In that nebulous part of town where broader Midtown meets lower Buckhead, or what Atlantans generally refer to as Lindbergh, four storefronts along Piedmont Road have transformed into a hub of creativity in recent weeks. Gone are Wet Willie’s, Jimmy John’s, and a bank branch, and in their place is what’s called a Cross-Pollination Art Lab, a 12,000-square-foot series of galleries, performance spaces, and studios where artists, writers, musicians, and other creatives might cheaply rent space, collaborate, and sell their wares during these fraught times.
It’s an initiative put together by the Hambidge Center, which operates a 600-acre artist sanctuary—the Southeast’s oldest residency program—in the North Georgia Mountains. In explaining why that particular intown location could work, Hambidge’s executive director Jamie Badoud recently called the area “one of Atlanta’s most connected and visible neighborhoods, which provides great exposure and accessibility” for artists who might be having a tough go of the pandemic.
The latest owners of Lindbergh’s commercial and office components would concur. They’d just prefer you start calling it by another name.
The art lab marks the first visible step in developer Rubenstein Partners’ ambitions to transform Lindbergh’s dated, mostly empty mixed-use core into a more energetic district called “Uptown.” Hambidge will occupy the four combined Piedmont retail spaces through at least June, and the lab concept could be woven into a different section of the district as part of a planned $70-million redevelopment, says Taylor Smith, Rubenstein’s regional director in Atlanta.
Hambidge’s presence “has already started to change the environment,” says Smith. “It’s been a pretty sleepy project for the last 20 years, prior to our ownership, and that’s the kind of activity that we want onsite.”
It’s not the first time a developer has floated the “Uptown” moniker as a natural extension of downtown and Midtown. John Dewberry—aka, Atlanta’s “Emperor of Empty Lots”—has attempted to rebrand the area along Peachtree Street north of Midtown as such for years. But Rubenstein officials are confident the 47-acre component of Lindbergh City Center they bought in September 2019 for $187 million has enough attributes that the Uptown branding will not only stick but spread to neighboring shopping centers and multifamily communities.
The idea is that Uptown would refer to basically everything between Interstate 85 and central Buckhead. Smith says a partnership with MARTA—and potential renaming of the Lindbergh MARTA Station, among the system’s busiest stops—could help.
When it debuted in the early 2000s, Lindbergh Center’s twin 14-story towers occupied by AT&T were applauded as Atlanta’s first transit-oriented development, or TOD, a model that MARTA has since replicated in places like Edgewood and Avondale Estates. More than 700 apartments and roughly 160,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space followed. But about half of that commercial space is vacant, and a large apartment component that Rubenstein doesn’t own, Avana on Main (formerly “Uptown Square”), was heavily damaged by a fire in August that also claimed two businesses. Rebuilding could take years.
In scouting the area, Smith and associates saw Lindbergh as “the hole in the proverbial doughnut,” a destination for patrons of Taco Mac, Tongue & Groove, Dunkin’, LongHorn Steakhouse, and 26 Thai Kitchen and Bar, but a place most Atlantans passed by. The combination of so much office space with direct MARTA connectivity, interstate accessibility, and the promise of three multiuse trails one day converging in the area—the BeltLine, PATH400, and Peachtree Creek Greenway trails—proved savory. And once AT&T’s lease expires on New Year’s Eve and the company officially vacates, Rubenstein will have 1 million square feet of office space to work with, or roughly twice that of Ponce City Market. Rubenstein, a national firm, counts metro Atlanta office properties at the Perimeter and in Alpharetta, plus the 8West project that’s recently taken shape over Howell Mill Road in West Midtown.
“It all starts in January,” says Smith of the Uptown plans. “You’ll see a lot more construction, and by next spring, sort of a blooming of our vision on site.”
Specifically, plans call for a reimagining of office spaces and a refreshed, 35,000-square-foot atrium at the towers’ base loaded with millennial-friendly amenities: a fitness center, game lounge, wine and food options, and a conference center fit for 500. Rubenstein seems to be eyeing large tech tenants—following major intown moves by Microsoft, Google, and others—with a workforce that might work untraditional hours and appreciated access to trains. “We’re expecting a much young, more dynamic workforce to come in,” notes Smith.
From the exterior, expect more balconies and storefronts to be reconfigured to allow for more covered gathering spaces and outdoor dining. Local art will also be a focus.
In terms of programming, plans call for activating the site’s public lawn with more family friendly movies and, beginning in December, comedy shows. Elsewhere, two new fields installed by Soccer in the Streets near the MARTA station will host pre-match events staged for Atlanta United supporters next season.
Smith says a series of pop-up restaurants where local chefs can test new concepts is in the works for this upcoming spring. The goal would be for chefs to eventually lease a brick-and-mortar space, and that “hyper-local, chef-driven focus restaurants” would complement existing businesses and make Lindber—err, Uptown—more appealing to the hundreds of renters next door.
“I’ve been coming to the old Lindbergh for my entire time in Atlanta . . . everybody knows it, it’s so central, it’s got so many attributes that are irreplaceable,” says Smith. “If we, with our capital, can just get the energy going, which we think we can do, bringing all these people onsite until they get [businesses] going, that can be a winning formula. You will see changes—whether everybody embraces them, that’s left to be seen—but you will see changes.”
The Hambidge Center’s Cross-Pollination Art Lab is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 2450 Piedmont Road NE. Face coverings are required, and visitor capacity is limited at all times.