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Atlanta Housing Authority set to buy Civic Center for $31 million

September 1,2017

Source: J. Scott Trubey, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The Atlanta Civic Center could soon have its second act.

On Thursday, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed announced a new plan to sell the city’s aging civic center in a deal officials say will create much-needed affordable housing close to jobs centers in Midtown and downtown and a short walk from MARTA rail.

The plan to sell the theater and surrounding land for $31 million to the Atlanta Housing Authority would mark a fresh start for a land deal that was scuttled last year. Joining the housing authority in the project is Weingarten Realty of Texas, the same firm that had been in prolonged talks with the city to buy the complex before Mayor Kasim Reed pulled the plug last October.

Many of the details remain to be worked out, but Catherine Buell, the housing authority president and CEO, said a minimum of 30 percent of the residential units built on site would be reserved as affordable. The site likely will have multiple residential towers, she said.

Construction will take at least two years after the deal closes, which is expected to take place Nov. 1.

“This is the first time that the housing authority will have a dynamic space like this downtown,” Buell said.

Weingarten, Reed said, would be responsible for retail and office space on the site, while AHA handles the residential.

A representative for Weingarten in Atlanta said he was not authorized to comment because of matters of confidentiality.

Reed said the civic center building likely will not be saved, though a smaller performing arts center is under consideration for the site.

The Boisfeuillet Jones Atlanta Civic Center, long a money-loser for the city, could be a prime redevelopment site. The city started the process of selling it in 2014, and the following year Reed announced he was seeking a deal with Weingarten for the nearly 20-acre site.

Weingarten previously wanted to buy the complex for $30 million, and announced an ambitious $300 million redevelopment that would raze the civic center and replace it with a mix of apartments, retail, office space and a park

But talks dragged on and Reed ultimately announced he was abandoning a deal last October.

Talks were renewed with the AHA stepping in as lead developer and Weingarten as a partner. The project also will require a substantial project by the city’s Watershed Department to fix storm water issues that regularly swamp the property and those surrounding it during heavy rains.

Reed said the city was examining a larger underground vault or a detention pond that could serve as a water feature similar to the popular Historic Fourth Ward Park and the future Rodney C. Cook Sr. Park on the Westside.

The scuttled sale was seen as a setback, and many in the real estate community said the nearby Peachtree-Pine homeless shelter weighed on the purchase price of the property. Reed said last year that the city would likely wait until a process to seize the homeless shelter by eminent domain was completed before returning the property to market.

Reed said the closing of the controversial homeless shelter will aid in the area’s transformation. So too will further efforts to rid the area of crime, in particular nearby Renaissance Park.

“Right now that park is a challenge because of the number of drug users and the amount of prostitution that occurs in that park,” Reed said.

Like many growing cities, affordable housing has become a pressing issue in Atlanta. Much of the new development in the city since the Great Recession has been geared to luxury buyers and renters.

The city has a number of programs, including one by the city’s development arm, Invest Atlanta, to provide tax incentives in exchange for a percentage of rental units being reserved at rents affordable for working families.

It was not immediately clear how much, if any, tax incentives might be involved in the deal.

The AHA has a few new projects in the pipeline, including a mixed-income development at the former Herndon Homes site near Mercedes-Benz Stadium that is expected to include 700 apartments.

Since the mid-1990s, the AHA has shifted to replace aging public housing stock with new mixed-income communities.

Reed said the project will put “working people and affordable housing in an area of the city where people really want to live and right on transit,” which said is a high priority.