Exploring the Beltline’s downtown Connector corridor and what it could mean for Atlanta

Recently acquired “critical link” aims to open Beltline and downtown access for English Avenue, Bankhead, beyond

It’sIt’s a drizzly afternoon at a place most Atlantans have never been: an elevated, abandoned railroad corridor directly west of Bank of America Plaza, the city’s tallest building. Given the corridor’s narrow width, height above neighborhood streets, and skyline views across rooftops and graffiti-strewn warehouses, it feels a bit like New York City’s High Line, in some nascent early phase before the tourist influx.

Closer to the corridor than Midtown sky-rises, however, are scenes indicative of economic activity (and disparity) most Atlantans are very familiar with. Along Northside Drive, a 12-acre, mixed-income redevelopment of Herndon Homes led by Atlanta Housing Authority looks like a rolling pasture of red clay; it’s meant to be a catalyst for future development but also a beacon of diversity. Meanwhile, even closer, the exterior wall of a film production studio is being enlivened with a Greg Mike mural, in collaboration with Porsche.

It’s the disparate forces of a changing Atlanta commingling, and this railroad corridor—a future Atlanta Beltline link that leaders call crucial—is right in the middle of it.

In February, Beltline officials announced they’d closed a deal with church-led Bethursday Development Corporation to use $5.1 million in TSPLOST dollars and acquire a former rail segment described as a “major piece” and “critical link” to the grand scheme of multi-use trails across Atlanta.

The dotted blue line shows the most recently purchased path area. The bold purple section represents the “kudzu line” and a planned Beltline section branching north.

Atlanta Beltline Inc.

Stretching three-quarters of a mile, the corridor had been owned by several religious groups and colloquially known as the “church line.” It starts where Northside Drive meets Joseph E. Boone Boulevard, across the street from the Georgia World Congress Center.

From there, it extends northwest to Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway, through an area with an unsavory, drug-addled reputation known as “the Bluff,” before linking with another nicknamed segment: the 1.8-mile “kudzu line,” which will eventually be incorporated as part of the Beltline’s Westside Trail.

If that’s confusing, take heart in knowing the pastiche of trail monikers is going away soon.

A closer look at the kudzu line (in blue), which was purchased by the Beltline for $6.3 million in August, and the planned mainline Beltline it would link to.

Atlanta Beltline Inc.

The entire three-mile trail will be known as the Westside Beltline Connector. And it will allow anyone at, say, Centennial Olympic Park to bicycle, ride e-scooters, jog, or simply walk from downtown, via protected lanes, to the mainline Beltline and under-construction Westside Park at Bellwood Quarry, planned to be the city’s largest green space.

More importantly, project leaders say, the collaboration between the Beltline and PATH Foundation will lend transportation options and trail connectivity to neighborhoods—namely English Avenue, Bankhead, Knight Park, and Howell Station—that have thus far been largely cut off.

“You talk to folks in English Avenue and Vine City, and they feel a little disconnected to the Beltline, because they’re not neighborhoods that are right on it,” says Beltline spokeswoman Jenny Odom. “This will connect them into the Beltline, very directly.”

When the latest corridor purchase was announced in February, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottom described it as helping pave the way “for a more unified and accessible Atlanta.” We recently ventured with project officials into the swampy corridor, following a string of stormy days, for a firsthand look at how this unification vision might play out.

“We’re going to make this trail a showstopper,” predicts PATH Foundation executive director Ed McBrayer. “I hope the Westside is ready to get something really cool.”

As they have with projects spanning from Proctor Creek to the wildly popular Eastside Trail, PATH is collaborating with the Beltline to make the Connector piece a reality. McBrayer describes it as a means of traveling paved trails and bike lanes from around Ponce City Market and points east to downtown, the Westside, and potentially all the way to the Silver Comet Trail.

Along the way, the Connector trail will bisect English Avenue, which the New York Times described in 2017 as one of the poorest neighborhoods in the Southeast, where roughly 40 percent of residents were living in poverty. Alongside neighboring Vine City, police data showed English Avenue as being the city’s most high-crime area for years, in terms of calls for assistance and violent offenses; but since 2016, crimes across all categories have plunged by more than 40 percent, thanks to the installation of surveillance cameras, homes reserved for officers, and the broader philanthropic efforts of groups such as the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation and Quest, according to the Atlanta Police Foundation.

But despite a retention strategy—including an Anti-Displacement Tax Relief Fund for homeowners that launched in 2017—the area’s population continues to dip, and just 17 percent of residents in the broader Westside are homeowners, as officials told Curbed Atlanta earlier this year.

In places, the Connector piece provides the flipside view of Atlanta than what Eastside Trail patrons see: landmarks such as Westin Peachtree Plaza and the Coca-Cola Headquarters sweep off to Atlantic Station’s high-rises at left. From a socioeconomic standpoint, a place like English Avenue might be the flipside of tony neighborhoods such as Virginia-Highland, but that doesn’t mean residents won’t have a voice, as project leaders stress. McBrayer says community feedback in forthcoming meetings, likely beginning with NPU-L this month, will dictate what the trail becomes and how it’s used.

“We’re already done the survey, gotten it back, and we’re going to propose an alignment with illustrations and seek neighborhood feedback,” McBrayer says. “If they want a connection to a particular street, then we’ll try to work that in. If they don’t want railing on a particular overlook, then we can change.

“We want to assimilate into the neighborhood as best we can,” he adds. “There will be plenty of places to get on the trail, and it’ll become an integral part of the neighborhood.”

PATH has recently installed a cycle track leading out of downtown on Marietta Boulevard and, two years ago, bike lanes that span over Ivan Allen Jr. Boulevard.

Where those meet Northside Drive is where the new Connector segment will begin.

Next, an existing tree-lined park space across Northside Drive from the GWCC could act as a respite for trail patrons.

