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Older buildings getting new life

April 22,2015

via Atlanta Business Chronicle

By Christine Hall

When an urban core has buildings that are nearly 100 years old, eventually, they outlive their usefulness in their current condition.

Rather than completely demolish, many developers are either giving new life to these historic buildings or looking for new ways to use them. As a result, downtown Atlanta has some projects going on that are bringing some new concepts to the area.

Among then are: 230 Peachtree, being developed by Portman Holdings LLC, is an office building that will have a portion of it converted into a boutique hotel; Lucror Resources LLC is developing 84 Peachtree, known as the Flatiron Building, into an entrepreneurial hub with space for Microsoft Corp.’s innovation center; and ScoutMob founder Michael Tavani is turning Switchyards, at 151 Spring St., into an incubator for small businesses.

Tavani admits he’s not a real estate guy, so he jokes that what he’s doing with Switchyards, an underused building constructed in the 1920s, is “flipping traditional real estate on its head,” trying to create the best use of the building, currently being used by Atlanta Legal Aid. He closes on the property soon, and plans for the 19,000-square-foot building include space for about 129 people to work there — mainly as technology startups, as well as create a hotel lobby feel on the ground floor with a coffee shop, lounge-areas for meetings and an event space. Tavani envisions the tenants will be on the younger side, 20s and 30s, who will appreciate the walkability of the location.

“I’ve been a startup guy most of my adult life, so I recognize that being together as a small team in a space is valuable,” Tavani said. “I view the building, not as cost per square foot, but as a consumer product: What is the best experience we can put inside that building?”

Over at the Flatiron Building, Arun Nijhawan, managing principal at Lucror Resources, said it has always been an office building, though advisers thought it could be redeveloped into condominiums or a boutique hotel.

Nijhawan said, ultimately, it worked best for office space, and the redevelopment will be tailored to younger companies, entrepreneurs and others, even academia, who want to have an innovation center nearby.

The building will have three income streams: Tenants and a food hall and a coffee shop and/or bar in the lobby, Nijhawan said. “We want to create life in our lobby. When you typically look at an office building, you see a big, vacuous space that is not revenue-generating.”

In addition to food, plans include a lounge area that will be accessible to the public, a destination for tenants to use to relax and a place to host events. Microsoft is putting its innovation center in the building so the lobby will also feature an interactive experience with products such as touch screens and Xboxes, he said.

Tavani and Nijhawan both say that the price point for the downtown area enables adaptive reuse to be done well.

“Downtown Atlanta is totally undervalued, which I try not to say too much,” Tavani said. “It allowed me to buy an old building that had great bones, but not pay millions of dollars for it. Plus, it is all about the experience we were trying to create, which a new building wouldn’t have provided.”