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Expert's update on 'Streets of Buckhead' in 2011

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Expert's update on 'Streets of Buckhead' in 2011

will return whenever I want ~ what now, atlanta?

Will new developer stick with Ben Carter's plan?

Arizona has the  Grand Canyon.
Georgia has the Streets of Buckhead.

But is the dust about to settle?

What Now Atlanta reported in December that Streets of Buckhead (SOB) was recently taken over by OliverMcMillan, a California development firm.

The deal is scheduled to close the end of April and the California firm is said to invest approximately $300 million to finish the project.

SOB stalled in 2009 under Ben Carter Properties, but what of the initial project is still in tact and which retailers are still on board?

Some of the original retailers included Hermes, Oscar De La Renta, and Brioni to name a few. Hermes left Lenox Mall in anticipation for the project and has since reopened on Buckhead Avenue across from the Hole of Buckhead. One could assume their numbers are afar cry from projections, but they probably get discount beers from their neighbor, Fado Irish Pub.

Whether the rest of the planned retailers will commit, is unknown. Industry wide, national retailers have put expansion plans on hold and those leading retailers that are expanding in the U.S. are Dollar Stores and Goodwill; not Gucci or Ferragamo.

And what of the skyscrapers and high-rises included in the initial SOB plans (vertical development)?

Two residential towers and boutique offices were in the original SOB plan. But is there really a need for more condos and office towers in Buckhead? Consider this: seven million square feet of office space was added to the market in 2008. This, combined with the economic downturn, has created a historical high vacancy rate of 20 percent.

Metro Atlanta's condo market is recovering, but most of the recent sales are driven by price. There were nearly 830 condo sales in 2010, but the majority were foreclosures or short sales. Oliver is taking a big gamble expecting the real estate market will recover in the short run and be able to absorb a six block complex of retail, residential, and office.

Plans for SOB also called for two high end luxury hotel brands.

Both brands were the first two elements to back out from the original plan and it doesn't seem plausible for the newest plans to include hotel elements. General consensus on any significant vertical development to break ground in Buckhead is at least five years out from happening.

In order to maximize profit and growth, the new developers will need to first build the retail and establish the foundation of the project (street level). The developers will need to make the initial construction structurally sound to add vertical development five to ten years down the road. If the developers are smart, they'll disguise empty construction pads with temporary green space and build them out as needed with time.

The dirt hole and exposed steel (rebar), passed by an estimated 45,000 cars daily, is a constant reminder of the sad state of the economy, and the tornado effect it had on real estate-- a ghostly image of what was once the social nightlife area of Atlanta, the great times that were enjoyed there in the 80’s and 90’s and even early 2000’s.

The Kegs are kicked, and we are ready for the next chapter. Hopefully OliverMcmillian will carry out the original vision of Carter, and bless this city with a destination point and development that all Atlantan’s can be proud of.

Dotan Zuckerman

Intown residents Shaun Weinstock and Dotan Zuckerman are innovative Real Estate professionals with nearly 20 years of combined experience in helping retail and office clients align their real estate with their objectives. To learn more, visit or email our expert:

32 responses to “Expert's update on 'Streets of Buckhead' in 2011

  1. This whole thing is a mess and the community is anxious to get something moving. Our real estate values have taken a hit, not to mention the sadness that accompanies remembering the "Good Old Days". (Literally--remember that restaurant shaped like a tree on Peachtree?) If I could wave a magic wand, I would make this area look like 1990 again, before the Olympic-era, Vegas-style bar madness set in. I loved the days when you could walk or drive through this area and hear live music playing, see people hanging out at Aunt Charley's or the Peachtree Cafe. I'd even take the sketchy X-rated theater back. (Odd that it was right next door to the prep school uniform shop, but at least it gave the place some "personality"). I don't really have high hopes that the new plans will be much better than what Atlantic Station has offered us (and what a failure that has been), but anything is better than nothing at this point.

  2. This idea was garbage from the beginning. Why didn't they put the resources into midtown and start building this city from the inside out? L.A. is widely regarding as one of the biggest infrastructure nightmares in the world. Why would anyone want to copy them and create a "rodeo drive" type project? Until the developers can realize this fact, Atlanta is going to continue to be a disappointment to visitors and a have a low quality of life for it citizens.

