Complete streets’ plans move forward in fast-evolving Midtown corridors

The neighborhood’s transportation infrastructure needs an update to keep pace with ongoing development boom

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While many promised “complete streets” projects are in limbo, awaiting the results of Renew Atlanta and TSPLOST officials’ “rebaselining” efforts, Midtown leaders are moving forward with plans to overhaul a couple of busy corridors to accommodate more than vehicles.

Currently, Spring Street, which runs one-way south, and West Peachtree Street, which runs north, are designed to allow cars to zip on and off the Connector expressway seamlessly.

But seemingly endless development is happening along those roads, especially closer to Tech Square. And high-speed motoring isn’t exactly conducive to the sort of environment many Midtown dwellers desire.

So Midtown Alliance, with the help of the City of Atlanta and Georgia Department of Transportation, is mapping out complete streets plans for Spring and West Peachtree streets.

Tentatively, the approach calls for putting both corridors on a road diet, which means nixing a car lane in exchange for cyclist and pedestrian infrastructure, such as bike lanes and wider sidewalks.

“Spring and West Peachtree streets were initially designed to get motorists through Midtown,” said Midtown Alliance Director of Transportation Dan Hourigan, according to a news release. “With more development and more residents, these corridors need to serve people, not just cars, so improving safety for everyone is crucial.”

The idea is to slow motorists down. Midtown Alliance officials have been studying drivers entering Spring Street from the highway, and it seems many have trouble easing into the 35-mph speed limit.

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The proposals also outline plans to spruce up the thoroughfares with new streetside trees, public art, and ADA-compliant ramps and crosswalks.

The Spring Street section of the complete streets initiative kicked off in early 2018, and the projects—including West Peachtree Street’s—recently matured to the design and engineering phase.

It’s all part of the Midtown Transportation Plan, which was integrated into a transportation plan the Atlanta City Council adopted in December.

The need for complete streets and other transportation infrastructure upgrades was reinforced by a 2016 survey Midtown Alliance conducted, in which 94 percent of the 3,500 participants said increased walkability needs to be a top priority.

That’s not the only study that shows Atlantans want to become less car-dependant.

A Renew Atlanta and TSPLOST survey, which closed last month, found that complete streets projects are a must, according to the 1,500 people polled.

“As the city continues to grow, maximizing the existing infrastructure and shifting travel away from driving alone is a must,” Hourigan said. “Accomplishing this by providing high-quality pedestrian and bicycle facilities is exactly what projects like this one intend to deliver.”

In related news, the John Portman and Associates-designed Coda office tower—one of three Portman projects on a short strip of West Peachtree Street—opens today, adding to the long roster of newly delivered developments in Midtown.

By Sean Keenan – Curbed Atlanta
Link to original article

Rise of backlash: Protecting the economic development incentives created to help Atlanta communities

For eight years, Julian Bene sat on the board of Invest Atlanta, which approves tax breaks for developers in the city.

Bene was often a lone dissenting voice during his time on the board. But now he is taking on a more prominent role: the leader of a new, populist surge of resistance against local government incentives for private developers.

“Even the economic development that I was supporting was not translating into more tax revenues to help more residents out,” Bene said. “That became my ‘a-ha moment’ a year before I left.”

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Since the end of the Great Recession, Atlanta has boomed. The city’s population grew from 422,800 to more than 486,000between 2010 and 2017, with thousands of new apartments to house them.

The office market has taken off with it, with the equivalent of nearly five Bank of America towers — the tallest office building in the Southeast — being added to the market, filled with marquee names like NCRAnthem Healthcare and Worldpay.

During that time, city and county officials have regularly granted developers incentives to encourage the building of all kinds of commercial projects — from mid-rise apartment buildings to distribution facilities to corporate giants’ gleaming new Midtown office towers.

But as Atlanta faces a worsening affordable housing crunch and continues to reckon with some of the country’s worst congestion, critics of the incentives, which largely come in the form of tax breaks, are starting to get louder.

