They have the keys. Now, it’s time to drive.
Georgia State University and its private partners said Tuesday they plan to get started soon on redevelopment of Turner Field and surrounding parking lots, with the first phase of stadium renovations beginning next month. Work on initial elements of mixed-use development near the stadium should start later this year, they added.
The university and developers Carter, Oakwood Development and Healey Weatherholtz Properties laid out initial plans and released new renderings a week after closing on their $30 million purchase of Turner Field.
If successful, the project promises to alter what is now acres of lonely parking lots into a mix of retail, offices, student housing, apartments and a southern extension of Georgia State’s campus.
As with Georgia Tech’s work to develop Technology Square across the Downtown Connector from that campus, project boosters and city leaders hope Georgia State’s influence will be a draw for new residents, corporate expansions, restaurants and retailers to the Turner Field area.
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“This area is in the path of growth,” said Scott Taylor, president of Atlanta-based Carter, citing booming development of in-town neighborhoods and the nearby Memorial Drive corridor.
But the team still faces the challenge of proving their plans can create more than just a revamped sports venue and draw new residents and sustainable businesses to the area, which is separated from downtown by I-20.
Taylor and Georgia State President Mark Becker on Tuesday outlined what is to come this year at the former Atlanta Braves stadium now that the team has left for the new SunTrust Park in Cobb County.
Though residents will soon see shovels and equipment turning dirt, Taylor stressed that the overall development will take years. But he said the team wants to “activate” the intersection of Georgia Avenue and Hank Aaron Drive as soon as possible.
Among the projects slated to start this year:
- Becker said work starts in February to prepare The Ted for Panthers football this fall. A larger second phase to convert the ballpark into a 33,000-seat football stadium will begin after the 2017 season and be ready for the 2018 campaign. A 1,000-seat to 1,500-seat Panthers baseball field will follow in 2019 or 2020.
- Carter and its private partners are acquiring more than four acres and about eight vacant buildings along Georgia Avenue that will be restored with neighborhood retail, potentially including local restaurants and a coffee shop. Taylor said his group hopes to begin leasing this year.
- The private development team plans to start construction on an 850-bed private student housing complex near The Ted and a 200-unit apartment project with ground-floor retail at the northeast corner of Georgia Avenue and Hank Aaron Drive.
A balancing act
Taylor said the development team is obtaining financing for the first phase, which is estimated to cost about $125 million.
The concept includes aspects of four different design recommendations from a recent community-driven planning effort covering five neighborhoods near Turner Field.
Taylor said the community master plan “calls for significant density and significant height and we are trying to balance that with market reality.” But, he said, the community vision remains at the core of the concept.
Buildings along the street will generally range from one to three stories, with apartments rising to about five stories and the tallest office buildings currently envisioned at 10 stories.
The Georgia State plan incorporates a new street grid and anticipates future expansion of the city’s streetcar network. Two light-rail projects that could intersect near Turner Field are candidates for funding under the $2.5 billion MARTA expansion, but a project hasn’t been approved.
Future phases include a potential southern extension of Georgia State’s campus, as well as denser development along Hank Aaron Drive, including two parcels reserved for potential corporate expansions or re-locations.
Long-term, the site could accommodate 1,500 to 2,000 apartments, Carter officials said. The team will set aside 10 percent of units to meet city affordable housing requirements. The development team also has agreed to a 28 percent minority- and women-owned business participation requirement.
A ‘rare commodity’
A.J. Robinson, president and CEO of Central Atlanta Progress, said he is glad to see development begin soon.
“Urban land,” he said,” is a rare commodity in downtown Atlanta,” and the city’s core needs fresh retail, residences and office space.
Taylor said his group will pitch office space to startups and established firms looking for unique space next to a research university. The group also hopes to attract a grocery store in a building along Georgia Avenue.
Taylor and Becker said a transit connection is vital to the project, though MARTA or streetcar expansion is not in their control.
Two potential light-rail lines, one from downtown to the southern end of the Beltline, and another that connects the Westside to Grant Park and the Beltline, are on the city’s long-term drawing board and could be eligible for funding under the recent MARTA sales tax expansion.
“One of the things we will advocate for greatly is transit and better connectivity for this area,” Taylor said.
John Colabelli, incoming president of the Organized Neighbors of Summerhill, the existing residential area around Turner Field, said he is “pretty optimistic from what I’m seeing.”
The area has long lacked the density to attract retailers and restaurants, Colabelli said. He cited the rapid development in recent years of the Memorial Drive corridor on the other side of I-20.
“My hope is you see a similar type of organic growth along Georgia Avenue,” he said.