  3. It pleases me to no end that Ben Carter lost his shirt on this project. Way too greedy and ambitious with complete disregard to the neighborhood.

  4. I worked at One Buckhead Plaza from early 2008 through 2010 and literally looked down and watched all of this happen so I have many thoughts on it but just 1 main question:

    Dotan- Do you know or can you talk to any construction folks who can speak to the damage to what was built and the cost/process to get it back to build-able?

    For example, it's my understand that the exposed rebar in many areas could require them to knock down a floor that's already built to pull back the rusting.

    There is a 7-story (yea 7-story) subterranean parking deck on a full city block between Pharr/Buckhead Ave and Peachtree/the Library. I have to imagine it is a swamp down there with new bacteria and creatures unknown to man growing beneath. I can only assume it would take many months just to get the site back to where it was when construction halted 2 years ago.

    Any experts able to weigh in?

  5. Are we sure Ben Carter lost money? I am under the impression from his last interview that he was still going to come out ahead?

  6. This really wasn't much of an "update" but just more speculation. We would really like to hear some facts from someone who knows what is going on here.

  7. Just think of all the tax money we could have had if the places displaced or torn down were still operating. Hard to generate tax money from a mound of dirt.

  8. I live in Buckhead and was disappointed from the beginning when Ben Carter gobbled up all this property only for it to end up becoming a giant mudhole...

    Given the state of the economy, and the fact that life has pretty much changed as we know it, why in the world would anyone add all these high end retail stores when Lenox is right down the street?

  9. Because, KRH, it's part of Atlanta's culture to build the next best, flashy thing whether the economy or infrastructure supports it or not.

    We've always been a city built on boosterism, an over-inflated ego, and development-friendly policies that encourage big and sometimes speculative projects.

    That's how we've become the sprawl choked autopolis that we are today.

  10. Ben Carter will absolutely not come out ahead. He's lost every penny he put into it. It's just a question of how much his company put in...

  11. Once again, this development was the problem of singular vision. I don't really understand what the fascination is with "destination spots" in Atlanta. Atlantic Station is one, Edgewood is another (although significantly more successful). The point is that this type of development does nothing to bring together the community (which is what a good city does), but rather isolates it. The people that think that bulldozing a block of businesses that support the community, in lieu of a rodeo drive-esque shopping mecca are idiots. What Atlanta needs first and foremost are city officials that understand what makes a good city. Second to that, Atlanta needs those officials to implement development and incentives to bring density back into the city, particularly the midotwn/downtown areas. You have a decent grid system, decent public transportation access (which could be expanded - perhaps with the billions the government is going to waste on the Beltine, which will ultimately become nothign more than a bunch of abandoned parks and rarely used rail line), and a lot of existing/available space that could be taken advantage of to create a true urban area. could go with the alternative of making this place one giant suburb.

  12. Urbanist, I completely disagree with your outlook on the Beltline. If managed and designed right, the Beltline has potential to bring more positive urban fabric to this city than any project we've undertaken before.

    You're the first person I've seen to criticize the Beltline.

  13. Jonathan, can you please elaborate on why you disagree? The beltline is a project that will pull development and resources away from the areas where it is needed most (the core of the city). In addition, the beltline is developing large blocks of new "green" space - like parks, and recreational areas, that aren't close to people who will use them on a frequent basis, because they're not accessible unless you're willing to get in the car and drive to them (for the msot part). The reason Piedmont Park is such a success is because it's bordered by a diverse mixture of real estate (retail, apartments, condos, offices) & human capital (lots of variation between the income levels of people that live around the park). To illustrate my point, the Waterworks Park, as well as the Westside Resevoir Park, that is planned on the westside is a horrific waste of resources. Why are we planning green space in a vacant and desolate area outside of the core of the city, instead of encouraging growth and development in the city?

    I didn't realize that just because everyone agrees it's a good idea. Although, that kind of logic doesn't surprise me in a city devoted to the notion that homes are good ivnestments.