Renderings for the Connector trail’s southernmost beginnings are too tentative to publicly share, but plans generally call for the path to boomerang around these GWCC beehives (below) and then bridge over Joseph E. Boone Boulevard, the gateway to Vine City.

Due to the proximity of a substation and transmission lines next door, Georgia Power has to sign off on trail plans here, and that process is ongoing, says Stacey Patton, the Beltline’s vice president of real estate.

A complete streets makeover is underway on Joesph E. Boone Boulevard, a couple of blocks east of the forthcoming, $45 million Rodney Cook Sr. Park.

The abandoned railroad corridor is visible at right (below), and a new trail bridge planned to cross over this street will have to meet higher clearance standards than one demolished years ago.

“The pedestrian bridge we’re going to be building will have extraordinary views of downtown,” says McBrayer. “And we’re going to have a plaza up on the hump, if you will, where everybody’s going to be taking photos of downtown and everything. It’s unobstructed views from the Westside.”

Next is a view from Jones Avenue, looking back toward Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Engineers are assessing now whether this bridge—and another three blocks north at Jett Street—can be refurbished and reused.

The railroad spur, when active, serviced industrial properties on both sides of the corridor. This section has been dormant for two decades, says Patton.

The bridge over Jones Avenue, from below, as the trail heads toward Meldrum Street.

Next the trail will dip back to street-grade and cut behind the Northside Village Apartments, which face Northside Drive. Plans call for widening an existing sidewalk and slinking behind the building here.

Beyond the apartments, the trail corridor rises again, where work to clear trash—including more than 300 tires to date—and vegetated debris is ongoing.

“It is so sweet,” says Patton of the views from this vantage. “One of the nicest [Beltline] elevations.”

At Jett Street, as seen from the sidewalk below, is the second old railroad bridge undergoing an engineering analysis.

Beyond that is a bridge-less section over Cameron Madison Alexander Boulevard—the second of three elevated gaps where bridges will have to be rebuilt, all still in design. PATH’s McBrayer downplays bridge construction as being any sort of significant hurdle.

“We’re on about our 80th bridge,” he says. “Bridges are no big deal.”

Over a lost section of Meldrum Street, where a campsite has replaced vehicle traffic, another gap is visible.

Beyond this point, the Connector trail will swoop down to ground level again and remain there, via more recently decommissioned railroad lines, until reaching the future mainline Beltline.

The cleared corridor, as seen from North Avenue, looking toward Travis Street, is no longer elevated.

Abutting the trail is Grace Midtown, one of six churches along the trail, where a renovation that installed picturesque outdoor seating areas is expected to wrap in coming weeks.

Just across Travis Street from the church, with a side lot fronting the trail, is rapper T.I.’s newly opened Trap Music Museum and Escape Room, where weekend entry lines sometimes span the block.

Continuing northwestward on the trail, the Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway bridge is reflected in puddles along the corridor.

Beltline officials provided this image and rendering depicting how the trail and adjacent properties could look at Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway.

Tentative plans for the Westside Beltline Connector as it would pass under Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway. [Images courtesy of Atlanta Beltline Inc.] A photo of a worn-down building bordered by a thick brush of green trees. In the background is the Atlanta skyline. and A rendering of an updated building with the word “Cafe” on it is superimposed over the photo of the dilapidated structure flanked by trees.

After crossing several other at-grade streets, the corridor enters what previously was known as the kudzu line, as seen here near Law Street.

The rail line through this area has been inactive for about five years, and CSX is expected to have all remaining infrastructure removed by May, Patton says.

Next the corridor passes beneath a Marietta Boulevard bridge and meets active railroad lines.

Patton says the Beltline bought a small, triangular parcel in this area to bring the trail up to Marietta Boulevard, where lanes to Huff Road are planned to be converted into the Beltline, providing a link between the existing Westside Trail and the future northwestern segment.

The hope is that PATH, at that point, will break west to link with the existing, 61-mile Silver Comet Trail.

As for a timeline, officials say Atlantans can expect to see construction on this more pedestrian-friendly Connector soon.

The Beltline’s TSPLOST-funded outlay of more than $11 million paid only for acquisition of the rail corridors, a means of securing the land. Cost estimates for the full three-mile Connector are pending design finalizations, but each segment is planned to open with lighting, cameras, and other infrastructure.

The Beltline is still working to buy a few necessary, adjacent parcels, while McBrayer says PATH is raising and contributing $5 million from the private sector.

The first planned section where Joseph E. Boone Boulevard meets Northside Drive is almost ready to enter permitting phases, McBrayer says. Following neighborhood meetings, construction to bring the trail from there to the Northside Village Apartments, a section of a few blocks, is expected to launch this fall and take about six months to finish, likely next spring.

Meanwhile, the former kudzu line section will enter design phases and ancillary property acquisitions. As McBrayers sees it, the whole Connector trail can be funded and built within three years, providing the missing link to downtown and vice versa.

“To have the connection to downtown—I think it’s amazing,” says Patton. “There were so many people down there at the Super Bowl; with an electric bike rental, they could have been at the quarry park.”

Global real estate giant pays $70M for revitalized West Midtown meatpacking plant

A West Midtown project that turned an old meatpacking into a home for corporate offices, a popular Italian restaurant and duckpin bowling has sold for $70 million.

Global asset management giant Clarion Partners LLC paid $69.7 million for the development known as Stockyards Atlanta, on the corner of 10th Street and Brady Avenue.

A joint venture between Maryland-based Federal Capital Partners, known more commonly as FCP, and Atlanta developer Westbridge Partners, was the seller. The project was designed by the architectural firms Ai3 and Gensler. It went on the market last year.

The property has deep roots on the city’s west side, the last of the historic buildings that made up the Miller Union Stockyards, said Chris Faussemagne, who co-founded Westbridge Partners.

Stockyards is one of several developments often referred to as adaptive-reuse projects, which have focused on remaining industrial buildings on the northwest edge of the city along a rail line and converted them to office, residential and restaurant space.

