Published on December 16th, 2015 |1
‘The future of Buckhead is now’ Massell states at real estate forum
Massell likely was referring not only to the outside temperature, but also to the growth in population and development activity. “Buckhead is the address of choice in every category,” Massell said,
kicking off a morning of two panel discussions. “The future of Buckhead is now,” Massell stated emphatically, indicating Buckhead is bullish and balanced in residential, office and retail growth and development to the audience at the forum sponsored by Bisnow online real estate news organization.
Admitting that there is some uneasiness about the number of apartment projects slated for Buckhead—almost 14,000 units by 36 different developers in various phases of development since January 2012—told the group, “There is a need to be cautious.”
“I’m concerned that developers competing with so many others may cut corners or may do things that may not be appreciated 10 years from now,” he said, citing low- to mid-rise stick-built apartment complexes as particularly worrying. “I think you need to be cautious, or you bring about new laws and new ordinances that you’d rather not have around.”
But he wasn’t talking about a lack of demand despite an increase of 110 percent since 2010 and a 38 percent increase in just 2015. Massell was warning about ensuring the quality standards and value of these properties would still be retained 10 years from now.
In terms of office development in Buckhead, Massell’s message was much the same as that of panelists during morning forum—demand will outpace supply in the near future.
He pointed out that at the beginning of the recession in 2007, Buckhead had four major spec office buildings under construction and drew criticism for over developing. Massell said the occupancy rate in all four of those buildings now is in the 90 percent range, with one having 97 percent occupancy.
“That is about as good as you can get,” Massell stated. And, that exceeds the average occupancy rates in both Midtown and Downtown Atlanta.
“Atlanta is one of those cities with two downtowns,” the former Atlanta mayor proclaimed, indicating that Buckhead is the growth downtown. Massell said between the 2000 and 2010 census reports, the rest of Atlanta grew by a little over 2,000 residents, while Buckhead grew by over 10,000 residents to a present resident population of 82,000.
“We have a Five Points here too,” Massell said referring to the main intersection in downtown Atlanta and the intersection of Peachtree, Paces Ferry and Roswell roads in the Village area of Buckhead where new residential and retail development is now abundant.
Massell was followed on the stage by a panel discussion of “Development, Design & Construction” trends in Buckhead’s future, featuring Buckhead CID Executive Director Jim Durrett, Edens Company Southeast VP Herbert Ames, Niles Bolton Associates Principal Stephanie Kirkpatrick and DPR Hardin Construction Regional Manager Russ Brockelbank. Panel moderator was AGH accounting firm President Randy Gold.
Ames said Buckhead’ central commercial district is always going to have a couple of the top malls in the country with Lenox Square and Phipps Plaza, where Simon has spent a lot of money in the past couple of years sprucing them up and which generate a lot of destination focus shoppers.
But south down Peachtree Road in the Buckhead Village area, Ames said what is being developed is a more walkable environment, which has been brought about by OliverMcMillan’s Buckhead Atlanta mixed-use development, incorporating residential and office with a primary focus on street retail.
Expanding from Buckhead Atlanta down Pharr Road “the landscape is going to be a more walkable environment” with mid- to high-rise apartment projects, many of which will have ground floor retail.
Ames pointed out that Edens has 170,000 square feet of space in the West Village area (north of W. Paces Ferry Road and west of Roswell Road)
where he said his company is focusing on smaller local retailers, in what is likely to become a more walkable environment.
Brockelbank told the audience, “I am seeing a nice balance of office and residential development on and off of Peachtree Road.” But he has not yet seen a major return to new hospitality development.
Kirkpatrick said multi-family development is the big story in Buckhead and added that Peachtree Road is the focus, indicating everyone wants to be located at main and main. She said a lot of the new projects are replacing or reimagining older buildings along the corridor.
“Every project we work on in Buckhead today is mixed-use,” the architectural firm principal added. “People are becoming aware of living above retail.”
Brockelbank agreed stating, “I don’t know of any apartment development that we have done recently that ground-level retail hasn’t been part of.”
But Ames pointed out that ground-level usage for a fitness center or leasing office is not making it an active space that becomes a public attraction for a walkable environment.
Responding to a suggestion by moderator Gold that Buckhead lacks the live/work/play environment that exists in Midtown Atlanta, Durrett said, “I would disagree. We don’t have the finer grid structure like Midtown,” but Buckhead offers the same opportunities.
“Up until 20 years ago, everybody came in to Buckhead in the morning and left at the end of the day,” Durrett, an Atlanta native said. “We still have that. But also now more people live and work here. Our goal is to create an environment whereby people want to stay here.”
It was pointed out that, while Buckhead may not have all of the live/work/play elements in one single location, there are many places in Buckhead where all those elements are within a short walk of each other—enhancing he concept of creating a more walkable environment.
Ames said Edens took a poll of the 15 people who work in its Buckhead office, which showed that most of the people chose to live in Buckhead to be close to where they work.
As with just about any discussion of the future of Buckhead, traffic came up as one of the very major concerns.
“We are traffic,” Ames said. Until we are willing to get out of our cars, we are going to have traffic.”
Pointing to the millions of dollars the Georgia Department of Transportation has now agreed to spend on improving the intersection of GA 400 and I-285, Ames asked why more money isn’t spent on extending MARTA to meet the market transportation needs rather than redoing the GA 400/I-285 intersection that may save four minutes of travel time.
Durrett said one of the major goals of Buckhead CID projects is to “improve the road pinch points” in order to make moving about the CID’s area easier. He pointed to the CID’s proposal to widen the Piedmont Road corridor between Peachtree and Lenox Roads as “the highest priority transportation idea we are working on right now.”
He said finding ways to create new connections within Buckhead is integral to easing the traffic issues. “The more connections we can make the more we can improve the traffic situation,” he added.
(Editor’s Note: Check back with BuckheadView.com later for a follow-up story on the second panel discussion at the Bisnow forum Dec. 16—a discussion of the future of real estate investments and acquisitions in Buckhead.)