  14. Sorry..didn't finish that last thought. I meant to say "just because everyone agrees it's a good idea, doesn't make it one"

  15. Where would you have it stop? or are you just against transit? One of the newest beltline plans has a route that will connect the east and west sides of the circular portion of the beltline with a north avenue portion. Ga tech and vir. highlands areas would be connected in a direct route and essentially split the intown portion of Atlanta into four quadrants. A large portion of the eastside would have transit within a mile. Thats a major improvement.

  16. I wouldn't waste the gobs of money they'll waste building green space in non-populated areas, nor would I waste the money on a "tour rail". I'm entirely for transit (hell, I'm one of the few people in this city that takes MARTA every day), but it has to make sense. What the city should be doing with this money is building additional MARTA lines to connect neighborhoods like the highlands, inman park, west midtown, SoBu, etc. to the core of the city (midtown & downtown). I don't think they should be promoting streetcars, as they are (a) not high density modes of transportation, and (b) will just cause more congestion. In addition to building the transportation that is needed to link these isolated neighborhoods, they should be encouraging density in the core of the city, and along the new transit paths. Providing incentives to developers to develop rental housing, providing businesses tax breaks and other incentives to locate in certain zip codes, etc. will accomplish that. All the proposed green space should be diverted to areas of the city where it will be frequently used - which means where it is surrounded by development. Vacanty parks become petri dishes for crime. Lastly - and this isn't a Beltline issue - the city of Atlanta needs to start taxing non-Atlanta residents to come into the city. 4.5mm people commute into the city every day, to use the services, wear on the infrstructure, and take the resources the city provides, and the only people that pay for this privilidge are those that use 400, and pay $1 a day (which is way underpriced). I think there needs to be an "entry" toll to get into the city of Atlanta, just like there is in Manhattan, and many other cities in this country, and it needs to be more than $1 a day.

  17. Urbanist... there is already a MARTA station in Inman Park called... Inman Park/Reynoldstown station. MARTA could actually be expanded to West Midtown... sort of. Where the tracks cross I-85, you will see two sets of tunnels. One is in use that goes from Arts Center to Lindbergh... the other is not in use but was built for future expansion that hasn't happened. The tracks could cross I-85 going southwest with a station at the Amtrak Brookwood station, then follow the rail line to Atlantic Station and then to the White Provisions area (the tracks by JCT). I don't know if that will ever happen though, but it was in the original MARTA plans. There is no way to connect to VA Highlands and a subway would be too expensive.

    Streetcars and light rail make sense for certain neighborhoods and they do increase density. If we expand MARTA, it needs to go further out into the suburbs. MARTA is better for longer distances and streetcar/light rail for shorter distances. A streetcar along Peachtree with stubs going east and west connecting to the Beltline would help businesses in the area and bring more street life. And how can you say the greenscape along the Beltline won't be used? Are you crazy? Have you ever walked the Beltline trail from Piedmont Park to Dekalb Avenue? If you haven't, you won't be able to understand how important and awesome that link is. People are already walking and biking it and it's not even paved yet.

  18. Excuse me, I meant to indentify neighborhoods that could use better transportation access to the city, and Inman Park got tossed in unnecessarily. The plans you outlined for MARTA's expansion to Brookwood/W. Midtown would be an excellent way to expand service to much needed areas.

    I don't know how much it would cost to expand MARTA, in subway fashion, to other areas of the city that could use connectivity, but I'd be intersted to see what it would cost, and compare that to the money the city is spending on the Beltline. Some of that cost could also be offset by commuter tolls. Expanding Marta to the suburbs is quite possibly one of the worst ideas I have ever heard. You would (a) spent money to expand a service to a place where it is rarely used, and (b) be encouraging the continued outward growth of the city. Absolutely horrible idea. You would get more daily traffic on a few miles of line through West Midtown, into Midtown, than you would going all the way up to Johns Creek with Marta.

    Streetcars don't make sense for a city's connectivity. They might make sense to get up and down N. Highland, but they don't connect the rest of the city together, and that is one of Atlanta's biggest problem - its fragmentation. The only place Streetcars would truly work is up and down Peachtree Street, but they would have to be constant and efficient. There are already buses running these routes - and they are horrible - what makes you think streetcars will be any different?

    I'm not saying the entire greenscape won't be used, but there are large portions of it that won't be. The part you identified is a part that runs through populated areas. The parts I mentioned were greenspaces that weren't near any sort of nearby residential/commcercial development.