Proponents of incentives say they produce tremendous economic impact. Tax abatements offered through Invest Atlantaaccording to Atlanta’s annual financial report, generated more than $310M in revenue in 2018 along with the creation of 205 jobs and 860 housing units.

Because of the positives associated with new development, almost every project that applies for a tax incentive in Atlanta receives approval, industry experts say. And most projects apply for a tax break.

“Many cities around the country have given incentives away on projects that probably don’t need them,” said David Wilson, vice president at development firm Ryan Cos. “Many developments have gotten through, and people haven’t batted an eye.”

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Since leaving Invest Atlanta last year, Bene has spearheaded a group fighting against the biggest incentive package ever devised for private development in Atlanta: $1.9B to redevelop a sea of asphalt and rail lines in Downtown Atlanta, called the Gulch, into 9M SF of office, 1M SF of retail, 2,100 apartment units and 1,500 hotel rooms. The package of tax breaks was approved in November, but not until Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms had to push back several votes and make last-minute concessions to win over a skeptical City Council.

Bene’s group, Red Light The Gulch, organized speakers to loudly protest the incentive package, mounting some of the staunchest development opposition in the city’s history.

“I’m a dangerous guy to have around,” Bene said. “So far, they haven’t found a way to get to me.”

The Incentive Game

Economic development incentives were created to help communities. They can entice developers to build in neighborhoods that may be neglected, or take a chance on reviving neighborhood eyesores, by helping to offset an owner’s risk.

Developers don’t get a blank check from governments — supporters of incentives contend property tax breaks are simply bequeathing a portion of future property tax revenues generated by the new development to offset the costs for building it.

Without the new project, tax revenues on the property would remain lower than they would without the infusion of new businesses, retail sales and the rise in the property’s overall value.

There are also rising land and construction costs to consider, and regulatory hurdles that have to be overcome. Incentives can be key to get projects off the ground by helping justify those costs, Fuqua Development principal Jeff Fuqua said.

“Nobody is writing a check. You have to produce the development,” Fuqua said. “If you don’t create that, then there’s no money. A lot of people think it’s corporate welfare, but it’s not at all. You have to produce a huge amount of activity to really benefit.”

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Projects in some of the hottest markets in Atlanta — like Midtown and Buckhead, where companies and residents continue to flock for all the accoutrements of urban life — don’t necessarily need incentives to get built, opponents maintain, and they still put pressure on infrastructure and government services.

“A lot of times these tax abatements are going to projects in areas where assistance doesn’t seem like it’s needed,” Atlanta City Councilman Amir Farokhi said. “Even within my own district, I see this. Midtown is a high-demand area, and we continue to see various sorts of tax abatements going there.”

The Rise Of The Backlash

While the granting of incentives has largely gone unnoticed by most of the general public for years, that changed last year, not just in Atlanta but across the country, thanks in large part to Amazon’s hunt for a second headquarters location.

Governments all over North America offered lucrative and appealing incentives — like tax breaks, land and even cash — to lure the online retail giant to their region. Critics say tax abatements, while effective in attracting employers and developers, have real consequences for municipalities across the country.

Massachusetts-based think tank Lincoln Institute of Land Policy estimated in 2012 that cities and counties across the country lose anywhere from $5B to $10B annually in forgone property tax revenues. In the years since that study has come out, the arms race to lure jobs has only increased.

Atlanta City Council President Felicia Moore said this awareness and backlash toward incentives has been rising since well before the Gulch vote.

“You saw it all sort of explode with the Gulch,” Moore said. “People felt like the companies were either here already and weren’t going anywhere, or [already] had the financial wherewithal.”

Moore said there is a growing idea among residents in the city that whatever jobs are being created are not being filled by local residents, further exacerbating resentment.

“Jobs are always touted as a reason, but there’s never been a direct — at least in the public’s mind — tie between the jobs that are available and them getting the jobs,” she said.

