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Guest donaltopablo

Good article on redevelopment of Midtown West

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I think this is an interesting article on Midtown West developments. This part of Atlanta, just NW of DT is probably one of the best locations for developing a new urban enviornment. The land is mostly industrial which leaves lots of available land for redevelopment without disrupting existing neighborhoods. It also has some old commerical/residential elements that were pretty urban. It needs some help, since as the article mentions, is pretty blighted area.

If Atlanta was smart, they would get started with a LRT/BRT line right now to encourage the right kind of redevelopment. Great area with excellent access to DT, Midtown, Tech, and 2 freeways.

Projects brighten blighted boulevard

Northside Drive's proximity to Midtown and downtown drives developers seeking new opportunities


The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

A stretch of Northside Drive in downtown Atlanta is showing early signs that it may finally evolve from a gritty highway into a prime boulevard leading to trendy neighborhoods and attractions such as the planned Georgia Aquarium.

Almost 600 apartments are being built in two developments near the Georgia Dome, half to open by May and the rest starting in December. And nearly 800 students of Bauder College will move from Phipps Plaza to new classrooms in a refurbished railroad warehouse.

The area's proximity to downtown and Midtown is driving its rebirth, says a co-developer of one apartment complex. Several residential and commercial projects have popped up west of Northside, but they are spotty and scattered across a wide area.

"You ask yourself why there's not much development on this side of town when everything on the east side -- Midtown and Buckhead -- has gone crazy," says Satish Lathi, a principal with Southeast Capital Partners, which also co-developed the Museum Tower condominiums overlooking Centennial Olympic Park.

"We think there's an awful lot of opportunity on the west side," Lathi says. "Even though it's been severely neglected by developers and politicians, the infrastructure is horrendous and the living conditions are horrendous, the community has strong roots, and this area is too close to everything to not get redeveloped. Someone just has to get the ball rolling."

This influx of new blood has the potential to spur profound changes along an important piece of asphalt blighted by years of neglect and hodgepodge development.

Despite its appearance, Northside Drive is a gateway from I-75 to big downtown attractions including the Georgia Dome, Philips Arena and the Georgia World Congress Center. Soon it likely will carry even more traffic as vehicles head to the Atlantic Station mega-development and Centennial Olympic Park, with its two upcoming venues, the Georgia Aquarium and World of Coca-Cola museum.

To reach the attractions, travelers now pass through a corridor that bears no resemblance to Peachtree Street, a parallel road that's both a mile and a mind-set away.

While Peachtree is a dynamic urban street, Northside is a collection of industrial and commercial uses that has baffled urban planners for years. Any plan would remain just that until developers decided whether Northside would ever be changed.

'A whole new life'

Now, Atlanta's chief planner thinks the market is showing the way.

"Northside Drive is taking on a whole new life," says Atlanta Planning Commissioner Charles Graves III. "What we're seeing is the creation of a mixed-use neighborhood that includes housing, some office, some entertainment and some major cultural attractions."

The new apartments are priced for young professionals, teachers, police officers and firefighters. The buzzword is that they are "work force housing," affordable to households with annual incomes of $50,000 or less. Monthly rates range from around $600 to above $1,400, and some units are reserved for households with lower incomes.

The first new housing Northside has seen in decades is to open in mid-April or May. The M Street apartment complex is at the corner of Northside and Marietta Street, on the site of a defunct metal recycling plant.

Its developer, Julian LeCraw & Co., is a veteran builder and manager of intown apartments and condos. M Street is the company's first foray into Atlanta's emerging market of work force housing. The city provided $30 million in low-interest construction funding in exchange for LeCraw's setting aside some of the 308 units for low-income households.

"This project is a forerunner for us, and we are very upbeat and optimistic about doing more of this kind of work," says Michael Tompkins, LeCraw's president. "There's a need for work force housing in the city, and there is a trend in the Marietta Street, Howell Mill Road and Northside Drive area to rebuild. We're on the leading edge, there's no doubt about it. But it's all part of the trend of people moving inside the Perimeter."

The transitional nature of the area is underscored by the potential tenants of the 8,500 square feet of retail space in the project. The list includes not just the usual mixture of pizza and coffee shops and dry cleaners, but professionals such as tax preparers and lawyers, Tompkins says.

"Retail is the $64,000 question," he says.

Wariness over crime

Just south of M Street, another apartment complex is being built by Southeast Capital Partners and an affiliate of historic Antioch Baptist Church North. Like M Street, the project received low-interest financing through the city in exchange for setting aside some units for low-income renters.

Northside Village Apartments is almost directly across Northside Drive from the Georgia Dome. Side streets reach quickly into some of Atlanta's most crime-ridden neighborhoods, a fact that Lathi, the co-developer, says was noted by lenders.

"When we were putting the financing together, a lot of lenders and equity investors wondered why we wanted to build new apartments here, when apartments in Midtown were giving away three months' free rent to get tenants," Lathi says.

"Our market research showed that, while the rest of Atlanta's apartment market was in the tank, apartments in this community were over 90 percent occupied," he says. "People in this community would stay in substandard housing vs. leaving to get free rent. There's a demand in this community for high-quality, affordable housing, and that's what we will provide."

Charter school on hold

Northside Village will be the first phase of development on 16 acres assembled by Antioch Baptist along Northside Drive. A charter school was part of the initial plan, but it was put on the back burner after Atlanta school officials questioned its impact on nearby public schools.

This isn't the first urban redevelopment project by Antioch Baptist. The church was involved in rehabilitating an old railroad repair yard into the funky Northyards Business Park, which opened in 2001. While it was critically acclaimed as a historic preservation effort, no one signed a lease there until last year.

Bauder College has leased 61,000 square feet, nearly one-fourth of the renovated space. The school is growing dramatically, having doubled its enrollment to nearly 800 in the past two years. Bauder, once best known as a fashion design institute, offers associate degrees in fields including legal studies, design and business.

City Councilman Ivory Young, who represents the area, says the fact that lenders did step forward at Northside Village underscores the pending renewal of the surrounding Vine City community. This area west of Northside Drive has been stagnant since the early 1970s, when construction started on the Georgia World Congress Center. Neither the center nor the Georgia Dome has had much positive effect on the neighborhood.

"Northside Village dispels the myth and rumor that there is no economic development interest in a neighborhood that sits in the shadow of the central business district," Young says. "Vine City is on the verge of introducing a redevelopment plan that's a full mixed-use development that will range upward of $100 million. And we are working on plans for the Simpson Road corridor, Dixie Hills and Hunter Hills."

The Wild West

From a ridgetop with a view of the area, the developer of an apartment building that opened last March is watching his competitors try for a toehold in a challenging environment. Alta West was built after a similar scramble by Wood Partners, which has successful projects in Midtown and Inman Park.

Bill Bollwerk, a Wood director, uses Wild West imagery to describe his view of building Alta West. He sees the apartments as a settlement in territory opened by the early pioneers who came to west Midtown more than a decade ago.

"We thought we were settlers, but the capital markets still viewed us as pioneers, and it was tough to finance," Bollwerk says. "But we got financing and we're almost fully leased, with fewer concessions than in the Midtown market. We like it over here."

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