MARTA Plans Series of Pedestrian-Friendly Villages

February 6,2014

The area around the King Memorial station will be the first part of MARTA's plan to entice more riders by allowing developers to build apartment and shopping destinations on underused parking lots at its rail stations.

To get to the King Memorial Transit Station from the south side, MARTA patrons have to venture through a graffiti-scarred, trash-strewn tunnel beneath a set of railroad tracks.

But MARTA is making plans to transform the unsightly tunnel and a large parking lot adjacent to the King Memorial station into the first in a series of pedestrian-friendly villages beside its transit stations. The one at King Memorial is farthest along in the planning process, but similar developments are expected to be launched over the next two years.

The improvements aren’t solely designed to beautify the neighborhoods around the stations. They are aimed at boosting MARTA ridership, said Amanda Rhein, senior director of transit-oriented development for MARTA.

As many as 500 additional daily trips could result from a proposal to lease a four-acre parking lot beside the station to a developer, Walton Communities. MARTA Board members were briefed on the proposal Thursday.

If all goes as planned, the company wants to build about 380 apartments and 13,000 square feet of street-level retail space for stores, offices and restaurants, Rhein said.

MARTA’s board still has to vote on the deal at a later time and negotiations are still underway with Walton Communities about the terms of the lease.”

The idea behind the development is to create an atmosphere similar to the apartment and retail center at Lindbergh Center station. That project took about five years from start to finish and this one will likely take just as long.

A second transit-oriented development is in the pipeline for a seven-acre parcel at MARTA’s Avondale rail station, in partnership with the city of Decatur. A request for proposals has been issued, but a development team has not yet been selected.

In its five-year strategic plan for transit-oriented development, MARTA has identified eight other stations as having the potential for additional development. Those stations are: Brookhaven/Oglethorpe, Edgewood/Candler Park, Lindbergh Center, Hamilton E. Holmes, Medical Center, Lakewood/ Ft. McPherson, Kensington and Chamblee.

“There is excitement we’ve heard from the real estate community within Atlanta about MARTA being open for business,” said Rhein. “I think for a long time, they have seen these stations as a huge development opportunity.”

Three developers have submitted proposals since MARTA began a procurement process for King Memorial station about a year ago. Marietta-based developer Walton Communities is the front-runner because MARTA sees the company as a “long term buy-and-hold developer,” said John Crocker, director of development and regional coordination for MARTA.

Atlanta, once known as the poster child of sprawl, has seen an emergence of denser, more walkable urban developments since the 1990s, according to a recent study on “WalkUPs” or Walkable Urban Places, conducted by the George Washington University School of Business. Such developments now make up more than 50 percent of the market share. Developers like them because they can generate rents that are on average 112 percent higher per square foot than suburban real estate in car-dependent regions.

A spokesperson for Walton Communities, David Loeffl, said the transit station was what made the King Memorial station project appealing to them.

“As Atlanta continues to grow, transit options are going to become important factors that people look at when they decide where to live and where to work and spend their time,” Loeffl said. “It’s about a piece of real estate being connected into that overall neighborhood. The adjacency of the transit helps make that happen.”

Rental rates for the apartments will be about $1.34 per square foot. MARTA officials said representatives of Walton Communities have assured them their rental prices will be competitive with Pencil Factory Flats nearby. Monthly unit prices at that complex range from about $900 for a studio to $2,300 for a three-bedroom, three-bathroom floor plan, according to the Pencil Factory Flats website.