Dene Oliver Talks Buckhead Atlanta, but Not Tenants as OliverMcMillan CEO Addresses BBA Annual Luncheon
January 16, 2014
Dene Oliver Talks Buckhead Atlanta, but Not Tenants as OliverMcMillan CEO Addresses BBA Annual Luncheon
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Speaking from the floor level because “I haven’t yet earned the right to be on the stage here in Buckhead,” OliverMcMillan CEO Dene Oliver told a packed Buckhead Business Association Annual Luncheon today, “We aim to redeliver heart to the Buckhead community, to add to the heart that is already here….walkable, beautiful, comfortable heart.” Speaking like a proud father seeing the birth of a new child—in this case the rebirth of the stalled Streets of Buckhead as Buckhead Atlanta—Oliver stated, “What a day it was for all of us when those cranes started moving” in the summer of 2012. Having returned to Atlanta for the BBA speech and a “topping out” ceremony at Buckhead Atlanta Friday morning with Mayor Kasim Reed, Oliver told the crowd of business leaders that there were 825 people working Wednesday on the site. What he did not say during his casual talk with Buckhead’s business and civic leaders was what everyone was waiting to hear—what tenants have been signed on to open at Buckhead Atlanta. “We decided we are going to surprise everyone,” he said, upholding his company’s policy, although mentioning a couple of names that have leaked out. What Oliver did say is that his company is bringing a lot of people to Buckhead Atlanta “who are presently not in Atlanta. Most are not here today. They are new to the market,” he emphasized. “It’s a new day, a new group and a different project,” said Oliver, declaring it has been the hardest thing he has done in his career. But, it was “a great opportunity for us,” he said giving praise to the project’s former developer Ben Carter for his vision in putting together the assemblage of properties. “Today, there is no question those cranes are spinning and they will continue to spin and we will open,” Oliver said, drawing a hearty applause from the audience. “That was our mantra to get the cranes moving. There was nothing we could do with our words. It took action.” Oliver said that in a lot of ways his company had to start over, but had to try and work with some of the infrastructure that was already in place. “We had to completely redesign and rebrand” he said, explaining that the scale of the project was dropped, the design changed as well as the uses. He spoke to shoring up the relationships with Balfour Beatty construction company and Smallwood Reynolds architects who had worked previously with Carter on the project. “What is really important is what we are going to do with the streets and sidewalks,” Oliver said. “We sit in a café and watch people. Life on the streets and sidewalks is so important.” He explained that OliverMcMillan is spending $10 million on the streetscapes within the project. The curbs will all be granite. They are bringing in large caliper trees—“not twigs that may grow into large trees”—and there will be a lot of plantings and hanging vegetation throughout the project. “We have been buying trees for a year and a half throughout the Southeast,” Oliver said. Oliver said $300 million had been spent on the development when OliverMcMillan took it over and his company has spent another $400 million with more still to come on additional parts of the total 8 acres spread out over six blocks and totaling 1.5 million square feet. When completed, he said, more than $1 billion will have been spent on Buckhead Atlanta. OliverMcMillan got title to the site in mid-2011, and, after a year of finalizing everything, started back with construction in August of 2012. In June of last year, they got Buckhead-based Spanx slimming apparel company to commit to move its world headquarters—and a retail shop—into the project, becoming the major office tenant of Buckhead Atlanta. He said he could not have imagined a better lead tenant for the office space at Buckhead Atlanta than Spanx. A week later OliverMcMillan got its construction loan. That has led to where the project is today. “It would not have happened without a lot of collaboration.” Oliver said. “We have been welcomed by all in the community.” He added, that when he first met with Mayor Reed, the mayor said, “Welcome to Atlanta. What can we do to make you successful?” “I t would not have happened if that cooperation had not been there,” Oliver told the audience. Oliver laid out a schedule for everyone in Buckhead to look forward to: In July of this year, there will be an opening of some initial shops. In the Fall of 2014, the Spanx headquarters will be completed for occupancy along with some more of the retail and maybe some residential. By the Spring of 2015, Buckhead Atlanta will be a fully vibrant street scene. “The softness of the site in an urban area is something we hope you can embrace,” Oliver said to his Buckhead audience after showing a slide show of the architecture and streetscapes. He added he hopes those who visit Buckhead Atlanta will find it “feels safe, inviting and hospitable.”


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