Buckhead Atlanta's New Vibe
August 15, 2014
Buckhead Atlanta's New Vibe
Atlanta Business Chronicle

Three years ago, when San Diego developer OliverMcMillan began the turnaround of the stalled mixed-use project Streets of Buckhead it caught its fair share of criticism.

Not for the design of its project, but for its new name — Buckhead Atlanta. The critics wanted something “sexier.”

Streets of Buckhead, was, after all, to be the Rodeo Drive of the South, before construction stopped amid the Great Recession.

OliverMcMillan didn’t want its redevelopment to stand out as much as blend in to Buckhead, known for its mix of multimillion-dollar homes, luxury shopping and glass office towers. Today, rather than blend in it’s reflecting a new vibe.

About a month from its first openings, the project’s marble and limestone buildings, loft office space, oak trees and cobblestone streets, bear little resemblance to the glossy central business district just north on Peachtree Road.

In many ways, the 8-acre redevelopment within the Buckhead Village — at Peachtree and East Paces Ferry — is a catalyst for the broader changes in this ritzy area, which sprang up decades ago as a “suburb” of downtown Atlanta.

Consider how Simon Property Group(NYSE: SPG) is investing millions into its two sprawling Buckhead malls to modernize the facades and add mixed uses such as a hotel and apartment towers. Buckhead leaders are also trying to encourage developers to emphasize walkability across the district, a goal seen in projects such as the new pedestrian bridge over Georgia 400 and companies such as Pulte Homes, which put its headquarters next to a MARTA train station.

For OliverMcMillan, a developer in the “new urbanist” mold, one of the most important things about Buckhead Atlanta has always been the street life. That’s relatively new to many Atlanta developers, though more are adapting.

The project, whose architects are Gensler, Pappageorge Haymes Partners, andSmallwood, Reynolds, Stewart, Stewart & Associates Inc., is designed for people who’d rather leave the car behind. If anything looks familiar about the project, it’s probably the glass apartment towers, but even they underscore change. For years Atlanta struggled to convince institutional capital it could sustain apartment rents north of $2 a foot.

Today Buckhead Atlanta’s apartment towers are leasing at the highest rates in the city, close to $2.50 a foot, according to market data. Leasing activity should pick up in coming weeks as construction winds down. Tours are still limited by the amount of work that continues.

“Thirty-seven days,” said Jeff Zeigler, senior managing director of retail services for OliverMcMillan, on Aug. 12as he walked amid 800 workers scattered across the $600 million project. “You look around and you see how much is left to do and you’re always surprised by how quickly it all comes together at the end.”

At completion, the project should have 50 to 60 retail shops and 13 restaurants. The first openings start Sept. 18.

Much like Ponce City Market, the redevelopment of the former Sears & Roebuck building that is a catalyst for more projects in the Old Fourth Ward, the same thing can be said for Buckhead Atlanta. Already, developers are scouting Buckhead Village for sites to build apartments and mixed-use projects.

A new owner could expect to push rents at One Buckhead Plaza — now in the mid- to high $20s — to well over $30 a foot, according to leasing and development executives.

Buckhead Atlanta’s office space is already leasing for about $40.

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