During his time at Invest Atlanta, Bene investigated the impact of three issues that he says are draining city, county and school coffers: property tax abatements and tax allocation districts on the Eastside and Westside; sales tax stagnation; and commercial real estate values that have been chronically under-assessed.

Abatements alone cost the city of Atlanta, Fulton County and Fulton County schools as much as $40M a year in lost revenues, Bene wrote. The Eastside and Westside tax allocation districts, another popular form of incentives, generated a loss of $28M annually, he said.

“If we had no abatements, I would say that there would probably be no change in the amount of office and luxury apartments that got built,” Bene said.

He conceded that perhaps they would not be as elaborate or on such a grand scale in some cases, but they would have moved forward nonetheless because of Atlanta’s huge, and growing, demand.

“Yeah, we’d be better off,” he said.

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Bene was among the many citizens who came before the Atlanta City Council to lodge their protests against the Gulch deal. In the months since, Bene has solidified that into his Red Light The Gulch organization. While the new group continues to battle in courts over the Gulch deal, Bene is using it as a vehicle to fight other big incentive packages in the city.

Protests against incentives for big projects are not relegated to Atlanta. A populist uprising against so-called “corporate welfare” — led by Democratic Socialist Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, alongside a group of local politicians — was a reason why Amazon decided to pull the plug on plans for a portion of its second headquarters in Long Island City, New York.

Farokhi, who was elected to Atlanta City Council in 2017, said more and more, the public is asking worthy questions when it comes to public incentives. Does a project create a public benefit that improves their lives? Do the projects getting incentives fit into their community’s overall vision? Are public incentives needed where market demand is already high?

“We’re not quite reconciling all three of those things,” he said. “To a lot of people, the answer appears to be no.”

Farokhi represents District 2 in Atlanta, which includes some of the city’s hottest neighborhoods: Midtown, the Old Fourth WardInman Park and portions of Downtown. Farokhi was one of six council members who voted against portions of the Gulch incentive package.

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CCIM Institute Chief Economist KC Conway said one reason for the widespread pushback has been the Great Recession itself. When the economy sank, there were cuts to public services and infrastructure left neglected as municipalities struggled with shrinking budgets.

What’s more property taxes are the lifeblood of public school systems. On average, public school systems receive anywhere from 65% to 80% of their budgets from the taxes property owners shell out every year, Conway said. So while developers have been incentivized with tax breaks to push new developments, Conway said many residents saw a stagnation in schools or in infrastructure improvements.

“Every chance we have to potentially benefit from development, you take it away and give it to the developer for 10 years,” Conway said. “The local community is saying, ‘Wait a minute. We’re not seeing our schools improve.’ They get all upset, and they get involved in the political process and bring things to a halt.”

Moore, who won a runoff election for council president in 2017, said Atlanta’s various TADs account for 16% of the city’s overall debt. That could spell trouble for the its budget in the next recession.

“If we don’t start looking at … closing [some TADs] and start addressing tax revenue directly, we don’t have any other ways to raise tax revenue,” other than raising property taxes on homeowners, which would be hugely unpopular, she said.

When It Works

Developers and economic development officials say a project’s success takes patience, especially when it is transforming an underused piece of property or an underserved community.

“If, in fact, you don’t have incentives, why would developers come to areas in need of redevelopment?” Dentons partner Steve Labovitz said.

Even in hot submarkets in Atlanta like Midtown and Buckhead, some developers say they need incentives just to be competitive. Land costs and construction costs have skyrocketed. If a developer building one property got an incentive, then it would be an unfair advantage to not give one to another being built nearby, Labovitz said.

“It’s always a balancing test,” he said. “It’s not clear-cut either way.”Screen Shot 2019-03-30 at 11.52.58 AM

One of the city’s premier developments, Atlantic Station, was the beneficiary of incentives before a single tower ever rose. Advocates for incentives say it represents a great example of how the tax breaks can be used to have a long-term impact beyond the initial incentives.

The mini-city in Midtown Atlanta sits on what was once a plot of land that was contaminated by its former life as a heavy industrial site. Today, Atlantic Station is home to office towers, apartments and prominent retail.