  19. Urbanist you do realize they are doing the Beltline in segments right? And they've outlined segments that would work right now given the population. Some segments might not even work for transit, just for trails and bike paths, at least now. The route from Piedmont Park to Dekalb Avenue is one of the segments they want to push for transit. If they built a streetcar or light rail line between Lindbergh MARTA and Inman Park MARTA stations along that route, it would definitely help with the connectivity issue. I live near Piedmont Park and would love to not have to drive between those areas and I'm sure so would many other people. Also, I really wish MARTA would expand to West Midtown along the route I suggested (before expanding to the suburbs if expansion were to ever happen). In terms of expanding to the suburbs, I meant to Norcross and possibly Duluth and north to Roswell/Alpharetta. It wouldn't be hard to expand in those directions compared to say Cobb County. For the rest of the suburbs, commuter rail makes more sense.

    And streetcars are different - they don't have the negative perception that buses have and they are on a fixed route. Not only is it "easier" to use, but unlike bus routes which change, streetcars are more likely to attract dense development along their routes. It's been proven in other cities with streetcars and light rail.

    Also, I also can't believe you are arguing against green space - Atlanta could use more parks. Piedmont Park and Centennial are very heavily used as is. I'm sure new ones will be too. Even if the Beltline is just trails, bike paths, and parks, it is an awesome idea.

  20. Agree to disagree, re: public transportation. Although expanding MARTA further away from the city, at the expense of expanding it inside the city is a horrible idea, not matter how you cut it.

    As far as the green space is concerned, I'm not arguing "against" green space. I'm arguing against green space that serves no purpose. Some of the parks that have been proposed would be like building new park in downtown Detroit - they won't get used, and they'll turn into dangerous and neglected places, and then they will become avoided. I think new greenspace in Atlanta would be a great idea...on an abandoned block in downtown Atlanta, or in lieu of one of the many parking lots that mar the face of Midtown - and it would be great if a greenspace like that was developed in coordination with some new rental housing in-town as well. Good cities aren't about how many nice parks you have, they're about the people that live in them, and how those people interact with each other. You have an infrastructure that is currently in place in Midtown & Downtown that can support development of urban space - the kind of space and structures that bring people together to interact with one another. Instead, resources and money are being diverted to places away from the core of the city - in its simplest form, it's bad economics.

  21. Mike, Urbanist just doesn't want to see the northwest side prosper (im talking west of howell mill going out towards bolton road), nor do they realize that removing blight such as the old steel plant where atlantic station sits today is a critical first step to improving the city.

    Westside park will be bigger than Piedmont Park and go a long way in sprucing up an area that is actually growing. I bet there are more people living over here than in Urbanist's beloved Downtown.

  22. Classic view form someone who clearly knows nothing about urban development. There is a city on the east side of 75/85. it has a developed grid system of roads, it has available space, it has utility services already in place, and it has the semblance of functionality. Instead of developing that existing space, and adding to it, to make that city more of a functional urban area (by which I mean putting more people into it), you'd rather go 2 miles west and develop green spaces in the middle of nowhere. You'd rather develop outward rather than upward. Great idea..since it's worked out so well for the CITY of Atlanta thus far.

  23. I think a lot of folks have yet to grasp how big and complex the city of Atlanta truly has become. Our urban core runs from Downtown to Brookhaven, and SOB is simply one infill project. It was never large enough to be a "master plan" for Buckhead, but simply the redevelopment of a few blocks. The timing could not have been worse, but that is true of many projects envisioned along Peachtree during the early 2000s. (The Dewberry hole in the ground at 10th, the Cousins hole in the ground at North Avenue, the Weiland hole in the ground across from the Arts Center, etc.) Many of the infill projects that went up just prior to the real estate collapse, such as the W downtown, the Atlantic and the Brookwood have also struggled. They'll come around in due course but it's going to take a while. If you look at the economic and demographic center of Atlanta, SOB is pretty well positioned. With the new SPI-9 in place and several other initiatives underway, the village fill out as a dense but predominantly low and midrise section of town.

  24. Urbanist, I completely understand what you're saying. Downtown still suffers from years of "urban renewal", inwardly facing developments like Peachtree and CNN Centers, and lack of appealing residential.

