The tech giant’s initial plans in 2020 raised concerns over gentrification by neighborhood groups and sparked unprecedented rising property values.
Neighborhood leaders, who were cautiously optimistic the proposal wouldn’t overhaul their quiet residential pockets of the city, said they were blindsided by Microsoft’s decision to stop moving forward with plans for the Westside campus, which have influenced changes throughout their communities.
“It feels like a slap in the face, because the consequences have already been felt, but none of the benefits have come to fruition,” said Dr. Jasmine Hope, chairperson of Neighborhood Planning Unit-K, which includes several neighborhoods near the proposed campus.
The Redmond, Washington-based company said it has not abandoned the land or placed it up for sale, with the spokesperson adding, “We still aim to set aside a quarter of the 90 acres for community needs.”
“We intend to re-engage in planning efforts when expansion is warranted,” the statement continued.
Word of those halted plans, first reported online Thursday evening by real estate publication Bisnow, comes just days after Microsoft announced it would lay off 5% of its global workforce, roughly 10,000 employees. The company declined to say how many of those employees were in Atlanta.
Microsoft continues to occupy a two-tower campus in Atlantic Station, which has the capacity for 2,000 employees — even though many continue to work hybrid schedules. Microsoft, which allows employees to work half of their time remotely, leases the buildings through 2035.
The change in plans epitomizes the adjustments many technology companies are grappling with in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which upended traditional offices as workplaces, while prompting large profits for the tech sector. Many large companies are still evaluating their long-term office strategies, especially if employees continue to work hybrid or remote schedules.
Microsoft’s initial announcement prompted a wave of new attention and investment to Grove Park and the surrounding neighborhoods, most of which consist of predominantly Black communities. The site is located just south of Westside Park, roughly four miles northwest of Downtown Atlanta.
Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens, caught off-guard by the news, said he called Microsoft’s leaders Thursday to express his concerns that the Westside communities would be abandoned.
“The 2021 announcement of the campus had economic consequences for the surrounding communities,” Dickens said through a city spokesman. “This announcement of a delayed development creates uncertainties, and the mayor wants to ensure that Microsoft fulfills the commitments it has made to our city.”
The 90-acre site has been the center of grand plans for years.
A development group led by former Atlanta Braves baseball star Mark Teixeira spent years in the 2010s assembling 70 acres of residential tracts and piney woods at the defunct Bellwood Quarry, best known as a popular filming site featured in “The Walking Dead” and “Stranger Things.”
Teixeira’s group had a vision for a massive, mixed-use project they called Quarry Yards, with hundreds of apartments, a hotel, retail and restaurants located near the Bankhead MARTA station. But those plans never got off the ground.
Microsoft purchased the property in early 2020 for $127 million and later paid $22.5 million to expand the site by 20 acres.
At that time, Microsoft was making large investments throughout metro Atlanta, including its Atlantic Station offices that were built in 2018. More recently, Microsoft unveiled plans for multiple data centers in Fulton and Douglas counties.
The tech company’s Grove Park plans also signaled more change for Atlanta’s Westside neighborhoods, which were experiencing unprecedented investment from the city. Atlanta’s largest park, Westside Park, opened in 2021, and segments of the nearby Beltline Westside Trail have been completed.
Julian Bene, a former Invest Atlanta board member, said Microsoft’s pause could be a reprieve for residents who have had to grapple with constant change and increased property taxes.
“Is it a tragedy if you don’t get this big jobs influx that the Microsoft site implied,” he questioned. “Does that really benefit any of the legacy residents?”
Microsoft’s data center and Atlantic Station offices received hefty tax abatements from local development authorities, and the company previously said it would apply for incentives to develop its Grove Park campus. No discretionary state incentives were offered, but it’s unclear if any local incentives were on the table.
The Metro Atlanta Chamber, which recruits businesses to the region, said Microsoft has contributed to the city’s status as a technology hub, with large offices occupied by Google, Cisco and Mailchimp. The chamber said the Atlanta economy can weather this decision by Microsoft.
“We are confident in the long-term future of the tech sector in metro Atlanta,” the chamber said in a statement.
Microsoft credited a companywide re-evaluation of its real estate portfolio and goals for the decision to halt work on the Westside.
It isn’t the only technology company going through the wringer.
Google, Amazon and Meta join Microsoft in laying off sizable portions of their staff in response to changing economic tides. Georgia’s unemployment rate ended last year at a historically low 3%, but many economists expect that to begin increasing as formerly employed tech workers reach the end of their severance packages.
Instability in the traditional office market also plays a role, and many large corporations are still evaluating how much office space their employees need.
Atlanta’s Westside has been one of the most in-demand submarkets for employers, a movement often credited to Microsoft’s planned investment. Graham Little, vice president of Colliers’ landlord services group, told the AJC in November that Microsoft “instilled a lot of confidence” in west Atlanta, where multiple office projects are under construction.
Confidence in Microsoft among neighborhood leaders, including Hope in NPU-K, has been waning for months. She said the company’s leaders have been absent from recent NPU and community meetings.
She said she wants the company to re-engage with the community amid this pause.
“Hopefully this is just them halting work and not just them... giving themselves some time to find another place to go,” she said.
Microsoft’s spokesperson said the company is not abandoning the area.
“We will continue our efforts to create a positive impact in the region and be a contributing community partner,” the statement said.