How a series of projects are transforming South Downtown

December 8,2017

Source: Douglas Sams, Atlanta Business Chronicle

It’s difficult to find a neighborhood anywhere in the country poised for a greater metamorphosis than Atlanta’s historic South Downtown.

The area, with roots dating back to the commercial beginnings of the city, has more than $1.5 billion worth of new projects in the works, including:

  • The proposed $400 million development of “The Gulch,” a collection of railroad lines and vacant parking lots that once formed an important railway hub for the Southeast.
  • Newport U.S. RE’s sweeping plans for several dozen buildings and parking lots along Peachtree, Mitchell and Broad streets.
  • The $300 redevelopment of Underground Atlanta at Alabama and Pryor streets, which for decades has struggled for viability.
  • A nearly $193 million renovation to Philips Arena, home of the Atlanta Hawks, which would be complemented by the new entertainment district just outside its doors in the Gulch.

An effort to connect those areas with the redevelopment of Turner Field to the south will be closely watched. Now called Georgia State Stadium, the project and surrounding neighborhoods including Summerhill, Peoplestown and Mechanicsville are an important part of the transformation, but for now they remain cut off from the rest of South Downtown by the Connector and Interstate 20.

The wave of projects has placed South Downtown, under-appreciated for years, in the spotlight. In recent months, it has emerged as a top candidate to land Amazon’s proposed $5 billion second headquarters, known as HQ2. The Gulch would fit Amazon’s criteria for an urban, walkable downtown campus.

South Downtown may end up sharing parallels with the country’s most sweeping urban transformations, including Lower Downtown Denver, or LoDo, a 23-block area that dates back to the oldest part of that city, and Hudson Yards, a nearly 30-acre project on the edge of Manhattan.

But, with so many projects in the pipeline, the potential speed of South Downtown’s renaissance is remarkable, said Jennifer Ball, vice president of planning and economic development for Central Atlanta Progress. “It’s true that one of the areas we’ve looked at for comparison is LoDo, but keep in mind development there has been occurring for more than a decade.”

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