A public meeting hosted by the new owners of The Shops Buckhead Atlanta was held July 23 to garner input on the troubled retail, office and housing complex, and what its future might look like. The “town hall” at the complex was attended by at least 200 local residents, who voiced concerns on everything from crime to parking to affordability.
And The Shops eventually will be renamed yet again, for the fifth time in its 12-year history, the new owner says.
“We don’t want to go to stores that are more like museums to most of us,” one resident said at the town hall. “You leave with one thing that can cost $800 to $1,000. It’s just crazy.”
Jamestown, a local real estate investment and management firm founded in 1993, acquired The Shops earlier this year and wants to make significant changes starting in January. In the meantime, the company is willing to listen to comments and ideas, according to its president Michael Phillips. Besides the “town hall,” the company has an online survey available here.
“We feel fortunate now to be stewards of this asset, and of what it’s going to become,” Phillips said.
His partner is Jamestown CEO Matt Bronfman, who once lived on nearby Pharr Road.
“We believe in finding large projects and curating them over the long term,” Bronfman said. “There are many projects we have coveted over the years and this is one of them. We want to understand from you what this needs and what it would benefit from.”
The complex covers a six-block area fronting Peachtree Road between East Paces Ferry and Pharr roads. It has been through several changes in name and ownership since construction started in 2007. The first stores opened there in 2014 after a tortuous development history. Jamestown is the third owner for the complex, having purchased it from the firm OliverMcMillan.
The complex has had four different names during development and operations, all of them widely mocked as confusing. Earlier versions included “Buckhead Avenues,” “The Streets of Buckhead” and “Buckhead Atlanta.” Phillips said that Jamestown will give the complex yet another name change eventually, but they are not ready to divulge it.
Phillips and Bronfman also own the popular Ponce City Market, a name that came up frequently during the gathering.
“We don’t want to make this another PCM. We want it to be the Main Street it needs to be,” Phillips said, adding, “We want to add a contextual relationship to the streetscape, and warm it up a little bit, and make it feel a little more like a place in the center of the city.”
A woman in the audience agreed, saying, “We need a more neighborhood community feel, more charm, more areas with patios where you can sit outside and have a cocktail with your friends, where dogs are allowed and cars aren’t.”
A common theme was the fact that residents go elsewhere for shopping, dining and entertainment.
“There’s nowhere here to go with your family that’s not really expensive,” said one.
Another resident noted The Shops’ history, which began as a plan to clear out what was once Buckhead Village’s main nightclub scene.
“We’ve gone from one extreme to the other,” said the resident. “We used to have these great bars, then we had seedy bars, now we have these [businesses] that the majority of people can’t afford.”
Jessica Kilcoyne, who lives in a nearby apartment, said that luxury and exclusivity attract crime, and that options in the area need to “be changed to something with a little more soul, and more attainable by the average person.”
A man at the back of the room said he lives five minutes away “but I spend no time here. My perception is it’s very pretentious and there’s nothing here for me.” He said he has heard that when consumers buy from locally owned shops, 80 percent of the revenue stays in the community, whereas purchases from a national chain or franchise force 80 percent of revenue out of the community.
“I would love to see locally owned businesses, more chef-driven restaurants, maybe even an area for people to congregate, like a park,” he said. “There used to be reasons to come here, but now it’s the complete opposite.”
A mother told the crowd, “What strikes me about The Shops is there is nowhere to take my kids. We need someplace to hang out with the family. More greenery, open spaces, more trees.”
Residents suggested Atlanta’s Inman Park, Decatur, Duluth, Alpharetta’s Avalon complex, Roswell, and Chattachoochee Hill’s Serenbe community as potential sources of inspiration for the new owners. Miami’s Wynwood district and the pedestrian-oriented “superblocks” in Barcelona, Spain, were also mentioned. Residents also noted numerous parking, sidewalk, and transportation issues that should be addressed.
Ellen Adair Wyche, who has served as vice chair of the board of trustees at the Atlanta Girls’ School, got a round of applause when she told the owners, “Let’s have something quirky, genuine, local, surprising. Give us something that is unexpected.”
–Kevin C. Madigan