For six hours last week, leaders of cities around Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport made a pitch to a group of developers and real estate agents: If you’re looking for a location for a client, think south metro.
“We kind of see ourselves as an East Atlanta, Virginia Highlands-type area,” David Burt, an economic development consultant for Hapeville, told the group taking part in an economic development bus tour through South Fulton and Clayton counties. “Being more like those intown areas that are walkable is what we’ve worked on.”
The push comes at a critical time for south metro. Developers, weary of the traffic congestion and rising home prices on metro Atlanta’s northside, are increasingly giving close-in, south-side communities a look for their next project, south metro leaders said. South of I-20, there’s less expensive land, generous tax credits and incentives and easy access to the airport, they said.
But there’s also generally lower wages than those in north metro, lack of amenities such as celebrity chef-driven restaurants, and a persistent perception of poor schools, especially after Clayton County lost its accreditation in 2008 because of infighting among board of education members, the leaders acknowledged.
"We have smart, intelligent, talented kids," said Clayton County Commission Chairman Jeff Turner, forcefully pushing back on the perception of Clayton Schools. The system regained its accreditation in 2013, and successfully completed two years of probation.
“It’s not fair to our county and our school system for people to be judgmental and think back about what happened yesteryear,” Turner said.
During one of the tour stops, Adam Richards ran down a list of attributes of a massive building under construction near I-675 in Ellenwood. Promoted as a distribution center or warehouse complex, the building is almost 800,000 square feet, or the size of 14 football fields. As testament to the developer’s confidence about south side business, the facility is going up without a signed tenant, a risk that did not worry Richards.
“We have a really great business environment here,” Richards, co-founder of Reliant Real Estate Partners, said, explaining that he expects tax incentives, job tax credits and access to the interstate will help sell the property fast. “We have the opportunity to create several hundred jobs here for the county and the metro area.”
Others on the trip, including representatives of East Point, Riverdale and Fairburn, talked about renovating older apartments, replacing outdated hotels and creating new parks as community attractions.
Still they recognized the need for amenities, such as more full-service restaurants, higher-end housing to lure executives and walking and biking paths, which have become so popular in the metro area.
Denise Quarles, chief city executive with Siemens, said the economic development overview will help her assess the technology needs of upcoming south side projects. Like other networking opportunities, the bus tour offered a direct line to what’s happening on the ground.
“There are so many opportunities for growth here, and what I’m looking for what is emergent,” she said. “Technology changes so rapidly, so I want to be a part of the conversation when clients are still in the formulation stages.”
Phyllis Minter, a Realtor with Keller Williams, has been on four tours and said each time they have grown in quality and depth. What started out as mostly visits to the larger communities now includes smaller cities like Union City and Riverdale.
Seeing what Hapeville is doing downtown, for instance, or visiting Georgia Military College in Fairburn to discuss development opportunities there, will help her match clients with the right communities, Minter said.
“As a Realtor, these are the things that you want to share in your listing,” she said.