New ‘Coda’ tower coming to Midtown’s Technology Square

A tower is born

Georgia Tech will be the anchor tenant in the 21-story tower called Coda, which will feature sophisticated computing power and research space.

Name: A coda is the concluding part of a piece of music or literature as well as a work of art that stands on its own.

Size: Total size about 1 million square feet, including a 750,000-square-foot tower complex

Office space: About 620,000 square feet, with Tech taking up about half

Data Center: 80,000 square feet

Retail and restaurants: 40,000 square feet, including some in the historic brick Crum & Forster building along Spring Street.

Developer: Portman Holdings

Designer: John Portman & Associates

Data center operator: Next Tier HD

Technology Square, the hive of high-tech companies that has helped enliven Midtown, will be getting a lot bigger.

Atlanta developer Portman and Georgia Tech on Wednesday unveiled a 21-story second phase and gave it a new name. Known in planning stages as the High Performance Computing Center, the tower will bear the shorter and artsier name Coda.

Tech and Portman hope the tower, expected to break ground in November and be finished in early 2019, will burnish Midtown’s status as a technology hub.

If all goes as planned, the L-shaped glass building at Spring and Fourth streets will be home to some 2,400 workers, including Tech researchers and staff and employees from private sector firms that would collaborate with Georgia Tech on new technologies.

“The whole theme behind this project is to create an environment for collaboration to get people out of their silos,” said Travis Garland, Portman’s director of leasing on the project. “It’s definitively one-of-a-kind in the Southeast and probably one-of-a-kind across the country.”

No private sector tenants were announced Wednesday, but Portman and its partners are known to be involved in discussions with multiple firms.

Portman plans to secure financing for the $375 million construction project in the months ahead.

Other major universities have collaborative research spaces with the private sector, but Tech Square brings together office space, hotels, a conference center, Tech’s business school and student housing along with innovation centers and corporate offices.

The first phase, which opened in 2003, created a new center of gravity for the region's tech scene. AT&T, Panasonic, Southern Company, Home Depot, NCR and others have innovation labs there. NCR, now based in Duluth, is building a new headquarters nearby that in a few years will house 3,600 workers.

The square also has wooed high-end apartment developers, adding thousands of students and workers to a once-dreary area of Midtown. Eloisa Klementich, CEO of Invest Atlanta, said by the time Coda opens, the immediate area could house 12,000 students, workers and residents.

Ideas for the tower originated about a decade ago as a sophisticated computing center for modeling, data analytics and other research. Portman, founded by well-known Atlanta architect and developer John C. Portman Jr., came on board about a year ago to steer design and development.

Georgia Tech the anchor

Portman will own the tower and will work with real estate services firm JLL to lease space to the private sector. Georgia Tech will be the anchor tenant.

The entire complex will total about 1 million square feet. About 750,000 square feet will be office, retail and data center space. Georgia Tech will occupy and lease from Portman about half of the office floor space, while the rest will be leased to major companies and startups, said Travis Garland, director of leasing for Portman.

Design firm John Portman & Associates, part of the Portman empire, designed a “collaborative core” with a spiral staircase joining the wings of the tower. The retail and restaurant space will be designed, Garland said, to create a “living room” for Midtown.

The tower could command some of the highest rents in the city — perhaps as high as $40 to $50 per square foot, similar to or surpassing rents at another hot tech hub, Ponce City Market.

That might not deter big companies but it could put access out of reach for many startup companies. But Garland said his firm will likely partner with companies that specialize in co-working space to provide lower-cost access to promising new startups.

Other potential tenants will likely be venture capital firms and perhaps satellite offices for patent attorneys and other tech services firms, Garland said.

Invest Atlanta, the city’s development arm, estimates the tower will create 2,100 temporary construction jobs and will have an economic impact over 20 years of more than $800 million.

The project, which is getting about $15 million in tax incentives, is on land that is currently not taxed. Invest Atlanta estimates the tax payments from Portman will total $17 million over 15 years, after the tax breaks are applied.

‘Research neighborhoods’

Georgia Tech has said it plans to rotate “research neighborhoods” from various academic fields through the new space. Companies in health care information technology, financial technology, cyber security and other big data sectors will be primary targets for private sector tenants.

Klementich said five companies in the city’s economic development pipeline are considering the tower.

Would-be tenants will be able to do virtual research and development with technologies cultivated at Tech, potentially with professors and students who invented those techniques.

Demand is intense for office space near Tech Square and across Midtown, and tech firms have been among the more robust job creators in the region. Office vacancy rates in Midtown are 15.8 percent, compared to 17.2 percent for the metro Atlanta region overall, according to JLL. The squeeze is even tighter for top-tier, or Class A, space.

Elsewhere in Midtown, Houston developer Hines is planning as many as three mid-rise office buildings in Atlantic Station, while Atlanta developer Carter is refurbishing an older office building along Peachtree Street near the Fox Theatre.

The U.S. remains a bright spot in a turbulent global economy, but Coda will rise as the nation’s choppy recovery grows long in the tooth — and some say could end in the years ahead.

Klementich said in some ways she expects the tower to be recession-proof, because of the competitive pressure on major companies to innovate and develop new products and services.

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