    To Juliea's point, I think low to midrise infill development with interaction to the street is extremely important. If we took some of the residential units that are in, for example, The Atlantic (an empty condo tower in Atlantic Station) and spread them out over a couple of empty surface blocks in Midtown, we'd start to see some more life on the streets.

    As it is right now, the urban high-rise dwellers take the elevator straight to the parking garage and drive to wherever they're going.

  25. Well said. I've actually written a little bit of a dissertation on the things I think Atlanta's officials need to focus on, and the appropriate measures that would need to be taken to help the city of Atlanta develop. Does anyone know who would be the appropriate person to discuss that with, or how I could actually get that in front of someone who would listen?

  26. As I read some of the earlier posters, I liked the suggestions that they need to get "something" going there. A great way to start is realize the original concept was dead on arrival (SOB DOA). The surrounding area added condos, but overall has not changed all that much. Bringing back some night life would surely be welcome.

    My wife and I were the tango dancers at Cafe Tu Tu Tango, and I taught swing at Swingers, and danced salsa at Havana Night Club. I think certain wealthy but out of touch investors thought they could destroy this nightlife. They started by taking over the parking lots and charging a huge rate which caused people to spend sometimes more on parking than the restaurant or club. Once they had the club owners on the ropes, they forced their hand. I paid $40 to park on Superbowl Sunday. That is when I knew something wasn't right.

    So we first must be honest that this was a sham from the start. I would like to think the new builders will ask people that live in the condos and apartments and surrounding areas what liked about the previous Buckhead. Then go out to the suburbs and ask those people too. Then build something bigger and better, but based on what was already a wonderful thing (until the parking fiasco).

  27. My 24-year-old daughter moved from Northern Virginia to Buckhead eight months ago, and she is very happy, loves her Buclkhead condo, and says she NEVER wants to leave Atlanta. Buckhead will come back--but it may take time (seems like you really need some "TRAFFIC CALMING" near the SOB). My daughter loves her job (lots of young folks), she loves the way Atlantans support small businesses and independent restaurants (the food is also terrific), she walks more than she drives (although she drives to Piedmont Park at least once a week). REMEMBER: Georgia Tech rejected the Piedmont Park area for its campus over a century ago, because the park-area was too far away from downtown. What is so different about Atlanta? You have these mega-suburbs that have ALMOST-ALREADY become cities.

    Things are not all that bad in Atlanta, folks, compared to the rest of the nation. But the arguments you present (back and forth) are as asset, you must continue to argue with passion . . . to make Atlanta an even better place to live. Keep it up! I have a house there, and I am moving back "home" within three years.

  28. When the Streets of Buckhead was first announced I was so excited. I had the grand opening date marked on my calendar. You can imagine my disappointment when the plans started to deteriorate. With the original plans trashed, what will become of this development?
    My biggest fear is that it will turn out cheaply constructed and designed like much of Atlantic Station. It's important that they build the infrastructure with character. Cutting corners with the build out quality will result in the whole development looking much like a cheap suburban cookie cutter home. An uninspired, three sides vinyl siding cardboard box. Perhaps add in cobblestone streets or gas lanterns on the store fronts? Nice landscaping, touches of copper roof?
    A good example of the kind of quality I'm talking about is Rosemary Beach, Florida. The town center there was designed phenomenally. (If you haven't been I suggest you go! The entire town is truly an architectural gem.) Another good example that can actually be found in Buckhead are the improvements that have been made to the Peachtree Road corridor between Lenox Mall and the intersection with Piedmont. Unique street lights, thick stone street curbs, a lush raised median. These are all the kind of touches you would hope to expect from a tony community such as Buckhead. Even though quality finishes are expensive they are an important investment for the success and beauty of this project. The project should aim to meet the standard of homes that line streets such as Peachtree Battle Avenue, West Conway, Habersham, and Tuxedo Road, with residences that have gleamed on the glossy pages of Architectural Digest. This development will be the center of Buckhead and it means so much to the community. It is hard for me to explain how disappointed I will be if this vital vein of the neighborhood is not designed with care. I hope Oliver McMillan is up for the challenge! -Buckhead Kiwi

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