw being downtown as a negative; we chose to see it as a positive.”
Steps along the way to a mini-renaissance in Woodruff Park
- 2005-6: Georgia State University draws up master plan for development and expansion of campus facilities with input from Central Atlanta Progress
- 2011: America’s Capital Partners purchases the Equitable Building for $19 million followed by renovation and, two years later, Koch Business Solutions LP signs a 90,000-square-foot leasing deal at the tower
- 2013: GSU purchases 55 Park Place building for $33.5 million
- 2013: Fairlead Commercial Real Estate and The Creations Group acquires 34 Peachtree for $11.8 million
- 2014: Lucror Resources LLC purchases Flatiron Building for $1.95 million, announces plans to develop property into a startup hub
- 2014: GSU receives $22.8 million gift from Robert W. Woodruff Foundation to develop the Creative Media Industries Institute and implement streetscape enhancements
- 2014: Atlanta Streetcar opens for passenger service