4 grand development ideas that could revolutionize Atlanta

If implemented, could these ideas make the city a prime pick for Amazon?
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Big Ideas

Illustration by T.M. Detwiler

Aerotropolis

What is it?
In 2013, south metro business leaders and government officials tasked themselves with turning the area surrounding Hartsfield-Jackson from a mish-mash of vacant land, low-rise businesses, and restaurants into a bustling center of corporate headquarters, sought-after hotels, and even venues like a professional basketball arena. Known as the Atlanta Aerotropolis Alliance, the group is predicting that future industries will want to follow pioneers such as Porsche and BMW (its North American training facility broke ground last year) and set up near the world’s busiest airport, and that other companies, amenities, and perhaps even people will come here, filling in the nearly 40,000 acres ripe for development along South Fulton Parkway and surrounding cities.

Cost
Gerald McDowell, head of the Aerotropolis community improvement district, says as much as $150 million in projects could be complete by 2024, with $1 billion to $2 billion more in the next 10 years.

Status
Next year, the Alliance will break ground on the first of 15 interchange overhauls, followed by a greenway and multi-use trail that could link to the BeltLine. The Atlanta Hawks D-League arena opens in 2019.

Amazon readiness
There’s land, rail connections, and a next-door neighbor that has an average of 2,500 arrivals and departures every day—all on Amazon’s wish list. But is it too removed from the bustle of downtown?

The Ray

What is it?
Three years ago, Georgia named an 18-mile stretch of I-85 between LaGrange and West Point in honor of Ray Anderson, the founder of carpet manufacturer Interface who died in 2011. Anderson was the consummate corporate citizen whose decision to make his company carbon-neutral by 2020 spurred the rest of the industry to follow suit. To honor Anderson’s legacy, his family’s philanthropic foundation decided to turn that segment of interstate into the Ray: the country’s first “sustainable road,” which could become a model for roadways of the future. For the past three years, project backers have partnered with Georgia Tech, Anderson’s alma mater, to show off sample technology like solar-powered electric vehicle charging stations, a roadway covered with solar panels, and a drive-thru device that measures the depth of tire tread—the first in the world. At the same time, the project has built bioswales, which are basically landscaped drainage ditches that filter storm water, and planted roadside plants like wildflowers. It’s also working with researchers to test interstate barriers that would capture solar energy, wind turbines, and pavement using chewed-up rubber tires. Adding the material to asphalt makes a more durable and quiet road—not to mention keeping spare tires out of landfills.

Cost
Ray leaders have no official cost estimate, but more than $1 million has been invested to date by the Georgia Department of Transportation, Kia, and Interface, among other sources.

Status
Drones will begin to assess accidents and roadway conditions this year. Three thousand sun-thirsty solar panels are scheduled to be installed in the spring.

Amazon readiness
Considering the online retailer wants access to mass transit, a roadway roughly 60 miles from Atlanta isn’t particularly relevant. But CEO Jeff Bezos, who belongs to a billionaire’s club funding new tech to curb climate change, might be impressed.

The Stitch

Illustration by T.M. Detwiler

The Stitch

What is it?
Sure, the construction of I-75/85 connected Atlanta to the rest of the Southeast. But it also sliced our once bustling downtown in half, decimating black-owned businesses and ruining the pedestrian experience in some parts of the city. But a long-discussed daydream of urbanists and Georgia Tech students could become a reality with the Stitch, Central Atlanta Progress’s bold plan to cap the Downtown Connector near Emory Midtown, creating a new three-acre park and developable land that could house more residents—exactly what’s needed to create a new, walkable downtown.

Cost
Early estimates pegged the price tag at $300 million based on similar projects in Dallas and Boston. However, boosters think creating a blank slate for development near transit and the interstate, in the heart of downtown, could attract more than $3.1 billion in investment.

Status
Project boosters launched a feasibility study late last year.

Amazon readiness
Sure, the Stitch doesn’t exist yet. But reports say the spot did land on a shortlist of properties that could accommodate the online retailer’s second North American headquarters.

South Downtown/The Gulch

What is it?
In October 2016, Jake Nawrocki was standing in the middle of South Broad Street in South Downtown, surrounded by more than 100 local artists and neighbors having a dinner party in the middle of Elevate, a public art event celebrating the neighborhood’s historic past and daydreaming about its future. The Atlanta-based president of Newport US RE, the German developer that was plotting to buy dozens of the historic community’s underutilized buildings, looked around and thought: This is going to be more than your traditional real estate investment. Led by real-estate veterans such as Katherine Kelley, who helped Jamestown Properties redevelop Ponce City Market, Newport owns or controls 47 buildings—more than 800,000 square feet stretching 10 city blocks—that it plans to renovate and activate with retail, restaurants, and housing. Doing so would revive the oldest and most long-overlooked part of the city, one that already has distinct strengths: historic building stock, walkable grid streets, and simmering energy in a tight-knit arts hub. In the same area, Los Angeles–based CIM Group wants to build a mixed-use mini city capping “the Gulch,” the nearly 200-acre expanse of parking lots and railroad tracks next to Philips Arena. (Atlanta Hawks owner Tony Ressler is the brother of a CIM Group executive.) The group’s tentative plan includes 9 million square feet of office space, a hotel (or two), and 1,000 housing units.

Cost
Newport has spent approximately $89 million acquiring the buildings alone, and last year then mayor Kasim Reed said CIM Group could invest $1 billion. 

Status
Phase One of Newport’s plan—the adaptive reuse of buildings and tenant move-in—is currently underway. Phase Two (no date set just yet) would turn more than four acres of parking lots into 1,000 apartments.

Amazon readiness
Pardon the pun, but it’s prime. The site made the shortlist of potential sites for the company’s second headquarters, and CIM Group’s timeline for completing the project ends in 2027—the same year Amazon wants its new location fully built.  

This article originally appeared in our January 2018 issue.

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