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Atlantic Station promise starts to become reality

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Big dream rising

Atlantic Station promise starts to become reality

By DAVID PENDERED

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Photos

As development projects go, Atlantic Station is huge. If not the biggest in size under construction in the country, certainly it's one of the biggest in stature.

The 138-acre urban village emerging from the industrial brownfield at the junction of I-75 and I-85 may become the model for city building in the 21st century.

A master-planned neighborhood of residences, offices, retailers and restaurants, Atlantic Station has been developer Jim Jacoby's dream for nearly a decade. In the coming year, key parts of the dream -- depicted in a model in his 17th-floor office across the Downtown Connector -- will become reality.

The first residents already are unpacking boxes in the first 56 townhomes. In April, the first office tenants -- bankers and lawyers with SouthTrust Bank and the Arnall Golden & Gregory law firm -- will move into the first office tower, a 21-story granite-and-glass structure where workers who seem to walk in the sky are now putting finishing touches on the upper floors.

The number of residents of this landmark redevelopment project will increase in April, when 64 condominiums will open. In all, a total of more than 400 units are to be welcoming homeowners by the end of 2004.

With thousands of people moving into the central city every year -- reversing a three-decade trend of flight to the suburbs -- developers believe demand is so strong that the number of residential units planned at Atlantic Station has risen to as many as 5,000, up from the original projection of 3,500.

Retailers have lined up to reserve space in a new American-style bazaar.

Regal Theatre plans to provide about 4,000 seats in a 16-screen complex that will offer an upscale alternative for the downtown and Midtown markets. Dillard's and Ikea intend to open doors on a range and caliber of goods that downtown hasn't seen since the days when big department stores made the Five Points area the shopping destination for a region.

Numerous restaurants, a comedy club and a grocery store round out the early list of tenants for spaces to begin opening in the spring of 2005. For the first time in a generation, intown is to offer shiny neighborhood amenities similar to the suburbs.

This new $2 billion planned community will be connected to the rest of Atlanta by a new six-lane bridge rising above the Downtown Connector at 17th Street in Midtown. The ambitious project couldn't have gotten off the ground without a connection to the heart of Atlanta.

The state Department of Transportation is expected to announce the opening date of the bright yellow bridge as early as today.

Atlantic Station's stature is evident in the aggressive push it received from all levels of government. Washington waived a moratorium on road construction in Atlanta to allow the bridge to be built. The state greenlighted the development and cleared all bureaucratic hurdles. Local officials issued $76.5 million in bonds to install roads and sewers on the property.

The state and federal government have spent about $38 million to build the bridge and new interchange that will funnel the tens of thousands who eventually will live, work or shop in this new town center.

Gauging the impact of this political support is difficult for a project with a construction timeline that stretches a decade into the future. Jacoby's vision extends to at least three hotels and more than 6 million square feet of office space. As soon as the bridge opens, shuttles will buzz around the property and link it with MARTA's Arts Center station.

As Atlantic Station has taken shape, it has become the concept other developers emulate for their intown projects. Near Little Five Points, a planned residential and retail development has been portrayed as a mini-Atlantic Station. At the intersection of Lindbergh Drive and Piedmont Road, the same developer is putting up another major retail center, to be surrounded by new homes.

In an industrial corridor west of downtown, a warehouse owner envisions his land being redeveloped into a new urban center. Folks in Poncey-Highland hope that the proposed redevelopment of City Hall East will provide their neighborhood with the kinds of amenities expected at Atlantic Station.

These are big dreams in a city that always dreams big.

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