Westbridge Partners and FCP won praise for Stockyards from real estate think tank Urban Land Institute, which honored the project in 2018. The 142,478-square-foot development landed tenants from Red Bull and Fitzgerald and Co. to the Painted Duck and Italian restaurant Donetto. It was fully occupied within a year of its completion. Clarion Partners paid over $489 per foot for the mixed-use project.

Stockyards is surrounded by new mid-rise apartments and popular restaurants, such as Miller Union and The Optimist. Its sale to Clarion Partners offers more evidence that global private equity and asset management firms project long-term value growth in projects within emerging areas of the city, such as West Midtown and the Atlanta Beltline.

As new wealth pours into neighborhoods where the level of investment is unprecedented, it will highlight the complexities of gentrification. Atlanta is among the county’s most rapidly gentrifying cities.

Faussemagne, now a partner with Atlanta real estate development firm Third & Urban, was one of the first developers to see potential of historic preservation, renovation and adaptive re-use in West Midtown.

Third & Urban and FCP continue to seek similar projects in the area, such as a 275,000-square-foot warehouse on West Marietta Street that will be converted into a large creative office project. The development will link with the future path of the Atlanta Beltline.

Stockyards Atlanta was FCP’s first commercial project in Atlanta. The company’s Atlanta area portfolio also includes eight multifamily properties with 1,924 units. Stewart Calhoun, David Meline, Mike McDonald, Samir Idris and Michael Moore of Cushman & Wakefield brokered the sale on behalf of the ownership of Stockyards Atlanta.

By  – Commercial Real Estate Editor, Atlanta Business Chronicle

Fresh renderings: Midtown’s 1105 West Peachtree is changing a full city block

The latest on Google’s commitment, a Sky Plaza, condo sales, and street retail

A rendering shows new towers jutting up in front of the Midtown skyline.
An earlier rendering of the multi-tower project underway now, as seen from the south.

Selig Enterprises

Specific timelines are emerging for a multi-pronged project that’s swallowing a block of prime Midtown real estate.

Sited along one of the subdistrict’s most active development corridors, Selig Development’s $530 million 1105 West Peachtree mixed-use venture is on the rise, with major construction milestones on the horizon.

Selig’s chief development officer Steve Baile told Curbed Atlanta this week that construction of the 3.5-acre, multi-tower project is on track to wrap in the third quarter of next year.

At the end of this month, though, the ninth-floor amenity deck—aptly dubbed the “Sky Plaza”—is set to top out, Baile said.

A rendering shows how the project’s multiple towers would convene around a ninth-floor amenity deck, which will feature green space and seating.
A fresh rendering of the amenity deck, the Sky Plaza.

Selig Development

Selig also confirmed recently that Google is set to make 1105 West Peachtree its Southeast headquarters, claiming five floors of the planned 31-story office tower.

The Smith, Gambrell & Russell law firm is also taking five floors for its new offices.

Also on the docket is a 178-key Marriott Autograph Collection Epicurean Hotel that Selig reps announced in October.

“We’re currently working with our hotel partners and retail team to fine-tune the office lobby food and beverage service, which will excite Midtown residents, office workers, and visitors alike,” Baile said.

A rendering shows retail space fronted by trees beneath the glassy office tower.
A new rendering of the ground-level retail space.

Selig Development

The development, located between MARTA’s Midtown and Arts Center train stations, will also include a 64-unit luxury condo tower called 40 West 12th.

Baile said the developer has been having some luck with condo pre-sales, although he did not provide specifics.

“We are pleased with the condo sales we have had thus far,” he said. “We believe 40 West 12th is hitting on the pulse of what intown Atlanta condo buyers are looking for, and that’s a high-end product that’s understated yet refined and has access to all the great amenities the project, and Midtown as a whole, have to offer.”

Lastly, at the ground floor, expect some 25,000 square feet of retail space.

Selig has tapped Rule Joy Trammell + Rubio as the design architect and architect of record and Brasfield & Gorrie as the general contractor.


How the trashy ‘Pit of Peachtree’ became Midtown’s most prominent pocket park

Grassroots activism helped turn an infamous dump at 10th and Peachtree streets into a gathering place, christened with a six-pack of Budweiser

Today, the pint-sized Midtown green space at 10th and Peachtree streets is a pleasing respite among so much concrete and glass. It hosts community events, curious tourists, and businesspeople on lunch break, often with a mix of large-scale art, Christmas lights, public corn hole, lounge chairs, and the fading leasing signs of longtime property owner Dewberry Capital. But four decades ago, the site was considered a trashy blight on Atlanta’s signature street—literally a dump.

That’s according to researcher Adam C. Johnson, the Midtown Neighbors’ Association’s History Committee Chair. Johnson, a Midtown resident, has conducted more than 40 interviews with residents and business leaders while poring over Atlanta History Center and Georgia Archives materials in an effort to tell the story of his neighborhood’s metamorphosis in a series of articles. The first installment below chronicles the “Pit of Peachtree” and its demise. Johnson writes:

By the mid-1970s, Midtown began an arduous recovery from the aftermath of the countercultural movement that had made it the South’s beleaguered version of Haight-Ashbury.

Many buildings along Peachtree Street sat abandoned, and more than 15 bathhouses, peep shows, and adult establishments had sprung up in the area. Trash was strewn about, boards covered windows, and garbage obscured some previously sought-after lots.

Midtown was a mess.

A black and white photo of a trash heap.
The “Pit of Peachtree” at its foulest.
“Tenth Street Dump Cleaned Up,” News, Midtown Business Association (Atlanta, GA), Vol. VI, No. 4, Jun/Jul 1979, 4.


Bill Seay and Jerry Attkisson, who led the recently formed Midtown Business Association (now Midtown Alliance), pitched Central Atlanta Progress’s Dan Sweat to sponsor the MBA by hiring its first executive director and to pay the position’s salary.

Sweat agreed to the “staffing support” and hired Doug Downing as MBA’s first director.

