Porsche North America HQ to leave Sandy Springs for ex-Ford plant

In a rare loss for the northern suburbs, Porsche is expected to move its North American headquarters and what could be hundreds of jobs from Sandy Springs to the old Ford plant site near Hartsfield-Atlanta International Airport.

As part of the deal, Porsche will build offices where the plant was demolished and a test track similar to its Porsche Silverstone facility in England.

According to people familiar with the plans but who asked not to be identified because they had not been authorized to speak publicly, the announcement will come on Thursday. Economic development officials from Georgia, Atlanta and Fulton County will take part, though their possible roles in the project are unclear.

On Tuesday, officials for Porsche, the Georgia Department of Economic Development, Atlanta and Jacoby Development, which owns the site, had no comment.

News of the move, which could involve a couple hundred sales and marketing jobs to Atlanta's Southside, is an anomaly for the northern suburbs.

But it's a big win for the airport area, which largely missed the building boom that produced skyscrapers in Midtown and Buckhead and office parks in the northern suburbs.

Fulton County Commissioner William “Bill” Edwards, whose district includes the Hapeville site, could not confirm the move. But he said Hapeville’s mayor and city council have been working hard to fill the plant site and it makes good economic sense for Porsche, with the site’s proximity to the airport and interstate.

Edwards said the announcement should turn the tide for south Fulton.

“This is just the first step,” Edwards said. “South Fulton has always been misrepresented as a bunch of poor black folks and poor white folks. Other people are finding out that it’s a diamond in the rough.”

The move is a surprise in other logistical ways. Porsche will be leaving the Central Perimeter business district that has several MARTA rail stops and is close to neighborhoods favored for housing and schools by executives.

The former Ford plant site, which was closed in 2006, currently is not served by a direct MARTA rail stop, though Jacoby has been angling to arrange a stop from either a future commuter rail line or the airport’s people mover system.

Porsche's move wouldn't happen right away. It is likely to take several years, as the office building and track would be built from scratch. The company's current lease was set to expire in 2013.

Porsche has been a major anchor tenant of Lakeside Commons, a 14-story tower in Sandy Springs built in 1998, said Tom Miller with Grubb & Ellis. He said Porsche occupies about 2 1/2 floors of that building and would empty about 10 percent of the building if it moves. Currently, the building is 85 percent occupied, Miller said. He represents the building’s owners, Boston-based real estate fund Intercontinental Real Estate Corp.

“It’s really good for us because we’ve been sitting over there with the project vacant for a while,” said Hapeville Mayor Alan Hallman. “Assuming the rumors are true, it will jump start the entire Jacoby development. Everyone has been sitting on their hands waiting on the first person to throw the first pitch.”

Hallman said that Porsche wants frontage along I-75 which puts it in Atlanta’s city limits. But he said that was fine for his city.

“We’ll see if Hapeville will be the first police force in the world with a fleet of Porsches,” he quipped.

The track would emulate Porche's three-year-old Silverstone facility, which offers coaching for drivers on a track imitating realistic driving conditions. Classes start at several hundred dollars. A Porsche-themed restaurant and special events space also is on-site.

With no prospects for the Ford site for over four years, many business leaders wondered if anything would emerge from the area. Derek Chapman, who owns Chapman Drug Company in Hapeville, expressed a sense of relief.

“Our worst nightmare was that it would be annexed by Atlanta and turned into all parking, which would not help our tax base at all,” he said.

Chapman’s family has owned the pharmacy since 1921 and he would love to see more business people patronize his store and other businesses in town.

“We already get some business from Wells Fargo and Delta and hopefully, this would add to it,” he said.

Atlanta-based Jacoby Development, that helped build Atlantic Station, bought the 122-acre former Ford plant in 2008 for $40.3 million, and has finished removing contaminated buildings and soil from years of industrial use.

Initial plans called for an “aerotropolis” of offices, residences and shops that would jibe with the nearby airport. But the recession slowed the site’s development. Porsche is the first announced tenant of the site.

Jacoby has already announced a private, solar-powered park-and-ride facility to serve Hartsfield's new international terminal to open next year. Jacoby hasn’t announced the parking company operator and still is shopping for a solar energy provider.

Staff writer Johnny Edwards and correspondent John Thompson contributed to this article.