Agent: Townhomes in East Lake’s new commercial hub set sales records

Ell Square is the residential component of the Hosea + 2nd project


The last facet to fill out the four corners of East Lake’s new commercial hub has been a hit with townhome buyers, according to the project’s sellers.

Atlanta homebuilder JackBilt has begun topping out the first phase of a 20-townhome venture that’s claiming the sole empty corner at Hosea + 2nd. The broader project has replaced derelict buildings and vacant lots with restaurants, offices, and a salon the past five years.

Designed by TSW Architects, the four-story townhomes are called ELL Square for “East Lake Line,” a nod to the neighborhood’s nearby borders with Oakhurst and Kirkwood.

Half of six units listed thus far under contract, with prices beginning at $635,000 for three bedrooms and three bathrooms (plus two halves) in 2,060 square feet.

On the top end, the community is notching what listing agent Allen Snow of Atlanta Fine Homes Sotheby’s International Realty calls “record sales numbers.”

How the townhomes are filling the last empty corner of Hosea + 2nd, the southwest quadrant. Courtesy of JackBilt; designs, TSW Architects

That includes a larger, three-bedroom, 2,412-square-foot home that’s set to close in November for $749,000, according to Snow.

No other townhouse in East Lake—or in next-door neighborhoods Kirkwood and East Atlanta, for that matter—has sold for more than $700,000, according to listing services records.

Snow says five townhomes in the first phase have sold or have contracts, priced from $625,000, with most in the high $600,000s to low $700,000s.

Positioned on the southwest corner, the Ell Square townhomes include garages and rooftop outdoor patios with fireplaces. A dozen will have the option for elevators. Planned communal amenities include a dog park and a central courtyard “square” with a lawn, firepit, and seating.

Planned interior aesthetics at ELL Square.Courtesy of JackBilt; designs, TSW Architects

A sample top-floor deck with fireplace.Courtesy of JackBilt; designs, TSW Architects

The first phase of 10 is under construction now, expected to finish in coming months. Renderings suggest an amalgamation of traditional and more contemporary styles that echo recent Hosea + 2nd additions.

JackBilt purchased the last undeveloped Hosea + 2nd quadrant from the owners of Fellini’s Pizza and La Fonda restaurants, Clay Harper and Mike Nelson. Those business partners had bought the four East Lake corners in 2015 from the Cousins Family Foundation, an organization that’s earned national attention for its work revitalizing East Lake since 1993.

Hosea + 2nd won the Atlanta Urban Design Commission’s Award of Excellence for contributions to the city’s urban fabric in 2017. Its tenants include restaurants Poor Hendrix, Mix’D Up Burgers, Perc Coffee Roasters, Japanese-Korean restaurant Salaryman, and the first location of Lake & Oak BBQ.

Hair salon Cameo and the offices of Purpose Built Communities, a national nonprofit founded by developer Tom Cousins and chaired by former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, round out the roster.

The last available retail space—2,300 square feet, with an 800-square-foot wraparound patio—has been claimed by Hippin’ Hops Brewery and Oyster Bar. It’s one of Georgia’s first Black-owned breweries, with another location having opened this year in East Atlanta Village.

Kitty-corner from the townhomes, the Hippin’ Hops Brewery and Oyster Bar corner space is seen under buildout in April.

Co-owner Clarence Boston previously told Urbanize Atlanta he hoped to open the second brewery in East Lake in June. That didn’t happen, but an interior buildout is underway, and the brewery’s Instagram lists the second location as “coming soon.”


SEPTEMBER 17, 2021, 8:29AM


Urbanize Atlanta

Link to Article

Westside Atlanta project on Beltline obtains $10M in property tax reductions

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The architect of Echo Street West is known for designs of award-winning public spaces.

A planned $227 million office and residential development on Atlanta’s Westside has cleared a major hurdle, landing just over $10 million in property tax reductions. The project at Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway and Northside Drive would include 278,100 square feet of creative office space, 50,700 square feet of commercial space, and a 5-story residential building with approximately 285 units.

