Published on June 20th, 2018 |0
‘Transitional’ Westside seeing mix of development
Talk about the Westside with developers and conversation quickly turns into a game of opposites.
When developers were asked recently to describe the area, these words played out: gritty, vibrant, neglected, potential, graffiti, authentic, artsy, flexible and opportunity.
But perhaps the overall word given was “transitional.” The Westside, loosely defined as bordered by Chattahoochee Avenue, Howell Mill Road and Marietta Street, was the topic of a panel discussion, “Atlanta’s Upper Westside Boom,” sponsored by Bisnow.
The area, once noted for its industrial warehouses and run-down neighborhoods, is experiencing a slow revitalization, fueled by mixed-use developments that are increasingly attracting the attention of national investment firms.
“We are seeing national institutional buyers, capital investing taking a serious look at the market,” says McKittrick Simmons, managing partner of Sweetwater Holdings, a privately held investment firm. “It’s encouraging because it’s like a stamp of approval.”
Pierce Lancaster, managing partner of Third & Urban, agrees the capital influx is a “higher octane capital” but that the capital is matching the tenant demand.
“We’re not seeing a lot, well some, tenants watching 30,000 square feet; we’re seeing more 5,000-, 10,000- and maybe 15,000-square-foot users,” he says. “Most don’t want or need storage space. We’re not seeing a Class A market place right now, maybe A-minus, B-plus, with huge tenants. We’re not seeing a swing to pure lofts, either. It’s a gradual evolution. It’s not happening overnight.”
Lancaster’s company is currently developing COMPLEX, a reclaimed warehouse space that will have mixed-use opportunities on the Westside.
Although office space is the main focus of many of these projects, many have a residential component. The single-family home market is “heating up while the multi-family market is more challenging due to the cost of construction,” says Joel Bowman, partner at Urban Creek Partners, a real estate development company that focuses on urban infill, new development and the redevelopment of commercial properties. “
Those who are moving into the area still might be considered “urban pioneers” but an umbrella description would be that they “want to align how they spend their day with their personal priorities,” says Jim Irwin, president of New City LLC, a development company that specializes in preserving structures with historic character, such as Ponce City Market. “The area will attract the top talent from Georgia Tech. It’s about attracting and retaining this talent. It’s people who may live in Vinings or West Buckhead who maybe don’t want to fight traffic or want more authentic living experience. It’s for people who don’t want to live in shiny clean glass buildings in Midtown. It’s a wide demographic.”
As for retail, that will come with the residents, the panel agreed. “It’s all about critical mass,” says Lancaster. “Retail is struggling but food and beverage is more successful now. Entertainment districts will help. There are several breweries circling around the area.”
One attraction that is an impetus for development — housing and retail — is Topgolf on Ellsworth Industrial Boulevard, says Malloy Peterson, senior vice president of development at Selig Enterprises Inc. “There is real demand to put retail in there because of Topgolf.”
With so much development — or redevelopment — one of the hardest and most challenging aspects is the design — balancing the character of the neighborhood and the building with the commercial needs.
“The key is to start with a vision and stick to it; don’t water it down,” says Bowman. “We refused to do surface parking on one project and we got the deal done. You have to be authentic with the neighborhood but what you really want is to see a vibrant neighborhood that is walkable.”
Irwin says the pendulum can swing too far in either direction “trying to freeze a structure in time,” or just “rip it up and build what feels good. It has to be in perfect harmony with the surroundings and what is needed. What I like to say is to pick out the one or two essential elements that makes that place special and highlight it. At the end of the day you want to enjoy the space. You want to enjoy a cool place that gives you a ‘wow’ feeling. You want permanence and stability.”
Alex Brennan, executive vice president for development and investment at Cannon Equities, a full-service real estate firm, says his company razed some Class and D industrial space and public housing. “So now you’re building something and the challenge is how do you fit it into the neighborhood? You don’t want to build something to ‘look old’ because everyone knows it’s new. So you take elements and pay homage to the older era with materials and design elements.”
Ninety percent of Selig Enterprises’ holdings are 50 years or older, says Petterson. Selig is developing the The Works at Chattahoochee, an 80-acre mixed-use development that will convert low-rise brick warehouses into 60,000 square feet of office space, 500,000 square feet of retail, 500 residences and a 200-key boutique hotel.
“We talk about this a lot,” she says. “How do you bring it to life? We’re doing it by keeping a local vibe. We’re putting in local businesses and lots of green space to add a softer feel to it. Again, it’s all about bringing these buildings to life.”