“Live, work, play.” Politicians, business leaders and residents repeated those three words throughout 2014 as a mantra devised to explain the lure of north metro Atlanta to businesses.
Both Buckhead and the Perimeter – that loosely defined area of Sandy Springs, Dunwoody and Brookhaven where the new high rises cluster – offer MARTA stations, regional shopping malls, apartments, condominiums, hotels and relatively easy access to just about everywhere in Atlanta.
Finding live, work and play in one place was enough to attract some pretty big names, including State Farm, which said it was moving to Dunwoody to appeal to the younger workers known as “millennials.” Other businesses shot for even higher targets: Buckhead Atlanta, a shopping and living center in itself, talked about luring the rich from around the world to fill its new high-end stores.
When it came to business news, there was plenty to talk about in 2014. Here are some highlights.
State Farm breaks ground in Dunwoody
Construction began in May on a new high rise across from the Dunwoody MARTA station to house a new national operations center for State Farm, one of three the insurance giant was building across the country.
The overall project, its Texas developer said, will take years to complete and will include 2.3 million square feet of offices, 100,000 square feet of restaurants and shops, and a 200-room hotel. The first building will provide 13 floors of offices perched atop a 7-story parking building.
The Atlanta Business Chronicle called the project one of the largest corporate office developments in metro Atlanta history. Folks in Dunwoody began to talk of a “ripple effect” from the project that would lead to even more development.
For its part, State Farm plans to post thousands of employees to its Dunwoody campus and promised to get deeply involved in its new community. “We are excited. We are so excited about what the future holds,” State Farm Vice President and COO Michael Tipsord told members of the Dunwoody Chamber of Commerce. “We are excited by the talent. We are excited about the business environment.”
The billion-dollar highway project
It’s expected to cost a cool $1 billion before it’s done and has been described as the most expensive road improvement project ever undertaken by the Georgia Department of Transportation. But local businesspeople, the Perimeter Community Improvement Districts and Gov. Nathan Deal all threw their weight behind a redesign of the Ga. 400/I-285 interchange, so plans for the project have moved quickly.
DOT says the new interchange will stretch from west of Roswell Road to east of Ashford-Dunwoody, and from Hammond Drive to the Glenridge Connector. At Hammond, it connects to another project that adds collector and distributor lanes along Ga. 400.
The new interchange was promoted as good for business because it addressed traffic troubles in the Perimeter area and would help cross-country carriers who expect more freight once the port in Savannah is deepened. Local residents seemed to like the new interchange, but fretted about construction over the next several years. “If it alleviates traffic in the area, it’s a good thing,” Mike Buchbinder of Sandy Springs said in August. “But I think it’s going to make traffic worse, especially when they’re building it.”
Buckhead Atlanta finally opens
After years as little more than a hole in the heart of Buckhead, the development known now as Buckhead Atlanta (originally named “The Streets of Buckhead”) opened for business with big name, high-end shops such as Hermes, and lines of burger fans waiting for a space to open in the Shake Shack.
Developer OliverMcMillan wants to draw shoppers from around the world, and has promised a luxury shopping experience, including high-tech security; a valet service allowing customers to drop off a car at one location and pick it up at another; and “park assist,” which directs drivers to empty parking spaces.
“We want shoppers and visitors to say, ‘We used to go to New York to shop, but now we come to Buckhead Atlanta,’” General Manager Michael Diamantides told members of the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods.
Hines, for a moment, prepares to go big
For a moment, there was talk of the possibility of a 50-story building in Sandy Springs. It would have been the tallest outside the Perimeter. But Texas developer Hines, which proposed a couple of towers along with a rezoning for a mixed-use development that would have included 500 apartments, retail and hotel space, withdrew its rezoning request after repeated deferrals.
Members of Sandy Springs City Council said they needed more time to address residents’ concerns over increased traffic that the development – to be located at Abernathy, Peachtree Dunwoody and Mount Vernon – would bring to an already congested area. In September, Hines had said they would study a new proposal that decreased the number of apartments, and took the office building down to 42 stories.
Apartments sprout all over
While Hines rethought its high-rise plans in Sandy Springs, other developers scattered new apartments all over the map.
In October, the Buckhead Coalition said 30 different projects totaling 9,422 units were planned in Buckhead. In Sandy Springs, workers cleared ground for the Gateway Project, a mixed-use development on Roswell Road, and the city approved another large apartment complex nearby. Developers added apartment complexes on Hammond Drive in Sandy Springs and Dresden Drive in Brookhaven.
“Apparently, it’s a direct response to the population growth of 25- to 35-year-olds who presently prefer the flexibility of renting, rather than owning,” Buckhead Coalition President Sam Massell said of the apartment announcements in Atlanta.
New zoning codes for Perimeter area
In 2014, city officials in Sandy Springs and Dunwoody decided to take a fresh look at zoning regulations for new projects in the Perimeter area. In May, Dunwoody officials began working toward drawing up those regulations. In October, officials from Sandy Springs, Dunwoody and Brookhaven met to talk over requirements in the area.
Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul said the idea was to get all the cities on the same page. “With an unprecedented surge in development interest,” Paul said, “we want to make sure we have a unified, concise policy that allows for long-term economic viability of this market, as well as ensures a high quality of life for existing and future residents and visitors.”