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Stay or not to stay

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Southern Co. to stay downtown at current home or new site

By WALTER WOODS

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Southern Co. will decide by the end of the year whether to pry its logo off its 270 Peachtree St. headquarters and relocate to a new 10-story office tower on the hill overlooking Centennial Olympic Park.

Southern has narrowed its options and will either renew its lease on its current digs at Southern Company Center or become the primary tenant in a planned tower on what's called Centennial Hill, which now has nearly 7 acres of parking lots from Williams Street to the Civic Center MARTA station on West Peachtree Street.

"Those two have come to the top, and they are the best options," said Mark Williams, a Southern spokesman.

Either way, Southern's options would appear to be good news for downtown, which has lost numerous businesses in recent years. Downtown could retain a key tenant if Southern stays at its current location. Or it could get a boost for the developing area around Centennial Olympic Park, where Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus is building a $200 million aquarium and Coca-Cola Co. is planning to relocate the World of Coke museum.

Southern has occupied half of the 22-story, 325,000-square-foot building at 270 Peachtree since 1995, but its lease expires at the end of 2005.

The company has been looking for a new home for its 400 downtown employees for more than a year.

Hal Barry, chairman of Barry Real Estate Cos. and developer of the project tempting Southern to leave its headquarters, had no comment on the proposed deal.

Southern's landlord, Richard Bowers & Co., has made an aggressive offer to persuade the company to stay put, said Michael Shelly, executive vice president at Richard Bowers & Co.

"Southern has a very difficult alternative choice to make," Shelly said. "Do they want a new building and the headaches of relocation to a site off Peachtree ... or do they remain in a location that's been comfortable and successful for them."

Shelly wouldn't disclose how much rent Southern is paying or how much of a break Bowers & Co. is willing to negotiate. Staying at 270 Peachtree would be less costly for Southern, "but the decision is based on their real estate needs being met," Shelly said.

Without Southern's commitment, it's unlikely the Barry project would ever break ground, said Mike Elting, senior managing director at Cushman & Wakefield. To build an office building without a tenant in tow would be nearly impossible in the current market, he said.

A new Southern headquarters could be adjacent to a new proposed residential development downtown.

Jim Borders, president of Novare Group, has bought part of the Centennial Hill property, about 3.6 acres, and plans to build a residential tower with 1,200 condos, said David Branch, a broker at Advantis Commercial Real Estate Services who handled the sale.

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