The developer, Jacoby Development, and its partner, AIG Global Real Estate Investment Corp., spent $250M on removing those contaminants from the soil after they purchased it in 1999. In exchange, the developer got the benefit of $170M in TAD financing on the project. Last year, Jacoby CEO Jim Jacoby told the Atlanta Business Chronicle that there was no way that project would have happened without the TAD.

Jacoby and AIG sold the development in 2011, and pieces of it have traded hands since. But the TAD bonds, which had an outstanding balance of $195.6M as of August, mature Dec. 1, 2024.

Before Atlantic Station, the 138-acre parcel generated $365K in property taxes a year, Jacoby said. Today, property taxes alone are now $30M a year, on top of the $40M in sales tax revenue it generates.

“From $365K to $70M — is that a good story or what?” Jacoby said.

Atlantic Station has become the catalyst for the growth of Atlanta’s Westside, today one of the hottest areas in the entire region. That’s the ultimate goal for the Gulch for Downtown Atlanta, despite the contention, Labovitz said.

It will take time to see its impact, but city officials calculated that Atlanta will make back multiples of the $1.9B it is giving up.

“There is a backlash, I think, [with] big projects and the amount of money [they receive] because they take a lot of time,” Labovitz said. “Thirty years from now when the Gulch is built out, people may be saying, ‘This is the greatest thing since sliced bread.’”

 

By: Jarred Schenke – Bisnow

March 4, 2019

Link to original article

New 3-mile trail will link Beltline to downtown

A new trail project is planned that will connect downtown’s Centennial Olympic Park to the Atlanta Beltline, near the future Westside Park at Bellwood Quarry.

The PATH Foundation, Atlanta BeltLine Inc. and city of Atlanta are partnering on the roughly three-mile trail, including a new three-fourth-mile spur of the Beltline. The trail will begin at Centennial Olympic Park, run north over Ivan Allen Boulevard and along a former rail line to Marietta Boulevard at Huff Road.

“The Westside of Atlanta needs a really nice trail,” said Ed McBrayer, executive director of the PATH Foundation. “I think this is going to take off, and all of a sudden, there is going to be all kinds of development along the trail almost as soon it’s built. I think that area is ready to bloom.”

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A new trail project planned to connect downtown to the Atlanta Beltline, which would run through neighborhoods including English Avenue.

The project would be a next step in the PATH Foundation’s longtime goal to ultimately connect the Silver Comet Trail to downtown. The Silver Comet spans more than 90 miles from Anniston, Ala., to Smyrna, Ga. It would take about another 10 miles to connect it to downtown.

“We are driving the two ends toward the middle,” McBrayer said.

But perhaps more immediately, the trail project could provide an economic jolt to Atlanta’s Westside, especially in the long-overlooked neighborhoods such as English Avenue and Vine City.

“I’m convinced that this new spur is going to be an opportunity for some key neighborhoods to get connected into the Beltline, and ultimately into downtown, to make it the job creation, economic development hub in an area that has not seen a lot of significant investment,” said Clyde Higgs, CEO of Atlanta BeltLine Inc., which in recent months announced property acquisitions for the trail.

“I am very bullish on the Westside,” Higgs said, adding the Beltline has tracked new projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars planned for the area. “We are very positive about the activity that’s to come.”

McBrayer compared the potential of the Westside to other booming intown areas.

“Developers are all over that area,” McBrayer said. “It’s going to be more like the Eastside Beltline development pattern.”

He was referring to all the private investment that has come along the Beltline’s Eastside Trail, which connects neighborhoods including Midtown, Old Fourth Ward and Inman Park. Since that segment opened in late 2012, the Eastside Trail has attracted billions in projects around it, including Ponce City Market and soon-to-open developments, such as office tower 725 Ponce and the massive mixed-use Madison Yards.