After joining MBA in May 1978, Downing started its first campaign to clean up Midtown by addressing the infamous dump at 10th and Peachtree streets. He wrote in the MBA’s newsletter:

Nowhere was this needed more than in the area of this property. For many years this property was a dumping ground, over grown [sic] with weeds and strewn with garbage. At the time, it was aptly referred to as “the hole,” and existed as an unwanted symbol of the degenerated state of the surrounding neighborhood.

In black and white is the proposed park at 10th and Peachtree.
Rendering of the proposed park at 10th and Peachtree streets.
“Peachtree Hole,” Newsletter, Midtown Business Association (Atlanta, GA), Vol. 1, No. 7, May 1978, 2.


Downing knew the importance of quickly demonstrating MBA’s commitment to Midtown by making the area hospitable again, which, he hoped, would also garner membership with his organization.

Twenty-five community residents, including some members of the Midtown Neighborhood Association (now Midtown Neighbors’ Association), joined the effort to remedy the “Pit of Peachtree.” Initially, they removed almost 20 loads of trash.

Downing called the efforts “the most conspicuous symbol of the action being taken by the community and the MBA to inject life back into our street.”

A man on a backhoe removes giant amounts of dirt and grime.
A worker removes trash and building materials from the lot.

Photo courtesy of Doug Downing

Dubbed “Peachtree Street Clean-up” day, the effort continued in October 1978, and 60 Midtown residents and workers from the Army Corps of Engineers painted walls, removed garbage, and planted 17 trees, flowers, and grass. Southern Railway also donated railroad ties and helped install them.

Conveniently, the Army Corps of Engineers used more than 20 dump-truck loads of soil from the nearby MARTA excavation to flatten the park, and then graded it to its current height, which filled in “the hole.” (MARTA’s rail service in the area wouldn’t begin for another three years.)

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers fill in and flatten ‘the hole’ with dirt from excavations.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers workers fill in and flatten “the hole” with dirt extracted during construction of MARTA transit.

Photo courtesy Doug Downing

The business association completed major construction of the park on May 3, 1979—and christened it using a $2.25 six-pack of Budweiser.

Because the MBA had secured a longterm lease from the owners of the land for $1, the staff unofficially referred to it as the “three dollar and twenty-five cent park.”

A group of people helping to plant flowers.
Community volunteers at work, and the completed park in 1979.

Photos courtesy of Doug Downing


Neither Attkisson nor Downing thought the park would last more than a few years. Yet the Pocket Park at 10th and Peachtree is a relic of the MBA’s first efforts to partner with area businesses, organizations (CAP and MNA), and residents to clean up Midtown.

Today, it stands as a tangible example of what successful public-private partnerships and volunteerism can achieve.



In Midtown, a merger with the old and new at a 90-year-old apartment building

The Winnwood Apartments are located in Midtown, at the merger of Peachtree and West Peachtree streets.
The Winnwood Apartments are located in Midtown, at the merger of Peachtree and West Peachtree streets.

An 90-year-old apartment building in Midtown may become the latest example of multifamily landlords opening their doors to Airbnb.

Atlanta real estate investor and developer Tenth Street Ventures bought The Winnwood, a nearly 1-acre property at 1460 West Peachtree Street near its connection with Peachtree and just north of office towers such as Pershing Park Plaza, the current home of the law firm Jones Day.

No sales price was given, and the transaction for The Winnwood was not available in Fulton County property records. The brick mid-rise building, which features Neoclassical Revival architecture, dates back to 1930.

The property had been owned by the same family for decades, part of the dwindling and still relatively affordable stock of older apartments that remain in the city. For now, most of the units have been vacated.

The Winnwood could follow the model of another recent Tenth Street Ventures project in Midtown, where it allows tenants to rent out their units as Airbnbs. It has rebranded that property on Piedmont Avenue as “Studio9Forty.”

 It’s an example of a national trend of apartment owners working with companies that rent out apartments to travelers. Brian McCarthy, a principal with Tenth Street, said it shows the lines between multifamily properties and hotels are starting to blur.

“Residential living is changing,” he said. “The multifamily owners are looking at getting into hotels, and the boutique hotel owners are trying to get into multifamily.”

Tenth Street plans to renovate The Winnwood, taking it from 26 units to 48. First, though, it will apply to receive historic designation for the apartments. It said it is evaluating the best way to redevelop the building, while preserving the Neoclassical Revival exterior.

McCarthy said the goal is to restore The Winnwood “to its historic glory.”

The project has been a landmark in north Midtown for decades. The Whitehead family owned a house previously on the site. The property then remained in the family until the death of Cecil S. Whitehead a few years ago.

Tenth Street Ventures buys, designs and renovates properties, with the goal of keeping properties more affordable for the working class. The Winnwood is fifth major transaction by TSV over the past year.

By Douglas Sams – Commercial Real Estate Editor, Atlanta Business Chronicle

Site activity, permits suggest towering ‘Midtown Union’ project is a go

Multi-tower development aims to activate parking lots at corner of Spring, 17th streets

The latest rendering for Midtown Union’s multifaceted first phase, with glassy office towers at left and residential/hotel pieces at right.
The latest rendering for Midtown Union’s multifaceted first phase, with glassy office towers at left and residential/hotel pieces at right.

Cooper Carry renderings, via JLL

For anyone who applauds the demise of surface parking lots in prominent intown places, a reader recently spotted something that should come as welcome news.

Where 17th meets Spring Street in Midtown, a block-long site where past development proposals have fizzled, an assemblage of parking lots is now fenced off and vehicle access is disallowed.

Proposed for the site is the first phase of the massive Midtown Union project, a multi-tower complex bisected by a pedestrian promenade that’s been put forth by MetLife and JLL.

Project reps haven’t responded today to Curbed Atlanta’s inquires regarding construction, but a building permit related to plumbing and sewer work was issued for the site in late June, city records show.

The 1.3-million-square-foot project’s first phase was approved last year.