Developer Lincoln Property Co. owns the 18-acre site, a collection of economically distressed properties along the former CSX Railroad “Kudzu Line.” Lincoln has entered discussions with the Westside Future Fund on a community benefits agreement and could fund a portion of the deal, a representative of the developer told the Development Authority of Fulton County on Tuesday. The apartments will include 57 units marketed to households at 80% of Area Median Income. The Development Authority unanimously approved the property tax breaks. Over 10 years, the creative office development would receive just over $6.9 million in tax reductions, while the apartments get almost $3.3 million. The properties are currently generating about $44,000 in annual revenue, according to the Development Authority. The approval of the tax abatement was an important step in obtaining construction financing for the project. Discussions continue with potential lenders.

The properties to be redeveloped are part of an area that includes Georgia Tech’s expansion into West Midtown and several new residential and office projects that are underway. A new Beltline Connector will run through the new project and link with areas of downtown including attractions such as Mercedes Benz Stadium. Lincoln Property is calling the new Westside development Echo Street West. In February, it landed prominent Los Angeles design firm Rios Clementi Hale Studios, which is known for its work on projects such as Grand Park in downtown LA and the Hollywood Bowl renovations. The firm has won awards for its design of outstanding urban spaces.

Echo Street West offers an example how newly proposed developments may bring significant changes to the Donald Lee Hollowell corridor and surrounding neighborhoods. Some changes are already underway. Just two miles west lies the new Bellwood Quarry Park and Grove Park, an area of Atlanta that has suffered decades of disinvestment and is now undergoing rapid redevelopment. Grove Park land and housing costs have soared. A few years ago, one of the neighborhood’s early 20th century bungalows might have cost $80,000. Now they are listing for $300,000. Grove Park apartments, which once rented for $600 a month, are now leasing for over $1,200.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms earlier this year ordered a moratorium issuing new construction permits near Westside Park, citing the need “to address rapid gentrification occurring in the area.” Echo Street West falls just outside the area of the new moratorium.

By   – Commercial Real Estate Editor, Atlanta Business Chronicle

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:

At prominent Midtown intersection, revised hotel project launches construction

Atlanta planning officials pushed back against earlier, blander designs for 282-key project

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The planned, upgraded hotel design. Renderings: Noble Investment Group

Last year, Atlanta planning leaders and rapt urbanists cheered as the developer of a planned hotel abandoned a flavorless design for something that better gels with Midtown’s historic aesthetic near the Fox Theatre. After a three-month (re)design process spearheaded by City of Atlanta Planning Commissioner Tim Keane, officials with developer Noble Investment Group had reworked plans for a 14-story, dual-branded hotel that all parties involved believe is a better fit. Today, construction launches on the 282-key hotel, which will rise on a parking lot at the corner of Midtown’s Peachtree Street and Ponce de Leon Avenue, Noble officials tell Curbed Atlanta.

The planned hotel bar.

The project, designed by Charleston-based LS3P Associates Ltd., shares the intersection with a host of historic Atlanta structures, including The Fox Theatre, The Georgian Terrace hotel, and the Ponce Condominium building—three early 20th century landmarks. The upgraded hotel design, according to Keane, integrates much better with its neighbors than the bland mockup Noble was asked to change in January 2018.

The lounge.
The lobby.

“It is critically important that Atlanta expect more from its designers and more of its buildings,” Keane said last year, in a prepared statement. “City Planning is focused on design at every scale, so we can make a more vibrant public realm in Atlanta. Buildings are essential to this.”

The hotel is slated to feature 154 rooms under the Marriott Courtyard Flag, as well as 128 more in its Marriott Element section. The nearly 300 rooms would be stacked above a five-story parking deck. The hotel project also plans to introduce a new bar and restaurant to the bustling area. A Noble spokesperson told Curbed the project is expected to deliver by mid-2021.

The former design.

This story was updated to include the name of the architecture firm behind the revised design.

By Sean Keenan – Curbed Atlanta
Link to original article

Invesco adding hundreds of Atlanta jobs, will move to new Midtown HQ

Invesco Ltd. confirmed Thursday that it’s adding hundreds of jobs and moving its Atlanta headquarters to a new mixed-used development in Midtown.

Gov. Brian Kemp‘s office announced that Atlanta-based Invesco (NYSE: IVZ) plans to expand its global headquarters and add 500 jobs as part of a $70 million expansion in Atlanta. Invesco will relocate to an 8.5-acre mixed-use project called Midtown Union at 17th and West Peachtree. Invesco will anchor a 26-story tower in the development, which is being led by MetLife Investment Management (NYSE: MET). The project should be a catalyst for the northern edge of Midtown to transition over the next several years into a denser, more walkable node — more like those to the south at 14th and Peachtree and Technology Square.