In recent years, there’s been a concentrated philanthropic push to lift up Westside neighborhoods, especially with the building of Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Top Atlanta business leaders including Falcons owner Arthur Blank and Chick-fil-A Chairman and CEO Dan Cathy have helped lead the charge, along with the city of Atlanta and other major corporations.

The Georgia World Congress Center Authority also recently announced its new hotel project would front Northside Drive, with the goal of helping spur more economic development on the westside of its campus.

McBrayer said there is an aggressive timeline to open the trail – about three years.

“We are planning on starting the first phase on Aug. 15,” he said. That would begin work at Northside Drive and Ivan Allen Boulevard.

The trail will include lighting and security cameras. The majority of the project will have 14-foot trails, just like the Beltline.

The project cost has yet to be finalized, but McBrayer said the plan is to raise about $18.5 million in private donations. The James M. Cox Foundation donated $6 million to kick it off.

“The donor community has been really good to PATH in the past,” McBrayer said. “This is a wonderful project, so we aren’t anticipating funding being an issue.”

Over the past 23 years, the PATH Foundation has created 285 miles of trails around metro Atlanta.

“It is essential that Atlanta continue developing its system of paths and streets that are safe, interesting and pleasing for more people to walk and cycle,” said Tim Keane, Atlanta’s commissioner of city planning. “This is the transportation work of our time. We have built all the roads for cars we can. It’s now time to give everyone real choices. This work of PATH and the Beltline on the westside of Atlanta is a remarkable advancement of this system. It will connect downtown Atlanta and multiple neighborhoods on the westside as well as several public parks.”

Atlanta Business Chronicle recently awarded McBrayer with its 2019 Visionary Award for advocating, raising funds and catalyzing development of those paths and his commitment to help Atlanta break away from its dependence on cars.

By Amy Wenk & Maria Saporta – Atlanta Business Chronicle
Link to original article

Big Brothers Big Sisters puts Midtown HQ up for sale

Kwame Johnson, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters: “We are not putting a price on the building. We are going to let the market set the price. – BYRON E. SMALL

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metro Atlanta is selling its Midtown headquarters in a move that could bring the nearly 60-year-old organization several million dollars it could put toward its mission.

The property, with slightly more than half an acre at 17th and Peachtree streets, has location going for it. At just over 30,000 square feet, the Big Brothers Big Sisters headquarters is surrounded by nearly a half-billion dollars in new or ongoing projects.

For example, it’s a block from the planned 9-acre Midtown Union development at 17th, Spring and West Peachtree, which could include a 25-story office tower, 250-key hotel, up to 350 apartments and close to 90,000 square feet of retail.

A block east, Parkside Partners is making over a series of Midtown buildings into creative office space, with restaurants, a coffee shop and a 300-foot linear park.

Big Brothers Big Sisters bought its headquarters at 1382 Peachtree in 2011 for $4.2 million, according to Fulton County property records. It was the former home of architecture firm Perkins & Will.

The organization wants to sell the building this year and move out in 2020.

Proceeds from the sale could be a boon for its overarching hopes of addressing severe poverty in American families and finding young men to serve as mentors for boys who have grown up without a father figure. The agency has a similar program for young women and girls.

“We are not putting a price on the building,” said Kwame Johnson, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters. “We are going to let the market set the price.”

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Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metro Atlanta is selling its building at 1382 Peachtree Street in Midtown, on the corner of 17th Street. – BYRON E. SMALL

Johnson could be happy with the market, if recent sales and broker estimates are any indication. In late 2017, Parkside paid $19 million for the three nearby Midtown office buildings at 17th and Peachtree.

Several brokers estimated the Big Brothers Big Sisters property could sell for at least $6 million and possibly up to $8 million. It may be more attractive as a redevelopment. The brokers were unable to speak on the record because of confidentiality agreements.

The property is being marketed by Colliers International-Atlanta.

“How often can you find a nicely renovated building in the strongest market in the Southeast?” asked Colliers’ Michael Lipton, who is working on the project with colleague Jodi Selvey. Lipton could not put an asking price on the building.