The site’s inaccessible parking lots, as of this morning.

Photos courtesy of Carol Payne



The assembled site includes parking lots along Spring Street, behind the Artmore Hotel, the Arthritis Foundation building, and a small office building.

All told, the two-phase venture could consume acreage on both sides of the street.

Earlier this year, Midtown Union signed global asset management firm Invesco to take about half of its 600,000 square feet of offices in glassy towers fronting 17th Street.


The office towers, as seen from the northwest.


For Invesco, the relocation across Midtown from Two Peachtree Pointe will also entail the addition of about 500 jobs, as Bisnow Atlanta first reported.

Midtown Union’s first phase would also include a 250-key hotel, about 350 residences, 100,000 square feet of retail, and almost 1,800 parking spaces, per announcements last year.

The development team, a partnership between MetLife Investment Management and Granite Properties, expects to start opening Midtown Union in 2022.

Have a look at the latest project renderings and site plans below.

Inspired by European boulevards, this component, Arts Center Way, is described in marketing materials as “a central passageway and gathering place linking workplaces, creative spaces, specialty shops, public art, and enticing eateries.”


Broader vision for Arts Center Way.


The two proposed phases, bisected by Spring Street.



Specific site plans for the initial phase.



Both phases, as seen from west of the Connector.


Rendering reveals vision for Jewish Federation’s Midtown HQ revamp

Stuck In The Dirt: After Years Of Promises, Atlanta’s Fabled Luxury Skyscraper Clouded In Mystery

Five years ago, a New York developer bought a plot of land in Midtown Atlanta, declaring its intentions to build the tallest residential tower in the Southeast, with prices and finishes more in line with Midtown Manhattan.

Brokers for the project — called No2 Opus Place — say they have dozens of buyers who have committed to buying units in the building, some of which are being offered for north of $10M.

But many real estate brokers and experts who Bisnow spoke to have doubts that it will ever get built.

Perkins+Will Olympia heights Management

ArX Solutions Rendering for the proposed No2 Opus Place, designed by Perkins+Will and being developed by Olympia Heights Management

Several announced dates for an official groundbreaking have come and gone, the developers continue to refinance the land with short-term loans, and the construction firm working on the site told Bisnow there are no plans to go vertical anytime soon.

“Opus, which we call ‘Nopus,’” said Jeffrey Taylor Johnson, the founder of Above Atlanta Brokers, among the top condo brokerage firms in Atlanta. “It’s a joke.”

After purchasing the property at 98 14th St. for $22M in 2014, developer Olympia Heights Management has reshaped plans for the project three times. In the latest iteration, unveiled last year, Olympia Heights envisions a 53-story building with 182 condominium units and more than 200K SF of office space, still the tallest residential tower in Atlanta at 730 feet.

No2 Opus Place could be the project that gives Atlanta one of its first glimpses of luxury and lifestyle typically found in markets like New York, Tokyo, Miami or Los Angeles. Its residents would have sweeping views of Midtown and Downtown Atlanta and access to a resort-style pool, high-end restaurants, a spa, a wine tasting and storage room, an IMAX theater and 24-hour concierge services.

Since buying the land and announcing the ambitious project, the New York developer behind Olympia Heights was investigated by the attorney general in his home state for fraud and shoddy workmanship on several condo developments. Three years ago, he agreed to a two-year ban from selling condos in a deal with the attorney general.

That developer, Shaya Boymelgreen, built thousands of luxury apartments in Manhattan and Brooklyn in the 1990s until his business essentially collapsed amid the Great Recession.

Olympia Heights has maintained that the building is moving forward, and that they have pre-sold dozens of units. It still predicts a 2021 opening, despite the fact that foundation work has not yet begun. But the development team’s shifting dates and marketing tactics have led some buyer’s agents in Atlanta to steer their customers clear.

“I don’t think that project is viable,” a local broker told Bisnow. “Because it just doesn’t seem to go anywhere, and the story changes all the time.”

A Luxurious Plan

Olympia Heights
The $3M sales center operated by Berkshire Hathaway and Olympia Heights

Olympia Heights spent $3M building out No2 Opus Place’s sales center, located on the property, which contains a wall filled with video screens showing models of the skyline views, inside a model of a condo unit.

The units are being designed by Champalimaud Design, which has designed condos and hotel rooms for the Waldorf Astoria and The Plaza in Manhattan and Ritz-Carltons and Four Seasons overseas. They range from one to three bedrooms, with Falakron marble countertops and backsplashes, Miele appliances and airy and spacious bathrooms lined with marble.

Residents in the building would be members of The Opus Club, a three-story amenity with two pools, a wellness center, a spa and Mozart’s 41st, “the ultimate lifestyle club with private lounges, chef’s table, and screening room,” according to the project’s website.

Asking prices in the building, designed by Perkins+Will, range from $600K to $12M, according to Berkshire Hathaway’s website. Prices start around $600 per SF for lower-level units, but will rise to above $1K per SF for the homes closer to the top.

The prices Olympia Heights is targeting have rarely ever been achieved in Metro Atlanta, a market where the average first-generation condo unit sells for around half as much per foot, Engel & Volkers CEO Christa Huffstickler said. On the highest end, condos have sold for $800 per SF, she said.


Yates Construction
A poster hanging on a construction trailer at the No2 Opus Place site details where cranes will be positioned for future construction.

JPX Works founder Jarel Portman knows the difficulties of getting a luxury condo project off the ground in Atlanta.

His firm pursued a project in Buckhead called Emerson. He designed the 41-unit project with the influence of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater and chased a price point of $1,100 per SF. Units in the building started at $2M.

Portman was a known quantity in Atlanta. He is the son of the late, renowned architect and developer John Portman, and has developed two successful commercial projects in his own right: the mixed-use Inman Quarter project and the Lili apartment tower. But even after pre-selling 32% of the units, JPX Works was unable to land financial backing to go vertical.

