Gov. Kemp touts new mini-city development, rides self-driving shuttle



DeKalb County’s top leaders joined Gov. Brian Kemp on Friday to herald the grand opening of the new headquarters for the nation’s largest mattress company.

Serta Simmons Bedding consolidated its locations into a modern new building on the site of a former General Motors plant in Doraville, bringing more than 500 jobs to the area.

The GM plant closed in 2008. Around 2014, The Integral Group announced its desire to turn the land into a mini-city called Assembly.

“There’s so much potential here,” Kemp said, standing on a stage flanked by two Serta mattresses.

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Friday also marked the inaugural ride on a self-driving shuttle that will roll around Assembly. The driverless shuttle fits about a dozen people, and will initially take Serta Simmons employees to and from the Doraville MARTA station. It could eventually drive on public roads in Doraville and Chamblee.

It’s the first of its kind for a mixed-use development in the Southeast. Kemp and other local officials took the first ride around a block in the development.

» READ MORE: ‘City within a city’ rises on site of shuttered GM plant

Inside the shuttle, a staff member simply pushes a button and the shuttle starts rolling at about 6 mph.

Eventually, Assembly hopes to show off 750 multifamily housing units and 300,000 square feet of office space which will be built over the next two years. The development aims to support about 15,000 permanent jobs.

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

“We know that our state values job creation,” Kemp said. “This is one of the things that really excited me about our metro area.”

For Doraville Mayor Donna Pittman, seeing the development come to fruition was a long time coming.

“I was actually there when the last person walk ed out of General Motors. I was there when they tore it down,” Pittman said in an interview. “And now to see this, it’s very emotional.”

Much of Assembly, including a large patio, will be open to the public.

“We see this as a place where our community can come and enjoy restaurants, just walking on the paths and enjoying the parks,” said Pittman, who grew up in the area and has been mayor since 2011.

Assembly was also able to work out a complex tax incentives arrangement with Doraville and DeKalb County that amounts to 35 percent of the site’s annual property tax bill for the next 30 years.

The value of the tax breaks could exceed $82 million if developers succeed in their effort to increase the property's value to more than $1.5 billion over the next three decades, according to calculations by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

The former GM assembly plant near Peachtree Road and I-285 was founded in 1947 and eventually had 4,000 employees spread over a plot of land the size of 125 football fields. It shut down in 2008, at the height of the recession, and the land has generally remained dormant since then.

The developers designed the “city within a city” to be transit-oriented; I-285 and the MARTA Gold Line track are visible from the new Serta Simmons Building.

Serta Simmons wanted the new location to be easily accessible by multiple modes of transportation, executives said.

“MARTA was really important to us,” Executive Vice President Kristen McGuffey said, adding that Doraville “ended up being the epicenter of where our current employee population was.”

Serta Simmons previously had several office locations across metro Atlanta, and one in Illinois.

The Assembly project will also include parks and retail areas. The Doraville City Council voted earlier this year to allow open containers of alcohol in parts of the district to encourage entertainment and foot traffic. Third Rail Studios, a film and production company, has had a location at the site since 2016.

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