Finding a buyer to occupy or redevelop the headquarters are both options, said Michele Pearce, chief external relations officer with the nonprofit.

A piece of the property includes a house built near the turn of the 20th century. The rest of the headquarters was expanded and renovated by former owner Perkins & Will, nearly 100 years later.

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A piece of the property includes a house built near the turn of the 20th century. The rest of the headquarters was expanded and renovated by former owner Perkins & Will, nearly 100 years later. – BYRON E. SMALL

The house could be preserved, as it’s one of the few remaining examples of residential mansions on Peachtree, Pearce said.

When Big Brothers Big Sisters bought the current headquarters eight years ago, it offered room to grow to more than 75 employees. Today, it has about 50 staff and the urban landscape has become more crowded and expensive.

Rents have soared to record highs across several U.S. cities including Atlanta. As a result, urban dwellers of all sizes, from fresh college graduates to major corporations, are seeking smaller spaces to live and work.

It’s no different for Big Brothers Big Sisters.

“We need to downsize,” Johnson said, suggesting the organization could squeeze into as little as 15,000 square feet.

Its move also comes as the city is still grappling with a long-term challenge of income inequality. In fact, Atlanta had the largest income inequality in the nation as of last year, according to the Brookings Institute.

At the same time, as the city of Atlanta comes off its largest single-year population increase in more than a decade, land and residential costs continue to climb — exacerbating the lack of affordable housing.

As the organization explores the sale of its headquarters and eventual relocation — possibly somewhere close to transit — Big Brothers Big Sisters will create a new model featuring a central location and satellite offices in the hardest-hit communities.

It will likely carry out its plan with other nonprofits focused on a similar mission.

Even as the United States enjoys one of its longest and most prosperous economic periods, many families remain in trouble, making the role of Big Brothers and Big Sisters critical. Consider that nearly 500,000 children in the 13-county metro Atlanta region live in low or very low child well-being, according to data from the United Way.

Big Brothers Big Sisters has about 400 boys and 100 girls on a waiting lists.

“We are laser-focused on poverty,” Johnson said.

 

By  and   –  Atlanta Business Chronicle

Link to original article

Former Midtown thrift store reborn as high-end auto center, lounge

Atlanta Development news: Piedmont Park

How the renovated structure meets a busy section of Monroe Drive. Photos courtesy of Autohaus Social

Thanks to the recent rehab of an ailing 1950s building in a highly trafficked location, intown automobile enthusiasts near Piedmont Park no longer need to head OTP or visit corporate dealerships when it’s time to service European cars.

Or when it’s time to socialize.

At Autohaus Social, located on Monroe Drive near the intersection of Boulevard, just south of the park, owners of European cars—think Porsche, Volkswagen, Audi, Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Mini—can now take their cars in for regular maintenance, diagnostics and repair, alignment, and other automotive services.

An auto shop in such a walkable location may seem unusual to urbanists, but owner Nash Tehrani calls it the perfect spot.

“Two main reasons I chose this location, as opposed to the conventional areas for an automotive shop, were that I wanted to invest in the neighborhood I grew up in, and, also, I wanted to provide a necessity to the intown families,” Tehrani said in an interview with Curbed Atlanta.

Built in 1952, the building originally served as an automotive brake and transmission repair shop, but more recently was known as The Step Up Society thrift store.

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However, at the time Tehrani purchased the property, it was vacant and sorely neglected.

“The building was literally about to collapse on itself,” Tehrani said. “A lot was invested into the structural support of the building.”

That included installing a metal frame throughout the interior, as well as nine sets of helical piers and nine sets of vertical pylons. In addition, the damaged asphalt on the lot was replaced with permeable stone pavers, which help reduce water runoff and minimize stormwater issues.

Tehrani enlisted the services of architect Sarah Butler of Praxis3 to create the design and Lichty Commercial Construction to turn it into reality. Today, the facility includes 4,000 square feet of garage space, a reception area, a downstairs lounge, and an upstairs game room.