In 2018, Portman pulled the plug on the project and sold the land to another developer.

“Clearly, we thought Emerson was going to be sold out even before we opened the design office, but maybe that’s because we fell in love with the design,” Portman said. “It’s very difficult to build the kind of product that we were trying to build and [the No2 Opus Place developers] say they’re trying to build in Atlanta right now.”

Stuck In The Ground

Yates Construction
A digger was excavating Olympia Heights site in Midtown in early June

Stolz Partners founder Will Stolz, who is developing two luxury condo projects in Texas, said lenders today typically require between 40% and 50% of the proposed units locked in, with buyers putting down at least 10% of the purchase price before granting construction funding.

He sold half the units of his Giorgetta project and 40% of the units on The Sophie, both mid-rise projects in Houston, before securing construction financing, he said. Convincing customers to buy units before any actual construction begins is difficult, and can make pre-sales slow going, Stolz said.

“If you’re realistically doing one a month, then you’re doing as well as you can expect to be doing,” he said. “Now in a high-rise, that could change. You could pro forma more aggressive absorption in a high-rise.”

Despite having financed projects for Olympia Heights in the past — including an apartment project in Brooklyn and an office project in Nashville — Terra Capital Partners Managing Director Dan Cooperman said Terra has no interest in financing the construction of No2 Opus Place.

Terra Capital previously held the mortgage on the property for two years prior to Ardent Cos., which currently owns the debt on the land.

“I think we saw a package from a broker on it,” Cooperman said. “But we’ve done a number of deals with them, and we’ve been in that land for a couple of full years and we sort of went full circle on it, and that was a good result for us.”

Cooperman said it will be difficult for Olympia Heights to find construction financing for their project, especially at their hoped-for price point.

“The for-sale market in Florida or New York is one that is much more sort of proven,” he said. “So I think the condo component and the size make this a challenge from a financing standpoint for the best of developers.”

At the end of 2018, there were 82 condo projects on the market in Atlanta, either under construction or delivered, according to multifamily tracking firm Haddow & Co. Nearly 40% of the more than 4,100 units in those projects remained unsold.

In No2 Opus Place’s neighborhood, Midtown Atlanta, there were nine active condo projects and more than 400 unsold first-generation units, Haddow & Co. reported. Of those, 64 were under contract by year’s end. Haddow & Co. Managing Partner Ladson Haddow said that No2 Opus Place is not tracked among those statistics since it has not officially gone under construction.

Olympia Heights’ plans for 182 condos are part of the submarket’s 407-unit future pipeline. On May 13, Olympia Heights’ Roni Avraham — who is spearheading the development in Atlanta — told Bisnow the developer had pre-sold 70 units, which would be 38% of its proposed stock.

Olympia Heights’ debt on the property is coming due shortly. The developer secured a loan for $22M from Ardent Cos., which matures in January 2020. It has an option to extend the maturity date by three months, according to Fulton County deed records. Officials with Ardent declined to comment.

The Ardent loan refinanced Olympia Heights’ previous loan with New York-based Terra Capital Partners. It initially borrowed $24.5M in 2017, and in June 2018, Olympia Heights refinanced that loan with Terra, this time for $27.5M, which matured at the end of the year, according to Databank. That loan was fully satisfied, Cooperman said.

View from North American Properties managing partner Mark Toro’s balcony at The Four Seasons in Midtown Atlanta
Courtesy of Mark Toro View from a balcony at The Four Seasons in Midtown Atlanta

Moving Targets Throughout all this time, Olympia Heights officials have publicly insisted its project would deliver by 2020, even as the dates for construction’s start shifted in the media and its overall plans changed.

In various media reports, Olympia Heights offered various dates that construction would begin:

In July 2016, What Now Atlanta reported construction was to start that fall.

In February 2018, Atlanta Magazine reported that the firm had short-listed general contractors and would likely break ground later in the year.

In a May 2018, Avraham told Curbed Atlanta that the developer would start going vertical in September or October.

In February of this year, Atlanta Magazine reported that construction would start in the middle of this year with delivery now pegged for 2021. Midtown Alliance’s website, which tracks new commercial developments in the area, shows No2 Opus Place as “under construction,” having started in 2017 and finishing in 2020.

When Olympia Heights first announced plans in 2014 for the project on the site, which was once targeted by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra for a potential new music hall, the developer envisioned a three-tower project that would include a hotel and a condo skyscraper that would rise 60 stories, the tallest building in the Southeast, surpassing Bank of America Plaza.

Since then, Olympia Heights has tinkered with its plans, condensing the project into a single tower, nixing a hotel component, reducing the height to 53 stories, shrinking some of the units and capping the project at 182 condos.

When asked about when the firm would break ground, Avraham told Bisnow, “You should see some action next week. Probably [in] June, July, we’re going to start with the foundation.”

Since that brief May 13 exchange, in which Avraham said to have pre-sold more than a third of the units in the project, he has not responded to multiple calls and emails from Bisnow seeking comment for this story.

It is difficult to verify pre-sales in Georgia. A sale is not typically recorded in local deeds until it is fully consummated, according to Haddow.

Earlier this month, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Managing Broker Lori Lane, who is leading sales marketing efforts for No2 Opus Place, told Bisnow that she would provide an update that’s “really positive” after a meeting with stakeholders in the project over the past week. She also said the sales team “met our quota” with pre-sales, describing them as traditional.

“[The buyers] all put money down,” Lane said, but couldn’t verify how many buyers put down hard money or refundable deposits.

After that meeting, in an email June 19, Lane wrote, “the sales team is not able to answer questions as much as they would like to … I can tell you everything is moving forward and we are very excited about the future of No2 Opus Place … If you can bear with us I will make sure you get the accurate info when I have it to share.”


No2 Opus Place Olympia Heights site
Bisnow Yates Construction inserted a trailer and installed fencing around the site that is being pushed by Olympia Heights for a condo tower

Behind The Curtain

While Avraham has served as the public face of Olympia Heights Management, alongside Eugene Zlatopolsky, who signed the loan agreements for the mortgages, a New York developer with a spotty reputation is involved in the company.

