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Once run-down, Midtown shines

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Once run-down, Midtown shines

By DAVID PENDERED

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Renee' Hannans/AJC

Bryan Dabruzzi leaving St Charles Deli in Technology Square in Midtown.

As soon as Doug Cleary heard that Georgia Tech was planning a mixed-use project in Midtown, he knew he'd found the right place to open his second restaurant.

"It's a great location, because it's a combination of Tech's new Technology Square and Midtown," says Cleary, who owns St. Charles Deli. "I think Midtown is going to be great, because instead of coming into the city to a specialty restaurant, people will be living here."

Technology Square and the related Centergy development, which formally opened this month, gave a big boost to Midtown. The jobs, shops and foot traffic it brings are expected to re-energize an area that Joe Frank Harris said at a ribbon-cutting ceremony used to be "a part of town where you didn't want to spend any time." Harris is chairman of the Board of Regents and a former governor.

The project is a perfect example of the kind of development Midtown boosters hope to foster with the second installment of Blueprint Midtown. The first blueprint was produced in 1997 and led to sweeping changes, approved by the Atlanta City Council, in how land in Midtown may be developed.

Blueprint Midtown II will be unveiled Friday at the annual meeting of Midtown Alliance, a group that has worked 25 years to upgrade a once-sagging part of town. Recommendations in this second plan are much more detailed about how the area should look. The plan is based on recommendations from area advocates and is being compiled by Anton Nelessen, a renowned urban planner.

"It's the little things that makes all the difference," says Shannon Powell, the alliance's vice president of planning.

"Before, people said they wanted street-level retail, places to go and things to do, and services for the people who live here -- it was that broad," Powell says. "Now, it's things spilling out on the street, clear glass windows, inset doors and awnings. Experience has allowed us to become more sophisticated about what we want and much more explicit about what it is."

Powell says it is too soon to say if Blueprint II will spur efforts to further modify zoning codes, as the first plan did. The recommendations may be so subject to taste that they might not be legal to put in the code, she says.

"That absolutely is the hardest part about where we are now," Powell says. "At this point, we'll be most effective in sharing the vision on the front end of the development process and helping people to continue to get the buy-in across the board."

The new plan also will reflect Midtown's interest in fostering a transit system in addition to MARTA. And it will include a number of recommendations about where parks could be created to further the pleasures of walking around Midtown.

Some developers say the first blueprint helped them get their projects off the ground. For this reason, they are more supportive of it than they may be of other efforts to put restrictions on how they develop property and buildings.

John Whitaker, Trammell Crow's managing director, has said his company showed the plan to equity partners and potential tenants as part of a marketing pitch for the Procenium building near the Woodruff Arts Center. The blueprint created a comfort level by showing just how the area's leading advocates intend for the area to be developed.

Back at St. Charles Deli, the owner is optimistic that his restaurant will thrive in part because of the firm efforts to guide Midtown's growth.

"The choice for me was between Perimeter and Midtown," says Cleary, whose other restaurant is in DeKalb County. "With the built-in business with Georgia Tech, and the people who live in Midtown and are moving here, I think this location is going to be great."

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