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Yes, a game room. “The footprint of the building worked perfectly for what I had envisioned,” Tehrani said. “A portion of the building is used for social events and entertainment. The other portion is used as support space to provide service, repair, and performance upgrades for European automobiles.”

It took two years and approximately $2 million to complete the renovation. Open since September, Tehrani said he’s receiving positive feedback from both locals and customers.

“People who knew what was here before have come in just to thank me for the renovation,” he said. “People who have used our services expressed their gratitude that they have a dealership alternative, and it’s located so close to their homes.”

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By Karon Warren – Curbed Atlanta
Link to original article

Hotel project by Midtown’s Fox Theatre sets example for ‘better architecture in Atlanta’

City officials: Hotel project by Midtown’s Fox Theatre sets example for ‘better architecture in Atlanta’

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City officials are touting the collaboration on a planned hotel by Midtown’s Fox Theatre as an example of “better architecture in Atlanta.”

Top Atlanta developer Noble Investment Group is planning the dual-branded Marriott hotel on an existing surface parking lot at Peachtree Street and Ponce de Leon Avenue. The other three corners at the intersection house historic buildings: the Fox, Georgian Terrace hotel and the Ponce Condominium.

When the design for the hotel was revealed to Midtown Alliance in January, the nonprofit group said: ““In light of the architecturally significant neighboring buildings, the committee requested that the design team continue to develop the façades to be more consistent within the surrounding context.”

In March, the city’s Department of City Planning began working with Noble to hone the design to respect the historic intersection. It resulted in a new façade design for the hotel, based on recommendations from the Midtown Alliance.

Charleston, S.C.-based LS3P Associates Ltd. completed the revised design and renderings. 

“It is critically important that Atlanta expect more from its designers and more of its buildings,” City Planning Commissioner Tim Keane said in a media release.

“Zoning can only take you so far,” he added. “Regulations don’t make great buildings, only design can do that. We intend to work in a productive way with developers like we did with Noble to improve the architecture in all of Atlanta.”

Noble had first proposed the project back in May 2016.

According to plans submitted in January, the hotel would have four floors with 154 rooms under the Marriott Courtyard flag and four floors with 128 rooms under the Marriott Element brand. The hotel would sit above five levels of parking.

It would also have a ground-floor restaurant, along with a lounge and bar with a second-floor terrace overlooking the Fox Theatre.

Noble is partnering with Interpark Holdings on the project, according to the Midtown Alliance.

Lindsay Pope Brayfield Clifford & Associates is the architect. That firm also designed the dual-branded Hilton hotels at 10th and Williams streets.

 “We wanted a building that represented the fabric of Midtown, and one that our community would be proud of,” said Ben Brunt, principal and executive vice president of Noble Investment Group. “This collaborative approach benefited all of us. We are thrilled with the result.”

By   – Staff Writer, Atlanta Business Chronicle
 Updated 
Link to original article

Facing Georgia Aquarium, downtown’s latest large hotel files plans to rise

Plans call for Hyatt Place Centennial Park to offer 174 rooms on Luckie Street.

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The explosion of hotel options around the Georgia Aquarium continues.

A joint venture between Atlanta-based developer Songy Highroads and Hyatt Hotels has completed demolition phases and is now angling to go vertical a dozen stories over Luckie Street with downtown’s latest lodge. At the corner of Luckie and Latimer streets, facing the Georgia Aquarium, developers have filed a permit application to begin construction on the first components of Hyatt Place Centennial Park, reports What Now Atlanta.

In announcing the hotel in November, the partnership touted proximity to the “city’s best galleries, restaurants, and attractions,” most notably Centennial Olympic Park and its ongoing, $17-million expansion. A two-story midcentury building, which most recently served as a school, had occupied the .76-acre site but was demolished. The hotel’s footprint also includes a former parking lot.

 

Plans call for Hyatt Place Centennial Park to offer 174 rooms, a pool, parking deck, fitness center, lobby bar with food service, and about 2,500 square feet of meeting space. It won’t be the only new lodging option in the immediate neighborhood. A Hyatt House was built a block away a few years ago, and on the other side of the aquarium, construction recently finished on a Springhill Suites.

