A development team plans to build a more than $500 million mixed-use gateway to the city of Roswell that would rank among the largest redevelopment projects pitched in metro Atlanta since the Great Recession.
Duke Land Group wants to rezone 104 acres near Holcomb Bridge Road and Ga. 400 for Riverwalk Village, a blend of more than 1,500 residences, shops and mid-rise office buildings. But that’s scaled back from a pre-recession plan for the site, when a previous developer had envisioned a $2 billion mini-city of high-rise condos and office towers known as Roswell East.
Duke’s plans, announced Wednesday, are the latest example of developers’ renewed interest in promising metro sites whose development was delayed or derailed by the financial collapse. It’s also a sign that the region’s economic recovery — albeit sluggish and uneven — is enough to convince developers, investors and lenders to bet again on metro Atlanta’s future.
The Atlanta Falcons and Braves are underway with megawatt sports arenas, high-rise apartments are sprouting up across the region and developers are dusting off plans for projects shelved during the recession.
Development has been a key driver of the metro Atlanta’s economy for decades. The recent bust sawed construction jobs nearly in half, to 84,000 by 2011, but the number had rebounded to 98,000 this summer, according to government figures.
Though Georgia’s unemployment rate is worst in the nation, the state has nearly regained the jobs lost during the recession. Metro office vacancy dipped to 14.3 percent in the third quarter, according to real estate service firm CoStar Group. That’s the lowest point since the economy tanked in late 2007, leaving metro Atlanta with a glut of space as several new towers opened for business.
Blair Schlossberg, founder and co-manager of Duke’s parent company, Dunwoody-based Crown Holdings Group, said Riverwalk Village will have less than half of the density of the Roswell East plan.
Last decade, CRB Realty and noted Atlanta developer Charlie Brown proposed about 3,000 condos, office towers, retail and green space on the site.
Instead of skyscrapers, the new project will have low and mid-rise buildings in character with the greater Roswell area. It will have a village feel, Schlossberg said, with miles of walking and biking trails.
Schlossberg said he and his development team’s vision fits with Roswell’s zoning codes, and prior attempts to develop the site didn’t take the community’s vision to heart.
“We’re listening to what the city has told us what they want,” he said.
Boutiques, restaurants and office buildings will surround a lake and streams and pathways will connect within the development to the Chattahoochee River. There will also be a campus for the Swift School, a private school for children with language learning difficulties, and a high-end grocery store.
Crown was founded in 2009 and also plans to convert the former headquarters of poultry giant Gold Kist near Perimeter Mall into a mix of offices and residences.
Schlossberg said his firm has U.S. and international investors, but is seeking construction financing for Riverwalk Village.
No tenants have been signed for the office space, and it would represent the largest combined speculative office development underway in the metro area. Duke is targeting technology companies, regional headquarters for Fortune 500 companies and other white collar companies as possible tenants.
David Tennery, a managing director at commercial real estate services firm Jones Lang LaSalle, said the North Fulton market has few large blocks of empty office space for companies looking to expand.
“Many of those blocks have just been eaten up over the last six quarters,” he said.
Tennery, who is assisting Schlossberg and his team on the project, said several corporations are in the market for 50,000 square feet to 500,000 square feet of space.
“A key focus from the clients we talk to is along the (Ga. 400) spine,” Tennery said.
Buckhead and the Central Perimeter area near Perimeter Mall remain hot office markets, but areas farther north up Ga. 400 have less expensive rents and facilities and are often closer to the homes of technology workers.
Though the Rivewalk Village concept is smaller in height and scale than the former Roswell East plan, it is still ambitious. Its total acreage and office space is larger than the $600 million Avalon town center project that opened its first phase last month just a few exits north on Ga. 400 along Old Milton Parkway in Alpharetta.
Avalon and the recently opened Buckhead Atlanta development in the heart of Atlanta’s priciest enclave are just two recent examples of projects taken over by new groups after the recession halted construction. In this case, Roswell East never moved much beyond the drawing board, and developers abandoned the idea in the face of community opposition to its high density.
The Riverwalk Village plan has about half as many residential units, and heights of the office and multifamily residential will top out about eight stories. But about 1.7 million square feet is envisioned across multiple buildings — about the total floor space of Bank of America Plaza at the cusp of Midtown and downtown.
Roswell Mayor Jere Wood said he has seen a concept plan, but not a formal rezoning application. He said the proposal could be “transformational” for Roswell, but developers will need to win community support.
“They have strong feelings on that property and what should be there,” Wood said. “I’m hopeful the surrounding neighborhoods will find it acceptable.”
Rush-hour traffic is already thick in the area. Schlossberg said his firm is in discussions with transportation officials about future interchange improvements.