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Published on December 10th, 2017 |

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State of Market panel focuses on projected growth, transportation needs

By Mary Welch

The biggest applause from the more than 200 persons attending Atlanta Bisnow’s State of the Market conference, which focused on the state of the Atlanta real estate market and 2018 projections, came from the opening statement by Timothy Keane, Atlanta’s commissioner of the Department of City Planning.

Atlanta’s Commissioner of Department of City Planning Timothy Keane, right, addresses Bisnow’s State of the Market conference. At left is moderator G. Wilson “Rocky” Horde, of Burr & Forman.

Keane may not have expected to voice the highlight comment, but he did acknowledge the applause with a laugh when he stated that his department is “fixing and re-organizing” the city’s permitting process and within the next 30 days will focus on inspections.

Keane’s statement was a reflection of developers’ optimism of a market that is facing a sizable influx of new residents and the challenge of finding space to build new office buildings, mixed-use spaces, strip centers and housing, especially “affordable and working class” housing.

But with this optimism came acknowledgement of the elephant in the room and with the real estate market: transportation.

The city is projected to grow from a current population of 475,000 to 1.2 million residents with the area growing from 5.7 million to more than 8 million by 2046. At that point, Atlanta would be the sixth largest metro area in the country.

“Most people I speak with say they can’t image Atlanta with more people,” said Keane. “But with more people, it actually is easier to deal with housing and transportation. We don’t want to get into a situation like San Francisco where they can’t build out and housing is very tight and very expensive.”

Chuck Davis, managing director of MetLife, bluntly said that the area has to “catch up on infrastructure. The population is growing too fast. We have a generation who say they may not want to be driving cars. We all can’t rely on Uber.”

Shelton McNally Principal Conor McNally agreed that transportation is the key to creating a metro area that works and can handle the growth. “We need regional transportation to the outer

Cobb County’s Cumberland CID Executive Director Malaika Rivers, left, listens as Conor NcNally makes a point during the panel discussion.

suburbs but we also need to be connected to the urban core as well.”

The two issues are combined as Malaika Rivers, Cumberland CID executive director, pointed out that a family of four earning $45,000 a year would spend 63 percent of its income on housing. However, since that affordable housing would be located far outside the city’s limits, that family next biggest budget buster would be transportation costs. “When you look at the growth that’s coming, that is unsustainable,” she said.

She is working on procuring funding for an $11 billion project to create managed lanes that would reduce traffic by 30 percent. “We have to create methods to get people around,” she added.

Mike Sivewright, market director for JLL, said that it will take “vision” to see how to accommodate future growth, such as south of Little Five Points, in neighborhoods such as Summerhill. “Atlantans don’t see it [the potential] but outsiders do. But the fact is that we need MARTA to expand. Transportation in the inner core and MARTA expanding are vital to getting people to work. The Beltline may be the most important project in the city’s history. We all have to be creative.”

To make the future growth work, developers must figure out the right mix, activities and marketing to attract office, retail and residents, said Reid Mason, director of Franklin Street, which developed Alpharetta’s Avalon and is renovating Colony Square.

“You have to come up with activities, such as green space or ice skating and will not only attract people but will be good on Instagram,” he said. “You have to make everything a destination.”

Insights from other panelists included that grocery stores as anchors are important for retail development and dog daycare in office buildings may be the next competitive advantage amenity.

In addition an experience must be created to bring consumers and to encourage them to spend money. Experiences such as trampoline parks, escape rooms and ax-throwing rooms will be increasing popular. Health and wellness is a trend with a lot of healthy eaters want access to health restaurants and juice bars such as Fit to Go and Kale Me Crazy.

Not surprisingly, it was Keane who also voiced the charge going forward for planning officials and developers. “If the city can absorb 25 percent of the growth that is expected, we will be a better city,” he’s stated.

But noting the transportation challenges, zoning and development challenges, he said all parties must work together to build a sustainable, livable city and metro area. “We cannot just do it, but we need to do it really well.”

 

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