The announcement comes on the heels of the May 24 announcement that Invesco acquired Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co.’s Oppenheimer Funds Inc. unit.

The agreement for the $5.7 billion deal was first reported last fall. Invesco is Atlanta’s top money manager with about 550 staff and $164 billion under management out of the Midtown headquarters. The expansion will more than double the Atlanta workforce.

“We’re excited by the opportunity to build on our 40-year presence in the city and meaningfully expand our local team to nearly 1,200 professionals,” said Invesco President and CEO Martin Flanagan in a news release. “We’re also pleased to join MetLife Investment Management & Granite Properties in the development of one of Atlanta’s premier locations at the corner of 17th Street and West Peachtree Street.”

The Oppenheimer purchase vaulted Invesco into being the sixth-largest retail asset manager in the United States and the 13th-largest globally, with $1.2 trillion in assets under management. For now, Invesco occupies space for its headquarters at the 18-story Two Peachtree Pointe building at 1555 Peachtree Street. It moved there 12 years ago and has a lease that runs at least through 2023, sources said.

In January, Atlanta Business Chronicle reported the company had kicked-off its headquarters search and issued a request for proposals to landlords and developers of several proposed towers. As new towers for Norfolk Southern Corp., Anthem Inc., Google, and Smith, Gambrell & Russell begin to rise over the Midtown skyline, Invesco was one of the few big, high-profile tenants remaining for developers to pursue.

“There will always be large companies looking at Atlanta and trying to decide if it’s the right fit for them, but as of now this is one that’s right there at the top,” said Jeff Shaw, CEO of Bridge Investment Group. “The reality is these large corporations that are out there looking in the Atlanta market are not always finding a lot of available space.”

Russ Jobson, a longtime Atlanta real estate broker with Colliers International Atlanta, said, “To maximize leverage in the marketplace, and get maximum value, starting a search early is always better. You need enough time to say no to projects.”

Midtown was the front-runner among intown neighborhoods to retain Invesco, which has well over 500 staff in Atlanta and now has even more slated to join the office as a result of the Oppenheimer deal. Flanagan’s ties to Midtown include chairing the Woodruff Arts Center’s 2016-2017 annual corporate campaign.

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In Midtown, Invesco was leaning toward a location on the north side of the neighborhood for quicker access to cities along the city’s Perimeter and into the suburbs. That’s where many Invesco staff live. Unlike companies such as NCRCorp. or Anthem, Invesco didn’t necessarily seek close ties to Georgia Tech, which made a new building close to Technology Square a less likely destination. Midtown Union is expected to be completed in 2022. Architect Cooper Carry is designing the 26-story office tower. Granite Properties will also serve as development partner for the project.

Earlier this year, Invesco said it engaged CBRE Group Inc. (NYSE: CBRE) to evaluate its space needs in Atlanta and identify amenities in potential projects to attract and retain talented employees.

By Douglas Sams – Commercial Real Estate Editor, Atlanta Business Chronicle
Link to original article

Inside a Midtown apartment building renovation inspired by Studio 54

Where rents start at $1,425 monthly for 500 square feet

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Pop culture abounds in a hallway bisecting the renovated building. Photos courtesy of Tenth Street Ventures


A Midtown apartment building flip with a twist is ready for the paparazzi. Just don’t expect a red carpet.

As announced earlier this month, a small rental complex at 940 Piedmont Avenue, about a block south of 10th Street’s rainbow crosswalks, has been transformed into a more colorful venture called studio9forty, which is said to have taken design inspiration from legendary Manhattan club Studio 54.

Now finished and leasing, the project by Tenth Street Ventures, which provided Curbed Atlanta with photos of designs, carries the risqué motto: “It’s not the size of the unit, but what you do with it.”

On that topic, the building’s 24 units start at just 500 square feet. Also unique is that tenants will be encouraged to Airbnb their rentals while out of town, earning side income from flats they don’t own.

Some larger floorplans are being marketed as one-bedrooms, although blueprints show a more open concept with walls for privacy but no doors.

By the look of things, Studio 54’s pop culture influences are limited to hallways, public areas, and names of floorplan options.

