Ponce City Market Guide: Meet the man behind the big picture
He’s president of a real estate investment and management company that oversees marquee properties across the country valued at $9.4 billion, but Atlanta’s Michael Phillips prefers to describe himself as a “curator.”
A self-professed design junkie, Phillips serves as Jamestown’s “aesthetic conscience,” overseeing the look and feel of a project. At Ponce City Market, he has hand-selected, recruited, or green-lit nearly every store, restaurant, and food kiosk. He is so focused on developing an appealing collection of offerings that Jamestown sometimes gives sizable discounts for the right tenant.
“Creating a good retail mix is like cooking,” Phillips says, “where you add a variety of spices to a meal to find just the right blend of flavors.”
Phillips, 46, launched his career in the early 1990s with Maddix Deluxe, his popular Virginia-Highland store that carried a then-unique mix of cards, gifts, flowers, gourmet chocolates, and high-end furnishings.
While overhauling a former warehouse at the end of Zonolite Road near Emory University to serve as headquarters for a Maddix wholesale line, Phillips—who also carved out spaces there for Floataway Cafe, PushPush Theater, and others—discovered his real passion was as a developer finding new uses for old buildings.
After selling his store in 1995, he and his business partner, Kathleen Walker, founded TuckerMott and went looking for a “new urban main street,” an ungentrified corner of the city not yet choked with traffic that could serve as the blank slate for a new kind of retail cluster. They found it in the collection of industrial buildings that became the Westside Provisions District at the intersection of Howell Mill and Huff roads—a project that can be largely credited for kicking off Atlanta’s Westside development boom.
Phillips’s life partner of 25 years, interior designer Dominick Coyne, designed the retail and restaurant spaces, including Star Provisions and Bacchanalia, which Phillips lured from its previous home in Buckhead. (Phillips serves as vice chairman of the Board of Trustees for James Beard Foundation.)
In 2006 TuckerMott invested in the nearby former White Provision meatpacking plant (now home to shops like Billy Reid), and Jamestown signed on as co-partner in 2007. Phillips joined their team as creative director the following year.
PCM is just one of four large-scale, adaptive reuse projects Jamestown is developing along the East Coast under the direction of CEO Matt Bronfman. Working on this colossal scope is possible for Jamestown in part because it operates as a private equity firm, in which investors—many from Germany, where the company was founded—put money into a selection of funds tied to specific redevelopment projects. High-profile properties, like Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco and Chelsea Market in New York, become part of the company’s long-term portfolio.
At PCM, Phillips worked alongside Coyne and New York’s S9 architecture (as well as other outside firms and a slew of in-house architects) to determine how to mix historic elements with new construction.
As Phillips sees it, “Ponce City Market is our love letter to Atlanta.” —Scott Henry