Transformative visions for creating new value for the region


By S. Brent Reid and Michael E. Paris, Viewpoint

As the economy recovers, redevelopment is leading the way in commercial real estate. The net effect in Atlanta is a shift away from sprawl and toward increasingly dense urbanized centers – even in areas long considered suburban. The trend is more than a fad – it is a paradigm shift that requires rethinking public infrastructure investment to match where the private market is moving.

So what’s driving redevelopment? Our 10-county region’s population – now more than 4.2 million – is growing, and readily developable land is becoming increasingly scarce. Cities from Atlanta to Roswell and Woodstock are recognizing that redevelopment is the best way – economically and physically – to accommodate growth.

We know the advantages of redevelopment and infill development are numerous. Taking advantage of existing infrastructure and utilities drives the cost of development down, and locating in dense areas tends to drive property values up. Greater density in city and town centers mitigates sprawl, preserving undeveloped land and – in the process – increasing walkability and promoting healthy lifestyles.

Above all, the market is boosting redevelopment. As more millennials look to live in urban settings rather than suburban neighborhoods, redevelopment of existing properties and real estate is necessary. As a development community we are encouraged by this reuse. We know it will continue in many cases because the prime locations are already developed. Additionally, many times uses that no longer meet the market demand can be transformed into residential uses to accommodate the surge in population growth and the increase of demand in city centers.

The city of Atlanta has seen some of the highest-profile, large-scale redevelopment to date in the region. Atlantic Station led the way when Jacoby Development converted the former Atlantic Steel site in Midtown Atlanta into the country’s largest mixed-use redevelopment, including retail, office and residential in a walkable environment with transit nearby. The Atlanta Beltline – America’s most ambitious, comprehensive urban redevelopment project – has followed, transforming a 22-mile historic rail corridor encircling the city’s urban core into a new and renewed parks, trails and transit. It is investing in affordable housing and spurring economic development.

In fact, the city’s next high-profile redevelopment is on the Atlanta Beltline: Jamestown Properties is turning the Sears, Roebuck and Co. building on Ponce de Leon Avenue into Ponce City Market encompassing retail, office and residential. Ponce City Market will once again attract national attention to Atlanta. And many large-scale redevelopment opportunities have recently been introduced in Atlanta, including the Civic Center, Turner Field and Underground Atlanta. We can look forward to similarly ambitious, transformative visions for creating new value for the region on these sites.

But redevelopment is not limited to the city of Atlanta. North DeKalb Mall is being “demalled” and converted to an outlet center. We can anticipate more of this type of redevelopment of aging malls around the region for nontraditional retail uses, such as schools, churches and medical offices. And the trend extends beyond large-scale redevelopments to infill projects such as converting historic office buildings into boutique hotels or student housing.

In fact, some of the most exciting next steps for redevelopment in the region are on the region’s south side. We recently highlighted those efforts at our Council for Quality Growth August General Membership Meeting, entitled “Two Forts and the Airport” featuring leaders of the airport, the former Ford plant redevelopment including Porsche’s new North American headquarters, and the redevelopments of Fort Gillem and Fort McPherson. We will next be hosting the Cobb County Redevelopment Forum on Oct. 7, as well as the Gwinnett County Redevelopment Forum on Oct. 16. Both events will be forums for industry leaders to learn about the region’s vision for redevelopment and possible tools available to implement this new wave of growth.

“Suburban areas across the country experienced tremendous growth for two decades prior to the Great Recession. As we are thankfully coming out of the recession, we are facing a new market, demographics and development preferences. The good news is that the American Dream is alive and well, but it does look different. Through redevelopment, we have an opportunity to respond to these market changes,” says Kellie Brownlow, director of economic development at the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce.

We anticipate market demand for places to live and work accessible by foot or by transit to continue to drive increasing density around city and town centers. This is translating into the redevelopment of many existing markets and properties. It is a positive growth opportunity to reform and shape existing cities. This is our opportunity to embrace and promote it – and to invest in the transportation infrastructure to perpetuate it.

Paris is president and CEO of the Council for Quality Growth. Reid is chairman of the board of directors of the Council for Quality Growth and president of Winter Construction.