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The building undergoing renovations in December. This image: Google Maps


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The building today.


Elsewhere in Atlanta, Tenth Street Ventures recently converted the 1920s rental community Park at Peachtree Memorial into refurbished condos called Portico Buckhead, where prices begin in the high $200,000s. That project marked one of the first condo conversions in Atlanta’s current real estate cycle.

The company is priding itself on a knack for finding “hidden gems” in vibrant places like Midtown and “rehabbing older buildings while keeping them more affordable than what’s on the market,” per a press release.

“We’re motivated to breathe new life into established neighborhoods,” noted Brian McCarthy, a Tenth Street Ventures principal, “with imaginative and affordable projects.”

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Decatur-based Office of Design architecture firm led the makeover, while LC Design handled interiors, with décor inspired by artist Srinjoy Gangopadhyay of Deljou Art Group.

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The cheapest floorplan’s name nods to a glamorous artist, while the largest option is called “15 Minutes of Fame.” (The starting rent has been adjusted to $1,425). studio9forty

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By Josh Green – Curbed Atlanta
Link to original article

Digitization of massive Midtown billboards faces legal challenge

Some contend the prominent signs were illegally permitted decades ago

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An effort to digitize two of Atlanta’s most prominent billboards has been met with a legal challenge.

In February, the City of Atlanta’s Office of Buildings issued permits that would allow Tazmedia Group, which owns the massive advertising signs on the side and top of a 1960s office building at 1655 Peachtree Street, to upgrade the billboards to digital changing-message signs.

The Trivision billboards, which adorn the same building as a recognizable metal peach, are marketed by the owner as the “world’s largest,” passed by hundreds of thousands of commuters daily on Interstate 85.

But a few parties who could be impacted by the potential glow of the gigantic signage are calling foul.

The Hebrew Benevolent Congregation—best known as The Temple—Hament Desai, and Selig Enterprises are appealing the city’s Board of Zoning Adjustment to invalidate Tazmedia’s permits, arguing that the signs are illegal now.

“They did not comply with the ordinance, they were illegally permitted, they exceed the allowed sign sizes by several multiples, and they are general-advertising signs masquerading as business-identification signs,” say a summary of the BZA appeal.

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Midtown Alliance is backing the appellants. An organization rep told Curbed Atlanta this week, via email: “The signs may have been improperly permitted at the outset when they went up 25 years ago, and digitizing them would create an even more outsized visual impact on the city.”

In 1992, Tazmedia founder Taz Anderson, a former Georgia Tech and Atlanta Falcons football player, and the building’s owner sought a BZA variance that would allow them to triple the size of the rooftop “business-identification sign” from 243 to 720 square feet per sign face, according to documents related to the appeal.

In April that year, the BZA approved the variance, with a few caveats:

This rooftop sign could be no longer than 49 feet, no larger than 486 feet, and must have the same information on all three sides.

The other three BZA-imposed conditions were aimed at ensuring the rooftop sign remained a business-identification sign and not a general-advertising sign.

In May 1993, Anderson’s company secured a building permit for a rooftop sign.

Interestingly, the sign mentioned in the permit would be 917 feet, almost twice the size of what the BZA said it would allow.

Then, Anderson’s company took things a step further, procuring yet another permit for a wall-hung “identification” sign that would span more than 3,800 square feet—“more than 19 times larger than the size allowed,” according to documents.

The appellants now say that allowing the signs to be converted to LED light boards would be “further rewarding the sign owner’s illegal conduct.”

In a statement emailed to Curbed, Tazmedia President Geoff Anderson said, “Our company did comply with the ordinance, [the signs] were legally permitted, they did not exceed the allowed sign size, and they are legal business-identification signs.”

The appellants also assert the billboards are liable to distract drivers, even in their current form.

The building hosting the signs, which has been abandoned since a pre-recession condo conversion failed, was recently pegged for an adaptive-reuse upgrade by architecture firm Smith Dalia.

The firm planned to build on the progress from the ill-fated condo project and create more than 100 residences there.

But, according to Midtown Alliance officials, that plan “is currently stalled without any current permits.”

A BZA hearing regarding the appeal is scheduled for June 6 at noon at Atlanta City Hall.

By Sean Keenan – Curbed Atlanta
Link to original article

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