Cooperman confirmed to Bisnow the Boymelgreen family was involved in the project. And Sarah Boymelgreen, the wife of Shaya Boymelgreen, is the authorized signatory for the LLC registered with Georgia for the property — OHM Atlanta Owner — according to state documents.

The Boymelgreen name is well-known in New York real estate circles. According to the New York Times, patriarch Shaya Boymelgreen’s “break came in 2001” when he met diamond magnate Lev Leviev, and they built more than 2,400 apartments together.

By 2009, the Israeli-born Boymelgreen had trimmed his staff to 15 from 200, was in the process of being evicted from his Brooklyn office and was already facing lawsuits from his buyers over unfinished work at their buildings.

The New York Attorney General’s office starting investigating him in 2013. In 2016, Boymelgreen entered into a settlement agreement with then-Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. The deal meant Boymelgreen couldn’t sell any condos in the city for two years. Boymelgreen also agreed to repair issues at six of his projects.

The settlement put “an end to Mr. Boymelgreen’s perpetual fraud and abuse in New York City real estate securities,” Schneiderman said at the time.

The investigation found that Boymelgreen and Leviev had, in one instance, made $360M by selling out a Lower Manhattan condo project, 15 Broad, then “abandoned efforts to finish the work and drained the escrow funds, while assuring buyers that the money had been set aside,” the Times reported.

While Boymelgreen was being investigated in New York, his Olympia Heights company was pitching No2 Opus Place. While multiple people involved in the project have confirmed then Boymelgreens’ involvement in No2 Opus Place, they have not been mentioned in any of Olympia Heights’ public statements or plans.

“That’s part of some of the challenges with the site,” a source close to the project, who was not authorized to speak to press, told Bisnow. “If you’re the developer and you have a questionable equity partner, you’re going to do all you can to defer attention away from that partner.”

Bisnow offered numerous opportunities to Olympia Heights Management for further comment on the story.

“They don’t do press,” Lane said.

What Comes Next

Yates Construction was recently tapped to perform site work for No2 Opus Place, a move that spawned local chatter that perhaps the tower was finally breaking ground. But a source familiar with the contract said Yates is undergoing design assist work, in which it is assessing the potential cost to develop the project, as well as digging out dirt at the site all the way to the bedrock.

No one has been hired as a general contractor as of press time. Officials with Yates Construction declined to comment.

A handful of senior real estate professionals told Bisnow that Olympia Heights and Berkshire Hathaway have used activity on the site in its marketing outreach to insinuate that actual construction had begun.

The No2 Opus Place sales office posted a 28-second video to YouTube in December 2017 called “No2 Opus Place Groundbreaking” that shows dirt shooting out from the ground like geysers, but no people or construction equipment on the site. Another video, posted in July, shows excavators hauling dirt into trucks. The page has not been updated in 11 months.

The repeated false starts have made it difficult for brokers to sell their clients on committing to a unit at the project. One broker, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said she had a client back away from putting a down payment on a unit.

“I did have one person make an offer. [But] they got cold feet because they felt they weren’t getting a straight story from the sales office,” said the broker, who has sold homes in Atlanta for 20 years. “It was really just based on lack of confidence in the sales office.”

If clients ask today about No2 Opus Place, the broker said she still takes them to the sales office, but will have a word of caution after the tour.

“I [tell clients], ‘Let’s go have a look,’” she said. “And then I tell you, ‘Let me be honest with you. I don’t think that project is going forward.'”

The site was quiet when Bisnow visited it this week, a digger sitting idle on the dirt. It had been raining the previous day, and it would shower later that afternoon as well.

But there were signs that at least some work had recently been done. Olympia Heights’ contractor had dug the hole where No2 Opus Place is supposed to go even deeper.

If you have bought a unit at No2 Opus Place or represent clients who have been interested in the site, email Jarred Schenke at jarred@bisnow.com. All correspondence will be kept confidential.

June 20, 2019

By Jarred Schenke, Bisnow Atlanta


FDA to head south, leaving behind prime Peachtree Street property in Midtown

The building at the corner of 8th Street could be ripe for redevelopment along the Midtown Mile 

Could this Midtown lot soon have a new look?

Google Maps

As first speculated in 2017, the Midtown office of the Food & Drug Administration has indeed given notice it will relocate.

The FDA will move 350 employees to the southside, where they’ll set up operations at the Fort McPherson facility in the former forces command, or FORSCOM, office building, the AJC reports.

One of 13 FDA field labs, this particular location will serve as the Atlanta district office as well as the FDA’s Southeast Food and Feed and Southeast Tobacco labs.

The new facility joins Tyler Perry Studios, which bought approximately 330 acres of the former military base from the McPherson Implementing Local Redevelopment Authority, or Fort Mac LRA. The latter group purchased the decommissioned post in 2015.

However, in the wake of this move, the FDA leaves behind its low-slung, nondescript building on the corner of 8th and Peachtree in Midtown, and, in doing so, opens the door to redevelopment for a property more in line with the neighborhood’s burgeoning cityscape.

With new high-rise apartments, office towers, and mixed-use developments already in the works, logic says this could be a site for Midtown’s next big idea.

That all depends on what the property owners decide to do, of course, now that their government tenant has moved south.

Soaring Land Values Have Atlanta Churches Exploring Ways To Work With Developers

Two historic Episcopal churches in Atlanta, which combined control more than 8 acres of prime Midtown land, are mulling the redevelopment of their land as its property value soars.