But news hasn’t been all rosy for hospitality ventures in the district.  Two years ago, a large dual-branded Hilton property was slated for a site a block from the proposed Hyatt Place (facing STATS restaurant) but was ultimately put on hold.

 

Written by Josh Green

Rendering: SongyHighroads.com

How EB-5 Funds Help a Luxury Skyscraper

Extell project would be one of the highest-profile buildings to use the visa program

NYC luxury EB-5

Written by Eliot Brown for Wall Street Journal on June 21, 2016:

A block south of Central Park in Manhattan, construction crews are working on the base of what is poised to be the tallest apartment building in the country and the latest condominium tower to cater to the super rich.

It is also poised to be the latest skyscraper to benefit from a provision of a federal immigration program meant to aid distressed neighborhoods and rural areas, offering a striking example of what lawmakers and critics have called a widespread abuse of the program known as EB-5.

The builder, Extell Development Co., recently began seeking foreign investors through the immigration program in a bid to raise nearly $200 million to help finance the tower’s construction.

Gary Barnett, the company’s chief executive, said he is following all rules for the program, and the tower is expected to create “thousands” of jobs that might otherwise not be created as traditional condo financing is tough to secure today. “Given the financing environment that currently exists, it’s a critical component,” he said of the EB-5 funding.

The EB-5 program grants permanent residency to aspiring immigrants who invest in certain U.S. businesses measured to create jobs. A minimum investment for a standard business is $1 million, but in an effort to aid development in struggling areas, investors can put in a lower amount—$500,000—if a project is considered to be in a rural area or a high-unemployment neighborhood.

Developers like Extell have flocked to the program in recent years, almost always for projects in prosperous neighborhoods that use the category meant for the rural and high unemployment areas, a level at which it is easier to find immigrant investors.

The practice is legal so long as state officials and developers craft special districts that connect the projects with high unemployment neighborhoods—a method termed “gerrymandering” by critics.

But because the program has rapidly ballooned to overcapacity—there is a yearslong wait for the 10,000 visas allowed annually under the program—many of the flashiest and largest projects are crowding out projects in rural and poor neighborhoods, EB-5 professionals say.

That has sparked a fight in Congress. Numerous lawmakers, Obama administration officials and academics have said it runs counter to the intent of the law. A set of real-estate developers who use the program have pushed strongly back against proposed changes, however, successfully winning the ear of some influential lawmakers sympathetic to their arguments.

A showdown could come in September, when the program is set to expire—though last year a similar deadline was extended with no changes.

Consultants for Extell in China this month began seeking up to 380 investors—at $500,000 each—according to multiple websites advertising the project. The skyscraper would be the tallest and most prominent of the recent spate of slender towers that aim at the superrich on the strip of 57th street that has been dubbed “Billionaires’ Row.” It would rise to 1,550 feet, 300 higher than the Empire State Building, and a website advertising the tower to prospective foreign investors says it would set a new bar for luxury, becoming a “new generation of top towers” in New York.

While construction is under way on the lower floors—to be home to a sprawling flagship for Nordstrom department stores—Mr. Barnett hasn’t yet secured all the financing necessary to build the condo tower atop. The super-high-end market has weakened significantly amid greater supply and less demand, causing lenders to pull back.

Despite the pullback, Mr. Barnett is trying to push ahead and secure financing, of which EB-5 would be a relatively small piece of a project expected to cost more than $2 billion. “There’s such a financing crunch that a lot of projects won’t get done without EB-5, and this is one of them,” he said.

Construction is under way on the lower floors—to be home to a sprawling flagship for Nordstrom department stores. But the developer hasn’t yet secured all the financing necessary to build the condo tower atop.  He said he is open to changes to the program that would set aside a portion of EB-5 visas for projects in poor neighborhoods, but for now, “we’re doing what’s available under the current procedures.”