The last time Coca-Cola Co. undertook a major renovation project at its North Avenue headquarters, Ronald Reagan was president.
It was 1985. "I Want to Know What Love Is" was a hit song and "Back to the Future" was the biggest movie release.
Now, Coca-Cola is planning a construction and redesign project to update a campus that has sprung up piecemeal, and some of which is looking dated.
One of the first steps will be creating a first-floor Main Street corridor throughout the campus. The ground level will show off the company's brands and history and contain amenities such as a technology store and a personal shipping center.
It's a major commercial real estate project at a time when that sector is slow in Atlanta. Coca-Cola estimates that 350-400 construction jobs will be created in the project's first phase, which is expected to take about two years. Coca-Cola wouldn’t disclose the project’s likely total cost.
Demolition and construction are scheduled to start in the late spring and early summer of next year. Designs are not finalized yet, and Coca-Cola is asking employees for ideas.
Coca-Cola's workforce is changing, with newly hired 20-something millennials mixing with Generation X and baby boomers. The new generation of workers expects to move about campus, collaborate more regularly and be outfitted with technology at least as sophisticated as the stuff they have at home.
"Times are changing," said Julie Seitz, director of Workplace 2020 at Coca-Cola. "Expectations are going to be different. We need to contemporize."
Employee surveys showed that, for a company that wants its trademark brand to stand for "happiness," the office space left a lot to be desired. Sunlight and great views of metro Atlanta are blocked by walls on the higher floors of the 26-story tower, for example.
Meanwhile, executives are acutely aware they need to attract the best talent over the next decade and help those workers be more productive if Coca-Cola is to double its system-wide revenue by 2020. That's the goal laid out in its 10-year plan.
Coca-Cola's Atlanta campus is spread across more than 30 acres and 2 million square feet of building space. About 5,000 people work there, and it gets about 9,000 visits a month from suppliers, customers and family members of employees.
Largely hidden from the public's view, the complex has one of the largest repositories of green space in downtown Atlanta after Centennial Olympic Park.
A major goal of the renovation project is to make better use of the company's lawns, lobbies, cafeterias, auditoriums and conference rooms.
The huge cafeteria, which stands empty for much of the day, will be replaced with three separate eating areas, all with first-floor access to outdoor seating. Conference rooms could get state-of-the-art audio systems in the ceilings. The guts of the technical building, where Coca-Cola does research, development and analysis, will be upgraded.
Teams from Coca-Cola visited Bank of America, Nike, Bloomberg, CNN, Google, Mary Kay, the New York Times, Cisco and Coke's office in Shanghai, among other companies. They noticed that some companies used Zipcars to let their employees run errands during the lunch hour. One technology company in Europe had a twisty slide connecting two floors.
Coca-Cola's project also may involve using materials from the company's extensive archives in displays in high-traffic areas.
"We want to tell our story and celebrate the past, present and future," Seitz said. "We're not trying to be Google, we're not trying to be Nike, and we don't live in Shanghai. We don't want to copy anybody else."
The early years
Coca-Cola started as a transient company, moving from John Pemberton's house to Asa Candler's drugstore. In 1896, Candler vowed to erect a building on Edgewood Avenue "adapted to our peculiar needs for all future time."
That lasted about a decade before the company moved on to Magnolia Street and then North Avenue, said Phil Mooney, Coca-Cola's director of heritage communications.
Coca-Cola used its current location as both a headquarters and a manufacturing facility until the 1960s. The company mixed syrup, made barrels and used a rail spur for shipments of raw ingredients.
Core contractors on the project as of Wednesday included architectural firm Gensler, project manager CB Richard Ellis and the general contracting team made up of New South Construction, Leapley Construction and Balfour Beatty Construction. That team is known as Builders 2020.