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Prime time: Iconic Downtown Landmarks set for redevelopment

April 6,2015

via Atlanta Business Chronicle

By Martin Sinderman

Redevelopment of prime real estate that is currently home to four Atlanta landmarks — Underground Atlanta, the Boisfeuillet Jones Atlanta Civic Center, the Georgia Dome, and Turner Field — stands to, over time, provide a high-density, mixed-use boost to downtown.

Out of the four, only Underground Atlanta has, at press time, made it past the RFP process with a developer selected. But there’s a good chance that all of them could “be spoken for” by someone during the next five years or so, according to A.J. Robinson, president of Central Atlanta Progress.

By being redeveloped into major new activity hubs, the impact of these projects would have a dramatic impact on downtown.

“The scale of each is massive, and there is the potential to create a tremendous amount of density in each of these projects, making them all destinations,” said Robinson. “And the really good news is that timing is with us, as these properties will be coming on the market during a particularly strong real estate cycle.”

Strategic locations

WRS Inc. is currently doing its due diligence before closing its $25.75 million deal to buy Underground Atlanta, downtown’s long-time, long-underperforming shopping, restaurant, and entertainment venue, later this year.

The three-level/225,000-square-foot complex is seen as a likely venue for redevelopment as a dense mix of retail and residential uses.

The Mount Pleasant, S.C.-based developer has the right ideas for Underground, according to Thad Ellis, senior vice president of Cousins Properties Inc.

“I think the fact they [WRS Inc.] have committed to developing above-ground as well as underground is terrific news. I’ve just got to believe there is demand for retail and multifamily at street level,” said Ellis.

With its strategic location, redevelopment of Underground “has the opportunity to be a catalyst for change, not only in its immediate area, but also for the south downtown central business district,” said Courtney Knight, managing director of redevelopment for Invest Atlanta, the economic development arm of the city.

Strategic location is also a quality of the 20-acre site of the Boisfeuillet Jones Atlanta Civic Center, Knight said.

“There will be no 20-acre site that close to downtown, Midtown, and the Old Fourth Ward, each with its own unique characteristics and dynamics, ever available again in this city,” Knight said.

In redeveloping this site, “It is very important that what goes there creates a live/work/play environment,” that captures what is happening in each of these areas, he adds.

In October, Invest Atlanta issued an RFP seeking proposals from developers to buy and redevelop the Civic Center site into an urban activity node combining residential, retail, office and other uses, creating “an economic anchor that activates the site, drives demand for new development, and facilitates the long-term integration of the downtown and Midtown business districts and the Old Fourth Ward neighborhood.”

Invest Atlanta is currently evaluating finalists, according to Knight, with tentative plans to provide a recommendation of a “Preferred Respondent” for approval by the Invest Atlanta Board of Directors in April.

The (doomed) Dome

In January, the Georgia World Congress Center Authority released a request for qualifications (RFQ) for an 800- to 1,200-room convention hotel that would support activities and events at the Georgia World Congress Center (GWCC), Centennial Olympic Park, and the new Atlanta Falcons stadium.

The hotel would be located on portion of the GWCC campus that is now the site of the Georgia Dome, the 1.6 million-square-foot stadium at Northside and Georgia Dome drives.

“A new hotel built on the western side [of the campus] will help balance the complex’s uses and make downtown Atlanta even more marketable,” said Becky Ward, senior vice president with architecture-design firm tvsdesign.

Having more conveniently located hotel rooms would bring more activity to the GWCC, “which would be a very good thing for Atlanta. The economic boost that conventions and visitation bring is very significant,” according to David D. Marvin, president of Legacy Property Group LLC, a developer whose downtown Atlanta projects include Embassy Suites Atlanta at Centennial Olympic Park and the Glenn Hotel.

A hotel on the site of the Georgia Dome would also be a good complement to the new Falcons stadium, he said. “The new stadium in and of itself is terrific, but I think it would be even more terrific if it had 800 to 1,200 hotel rooms next door.”

Tackling the Ted

The redevelopment of the Turner Field site and surrounding parking “could basically create a city within a city just south of downtown Atlanta,” according to Knight.

The Ted is, of course, home of the Atlanta Braves baseball team until it moves to its new Cobb County digs for the 2017 season. In the meantime, the Braves lease on the property, which is owned by the Atlanta Fulton County Recreation Authority, expires in 2016.

Ambitious plans to repurpose the stadium, surround it with mixed-use development, and link it to downtown have been floated, but implementation of any of them is problematic until after the Braves lease ends and the property is put up for sale.

In the meantime, Invest Atlanta, the city of Atlanta, and members of the community will be using a $200,000 grant from the Atlanta Regional Commission to conduct a study that develops a shared vision and plan for Turner Field and surrounding neighborhoods, as well as formulate strategies to encourage development/redevelopment.

“What we hope to do is dovetail that study with the ultimate RFP process for the redevelopment of the stadium, so that the surrounding neighborhoods are indeed served by what goes there,” Knight said.