$5B Centennial Yards development officially underway in downtown Atlanta

Credit: DBOX for Centennial Yards

Credit: DBOX for Centennial Yards

The redevelopment of the Gulch in downtown Atlanta is officially underway.

The $5 billion project, now known as Centennial Yards, held a formal kickoff event Tuesday for the first portion of the site, which will span six acres and include a mix of apartments, office space, retail and a brewery.

It marked the official start of the venture to reimagine the 50-acre property, which is currently a sea of parking lots and rail lines that sit 40 feet below street level. In late 2018, discussions about the future of the Gulch dominated Atlanta City Hall politics for months ahead of the City Council’s approval of a public financing deal for the project totaling an estimated $1.9 billion.

“This has been one of the hardest lifts of my first term in office. ... Sometimes it didn’t seem like we would ever get to this point,” Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms told reporters at the event. “More than just a transformation of this massive hole in the ground, this is a much needed transformation for our city.”

Bottoms, Councilwoman Cleta Winslow and developers from CIM Group held a ribbon-cutting for a converted railroad building that is now made up of 162 loft-style apartments that will ready for residents this summer. Fifteen percent of the units will be set aside as affordable for people making under 80% of the area median income, which is $82,700 for a family of four in metro Atlanta.

Credit: J.D. Capelouto/AJC

Credit: J.D. Capelouto/AJC

The former Southern Railway freight depot and office building along Ted Turner Drive was previously home to Norfolk Southern from 1982 to 2005. It will soon become “Centennial Yards South.” In addition to the opening of the lofts, construction is set to get underway on 80,000 square feet of office space, 50,000 square feet of retail options and a brewery. Officials announced last week that LaGrange-based brewery Wild Leap will open there this fall.

Eventually, developers envision a mini-city at Centennial Yards that would create several new city blocks with 12 million square feet of mixed-use space near downtown’s CNN Center, State Farm Arena and Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Credit: DBOX

Credit: DBOX

California-based CIM was co-founded by Richard Ressler, whose brother Tony is the lead owner of the Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks, who play in State Farm Arena, also are a partner on the project.

“The No. 1 objective, maybe away from making the playoffs this season, is bringing true vitality to downtown,” Tony Ressler said Tuesday. “But that comes along with business, with entertainment, with affordable housing, with good jobs. All of that is part of the plan.”

Centennial Yards got the green light with an incentive package that could equal about $1.9 billion in bonds and reimbursements, not including interest, through 2048, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in 2018. CIM is able recoup 20 years of future property taxes and 30 years of future sales taxes on the property to help fund infrastructure and vertical construction, such as the office buildings and future housing.

The deal drew criticism since those tax dollars normally would be paid to the state, city, Fulton County and Atlanta Public Schools. But supporters of the project argue the community benefits that CIM agreed to outweigh the public cost.

Those benefits include a donation of $28 million toward a citywide affordable housing trust fund, $12 million to a citywide economic development fund and an additional $12 million to fund a new fire station. CIM also will donate $2 million to a worker training program and agreed to 38 percent minority and women-owned business participation in the construction of the complex.

“It was so important that we had the community benefits as part of this project,” Bottoms said. “As Atlanta moves forward, we have to make sure we’re not leaving communities behind.”