CNN plans big changes to downtown center, Techwood campus

Atlanta-based Turner Broadcasting plans substantial renovations at its landmark downtown CNN Center as well as to the Techwood complex in Midtown as the media company continues a broader overhaul of its businesses.

Officials at the parent of cable networks CNN, TBS and TNT, stressed its planning is just beginning, but told employees Friday the company is “evaluating” upgrades to the office space and atrium mall at CNN Center, one of Atlanta’s top tourist destinations and a familiar entryway for Hawks fans into Philips Arena. The plans in Midtown — called “Reimagine Techwood” — could involve expanding buildings there.

The plans are largely in their infancy, and how much Turner might invest in the complexes isn’t known. The CNN Center project in particular adds to a string of recent project announcements near Centennial Olympic Park.

The Falcons will open their new nearly $1.5 billion stadium next year, and other projects on the drawing board include the refurbishment of the park, a new hotel at the Georgia World Congress Center, and an overhaul of Philips Arena.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said in a statement Turner’s plans is the “latest sign of downtown Atlanta’s resurgence.”

The city and the Hawks are in negotiations for a $200 million to $300 million renovation of Philips, and the team has expressed a desire for a mixed-use entertainment district on land around the arena.

The Hawks, which have no ownership stake in CNN Center, are said to have interest in having some say in the operations of the mall, a popular gathering place before games and concerts.

The potential for an entertainment district appears to be central to Turner’s thinking about CNN Center’s future.

“As we participate with the City and the community to bring this vision to fruition, we will augment our planning work to include a closer look at how we may use CNN Center in the future, and how it fits into this newly declared Entertainment District as part of our ongoing evaluation of Turner’s real estate footprint,” Turner Chief Financial Officer Pascal Desroches said in a statement.

A Hawks spokesman declined to comment about Turner’s announcement. Team CEO Steve Koonin is a former top Turner executive.

Turner has about 6,000 employees in Atlanta, and owns other networks including Cartoon Network and HLN. The company is a unit of New York-based media giant Time Warner.

The evaluation of Turner’s real estate and any potential redevelopment is a multi-year process and Turner expects to remain in CNN Center for the foreseeable future, a person with knowledge of the situation said. The person said CNN Center, home to thousands of employees, remains vital to the company’s business.

The scope of potential changes to CNN Center isn’t immediately known, but Desroches said “we are evaluating how to best improve function adjacencies, modernize our office space, and upgrade the retail atrium.”

Turner also announced Friday plans to sell its 50 percent stake in the Omni hotel attached to CNN Center. That could come at an opportune time as the city’s hotel and convention industry is booming.

The company, following a routine review of its global real estate holdings, determined its stake in the Omni hotel “[did] not support our core business and brands,” Desroches said.

Turner has engaged noted brokerage Hodges Ward Elliott to sell the hotel. Desroches said sale proceeds would be reinvested in Turner’s businesses.

Turner and its CNN unit in particular are among Atlanta’s best-known brands, and CNN Center remains one of the city’s calling cards, although in recent years CNN has moved much of its on-air talent to New York.

Changes at Turner

Nearly two years ago, Turner started a substantial remaking of its businesses, including job cuts in Atlanta and elsewhere. The company eliminated about 1,500 jobs, about two thirds of which were in its hometown, as it worked to cut costs, boost revenue through new original content and other avenues. Turner added jobs in other areas as it attempted to find new business on mobile devices and other growth sectors.

In recent months, Turner has shifted jobs from its CNN International unit from Atlanta to London and other cities. Meanwhile, the company announced last month a streaming service called FilmStruck for movie buffs.

Revenue at Turner was $2.9 billion in the first quarter, up 7 percent of the first 90 days of 2015.

Turner’s planned changes to Techwood are no less important to the company’s business. About half of Turner’s Atlanta workforce is based at the Midtown campus.

Last week, Turner Chairman and CEO John Martin unveiled to employees a campaign to “Reimagine Techwood,” a program Desroches said will “rethink and refresh the Techwood campus to better foster the culture of innovation, creativity and collaboration that defines our company.”

The Turner official briefed on the matter said it could include expanding buildings on the campus, and Techwood refresh is a key part of the company’s talent retention and attraction strategy. Years ago, Turner proposed a skyscraper on the Techwood campus, but it appears too early to say whether Turner might dust off those plans.

A.J. Robinson, president and CEO of Central Atlanta Progress, the alliance of downtown businesses, said the planned reinvestment by Turner into CNN Center adds to the momentum building around Centennial Olympic Park.

“There’s a lot of excitement and good things happening in this neighborhood,” Robinson said.

Robinson said more development news could be coming. He said he expects new transportation projects to be considered for the west side of downtown under the upcoming transportation sales tax program. Should voters approve new taxes, any new infrastructure slated for that side of the city could draw more private sector interest, he said.

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