Midtown Atlanta
Google Maps: All Saints Episcopal Church in Midtown Atlanta

Leaders of All Saints Episcopal Church off West Peachtree Street and Saint Luke’s Episcopal Church off Peachtree Street are evaluating potential redevelopments of sections of their church land into mixed-use projects with private developers. After acquiring the rest of its block, a string of aging retail spaces across from The Varsity sandwiched between West Peachtree and Spring streets in Midtown, in 2015, All Saints convened a committee of prominent parishioners to study what to do next, including the possibility of building housing or a mix of uses. “Developers are calling us more. But developers are looking for land that is able to be built in high density,” Emory University Candler School of Theology professor Lang Lowrey said. Lowrey is also an ordained Episcopal priest, a member of the All Saints committee and regularly consults with other Episcopal churches across the country on real estate issues. All Saints and Saint Luke’s, which sits a block from the Emory University Midtown Hospital, are just the latest churches in the heart of a major city finding themselves on a virtual gold mine as major cities across the nation experience an urban renaissance.

Midtown Atlanta has especially been the target of developer lust as residents and corporations flock back to its confines. Next to All Saints, Norfolk Southern is constructing its new global headquarters and the owners of The Varsity have been evaluating potential redevelopment plays for their property. Bull Realty founder Michael Bull said the continued development in Atlanta has helped to inflate land values in its three prime submarkets: Midtown, Buckhead and Downtown. That has forced many churches to consider what to do with the dirt they sit on.

Today, an acre of land in Midtown averages north of $10M, Marcus & Millichap Senior Director Paul Johnson said. A decade ago, that price tag would have been less than half that much. “All of it comes because these people are building 20- to 40-story products,” Johnson said.

Soaring Land Values Have Atlanta Churches Exploring Ways To Work With Developers

Midtown Alliance Rendering for the proposed apartment tower next to Saint Mark United Methodist Church in Midtown

Recently, Saint Marks United Methodist Church in Atlanta sold a portion of its campus to StreetLights Residential to develop a high-rise apartment tower that will loom over the historic church. In 2013, Friendship Baptist Church parishioners agreed to sell their historic church on Mitchell Street for nearly $20M to the Atlanta Falcons, which used the land to develop Mercedes-Benz Stadium. In turn, the church developed a new facility just two blocks away.

“If you’re sitting on several million dollars of equity that you could trade … and have millions to help people, then why shouldn’t you do it?” Bull said. Justifications for redeveloping urban church properties can vary. For Saint Marks, the agreement with StreetLights was simply for parking, Senior Pastor Beth Lorocca-Pitts said. “Originally we had purchased the parcels behind us with the intent of putting in a surface parking lot,” Lorocca-Pitts said. “One of the things that kills an intown church is not having the parking on a Sunday.” After purchasing the parcel for $1.3M, church leaders soon discovered that Atlanta prohibited surface parking on that lot. Any deck parking would cost in the millions of dollars, so getting that critical extra parking space was out of reach without the help of a private developer, she said. But selling underused land or an entire church itself is never an easy decision for a congregation. Sometimes, these explorations lead to a conclusion by congregations to do nothing at all, despite the underlying values of their land. That was the case with Wieuca Road Baptist Church in Buckhead in 2016. For a year, church leaders considered selling their building and the 4.6 acres it sits upon, sandwiched between 3630 Peachtree and Phipps Plaza, for what would have been a big payday. But ultimately, the church — then led by Mark Wilbanks — voted to stay put where it has been since 1956. “I mean, people have been calling us for years to say, ‘Hey we want to buy your back parking lot,’” Lorocca-Pitts said. “It’s never interesting to a church unless there’s some reason that will benefit them.”

For Saint Marks, that benefit is clear. StreetLights is reserving 150 of the 568-space parking deck for church use. For All Saints, the church is creating an alternative revenue stream as younger generations of churchgoers tend to be less generous with their tithing, Lowrey said. Baby boomers and church elders make up 10% of churches’ tithing (giving at least 10% of one’s income) versus 3% for Generation Xers and 2% for millennials, according to a 2017 Barna Group report. That is forcing churches to come up with other ways to raise capital. “We also believe now … you need other sources of income. That’s why people are looking back to the real estate,” Lowrey said. “I just don’t think the millennials have the money that the baby boomers have. So there’s a need for alternative sources of income.”

The Episcopal Church has taken this tactic elsewhere, including with Cathedral Church Saint John the Divine in New York City, which sold a portion of its land to Brodsky Organization. The developer built Enclave at the Cathedral, a 15-story apartment tower next door to the 120-plus-year-old church. Episcopal churches in Pasadena, California, Miami and Nashville have also partnered with private developers for various commercial developments on church-owned properties, Lowrey said. Officials with the Episcopal Church said they are not looking to sell the land holdings themselves, but instead enter into long-term land leases with developers, giving the church some control over the vision and use of those properties. “You got to balance the excitement of the real estate play with sort of the mission of the institution,” said Diversified Trust principal Michael Gragnani, who also is a member of the All Saints planning committee.

Church leaders are studying the trends shaping Midtown overall and how they can fit into that mix, both from a commercial perspective — such as fitting Saint Luke’s property into the proposed park over the interstate in Downtown — and from a mission perspective, including speaking with various nonprofit organizations on what the area’s greatest needs are, All Saints Rector Simon Mainwaring said. “I certainly think that a question of housing is one of the questions we should look deeply,” he said. All Saints has various programs already, including a small amount of housing for those recovering from drug addiction and the homeless. Mainwaring said with commercial development, there will likely be some social awareness aspect to the projects. For instance, the church could require multifamily developers to build affordable or workforce housing, or at least units small enough to be affordable to nurses and staff who work at Emory’s hospital. The committee is expected to study the potential uses of its land at both parishes and come up with a potential master development plan by 2021. “We’re finding ourselves in this great location at a time and place and at the heart of our mission as a church,” Mainwaring said. “We have a phrase that describes it for us: It is in the city and for the city.”

By Jarred Schenke, Bisnow Atlanta
June 18, 2019

Original Article Link: https://www.bisnow.com/atlanta/news/construction-development/two-midtown-churches-latest-to-consider-redeveloping-its-land-99492?utm_source=CopyShare&utm_medium=Browser