An approximately 500-bed student-housing proposal backed by a trio that includes former NASA engineer Lonnie Johnson is on the agendas of two neighborhood planning units this week. Slated for 263 Decatur St. SE in the Sweet Auburn neighborhood, the project entails about 250,000 square feet of residential development and is backed by Johnson, Sophy Capital Managing Partner Michael Green, and real estate executive Bruce Fernald, planning documents show.
Plans call for the student housing project to rise on the eastern half of the roughly four-acre project site, requiring that portion to be rezoned from industrial to high-density mixed-use. That side of the site fronts Hill Street and currently holds a 79,300-square-foot warehouse that would make way for the mixed-use development, which would also include 24,000 square feet of street-level retail and a 460-space parking deck.
The proposed community will look to appeal to both undergraduate and graduate students at Georgia State University, according to planning materials. Just north of the GSU football team’s practice field, the proposed site is near the school’s downtown and Summerhill campuses.
Plans also indicate an office development phase for the site’s western half is possibly to come, either through new construction of 52,000 square feet and between three and five floors, or through an adaptive reuse of a 40,000-square-foot office building on the western half of the project site.
In a Concept Review Committee document from late December, comments from planning officials include that the student housing phase “should be cognizant of the aesthetics and architecture of the Office phase so that the two ends of the phase are not blank or secondary considerations.
“The street is relatively bleak and encourage you taking time to design a streetscape package to really enhance the area. Emphasize main entrances through architectural articulations for building and tenant space so there is a clear hierarchy as you move along the street.”
About 15,000 square feet of the project’s student housing phase would be used as space for the Johnson STEM Activity Center, an Atlanta nonprofit founded by Lonnie Johnson that offers STEM opportunities to underserved communities. (Famously, Johnson is also the inventor of the Super Soaker water gun.)
The site as a whole, which county records show was acquired for $4.2 million in 1999 by an entity registered to Johnson, fronts Decatur Street to the north, MARTA tracks to the south, the Downtown Connector to the west, and Hill Street to the east.
The rezoning request will be voted on by NPU-W, which includes the Oakland and Grant Park neighborhoods, on Wednesday. It was reviewed on Monday by NPU-M, which includes the Sweet Auburn neighborhood.