John F. Schaffner
Harold “Hal” Barry, chairman of Barry Real Estate Companies, has roots in the Sandy Springs area as a benefactor, a commercial developer and a real estate wheeler-dealer.
On Aug. 20, he returned to those roots to talk real estate to over 100 members and guests of the Sandy Springs Business Association, which was holding its monthly breakfast meeting at a new venue, the Westin Hotel at Concourse, and on a new day, the third Monday of each month rather than the third Wednesday.
Barry the benefactor donated the William Payne House to Heritage Sandy Springs and had it moved to its present site on Sandy Springs Circle.
But that was not what he was at the SSBA meeting to discuss. It was his real estate background and interests over the past 40-plus years in the Atlanta market that brought him to be the speaker.
He started in Atlanta in 1966 in commercial real estate with New York Life and he hasn’t slowed down much.
“I was able to watch Atlanta move,” Barry told the group of business people. “The sign that said 1,266,000 (the Darlington apartments sign on Peachtree Road in Buckhead) what does that sign say today….right at 5 million people. I have been able to watch what happened to Atlanta,” he said.
“Downtown Atlanta was where it all happened in 1966,” Barry recounted. “It was Mayor (Ivan Jr.) Allen’s city at the time. All of the decisions were made at the Commerce Club.
“Atlanta was a very small city and it began to grow,” he continued. “We saw the corporate users move out of downtown, out of Midtown and we began to see the movement out and it was good. Big houses. You could get more in the country and suburbs than you could downtown,” he explained.
Barry described that exodus from downtown Atlanta as major. “So, what we have seen over the past 40 years is a metropolitan area that has exploded for a lot of positive reasons and, at the same time, the center of the city didn’t do so well.”
Atlanta architect and developer and Sandy Springs resident John Portman—with whom Barry was in business for years, including building the Northpark Center in Sandy Springs— “and I believed that you could not have a strong metropolitan area without having a strong core of the city,” Barry said. “That proved not to be true. The suburbs blossomed. The issue today is what in the world is going to happen to this metropolitan area.”
He said the controlled growth is going to continue, fueled by young people coming to the area to go the colleges here or for jobs.
Beyond the metropolitan area is the region, Barry said, and “Atlanta will always be the kingpin of the region,” he stated.
“People outside of Atlanta don’t know our traffic problems like we do. And, they are coming whether you like it or not,” he added. “On a local basis, regional basis, national basis things in Atlanta are pretty darn good. Atlanta will continue to grow.”
Barry told the SSBA group, “The underlying thing that we see happening out there—and it can be seen through all the projects that we are doing—is this new move to urbanization. A lot of us are responding by coming in instead of going out…and understanding they have got to get out of the automobile. We see the live/work/play mixed-use communities as a major answer to meeting the number one problem we’ve got in the metropolitan area,” of course meaning traffic congestion.
Barry said that when he did Northpark with Portman, “that was an example of the large, buy a bunch of land and build those big spec office buildings. He said they made some basic timing mistakes and concept mistakes. Building spec buildings made no sense at all. So, we changed our concept.”
He said when Barry Real Estate Companies was formed in the mid 1990s, our goal was not to go and buy a bunch of land and build big buildings. The approach was to find the tenant, find out what they really need, figure out the best location working with the tenant and do a deal with them. “Believe it or not you can sleep at night,” he said. “That is a user-driven philosophy.”
Barry said his company doesn’t have anything going right now in Sandy Springs. “We did acquire a portfolio of buildings from Equity Office, approximately 3.5 million square feet, which were Perimeter Center buildings, Central Park buildings and the Lakeside buildings off of Glenridge Parkway. The buildings actually in Sandy Springs have been sold,” he added.
But Barry indicated his company continues to be committed to the Sandy Springs/ Central Perimeter market.
“Our commitment to this market is because we see that you can’t get away from this area. You can’t get away from Sandy Springs. You can’t get away from the North Central Market,” the real estate veteran stated.
“What I mean by that is so many of the users that we are now talking to as active prospects are coming back in. They are coming back in because the congestion of getting in is so difficult that they are moving back in.”
The question, Barry said, is how do you deal with it?
“You have seen the addition of residential, the addition of retail and it has become a totally different thing from when I asked Metropolitan Life in 1969 to invest in Perimeter Center,” Barry explained. “It is becoming a much more urban facility. We still have to work on some of the problems. But if you can live there, and work there and play there, it has a chance of coming together.”
Mr. Barry, we agree with the common sense of the live/work/play concept. We just haven’t seen the place yet where the people that work there and in some cases play there, can usually afford to live there. Show us the way.