Microsoft silent on Quarry Yards development, but others have ideas

Quarry Yards viewed from Gary Avenue near Bankhead MARTA Station on Saturday, September 12, 2020. The 70 acres - and the preliminary development plans shown here - was put together by former Georgia Tech and Atlanta Braves baseball star Mark Teixeira and his partners. It was slated for a highly publicized mixed-use development in a low-income area that is drawing intense interest from developers. The land is at the convergence of three of Atlanta’s highly touted greenspace initiatives under development — Bellwood Quarry Park, the Beltline and the Proctor Creek Greenway. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Oracle campus in Austin, Texas with office, housing could be model

The new owner of the Quarry Yards site on the Westside has an opportunity to remake one of the city’s largest, relatively untouched properties.

Nearly two weeks after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and other publications reported that buyers affiliated with Microsoft had acquired the site, the tech giant has remained mum about its plans. The mayor’s office and the governor’s office also aren’t sharing any details.

But site consultants, Wall Street analysts and economic development and zoning experts see big possibilities, including a secondary corporate campus where thousands of workers could live nearby and walk to their jobs. Software titan Oracle did just that in Texas.

Among the magnets that could be drawing Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft to Atlanta: a diverse pipeline of tech talent and generous tax incentives that developers often enjoy in Georgia.

Then there’s the Quarry Yards itself, a unique 70-acre site including acres of greenspace, transportation connections and trendy stores and restaurants nearby. The site is also likely eligible for millions of dollars of government-subsidized financial incentives for the owner and developer.

An investor group that included former Atlanta Braves slugger Mark Teixeira sold the site this month for $127 million but declined to identify the buyer. The seller, Urban Creek Partners, had planned to develop housing, offices and retail, but had only done a small amount of site work.

A bicyclist peddles past Quarry Yards on the Proctor Creek Greenway near Bankhead MARTA Station on Saturday, September 12, 2020. The 70 acres was put together by former Georgia Tech and Atlanta Braves baseball star Mark Teixeira and his partners. It was slated for a highly publicized mixed-use development in a low-income area that is drawing intense interest from developers. The land is at the convergence of three of Atlanta’s highly touted greenspace initiatives under development — Bellwood Quarry Park, the Beltline and the Proctor Creek Greenway. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

An owner like Microsoft, however, would probably develop a large part of the site as a corporate campus, said Rick Stein, principal at Urban Decision Group, a Columbus, Ohio, site-selection consulting firm.

“It does make sense to have a fairly large amount of housing on this site for people who want to work from home on one day and maybe just literally walk to the office another day,” he said. “You can build a rather walkable community whole cloth out of 70 acres.”

Another West Coast tech giant, Oracle, recently developed a secondary corporate campus in Austin, Texas that could be a blueprint, according to Stein. Oracle employs about 5,000 people at its Texas campus, many of whom live on site in company-developed housing. The 40-acre campus will eventually include about 1 million square feet of Oracle office space, plus retail and hotels.

Like Oracle’s campus, the Quarry Yards site would be extremely appealing to young professionals, said Stein, who said he is not working with Microsoft or privy to any plans.

It’s got connections to the Beltline and Proctor Creek Greenway trails and Bellwood Quarry Park. Public transit extensions are extremely difficult to develop, but Quarry Yards sits next to the underutilized Bankhead MARTA rail station. It’s close to the restaurants, shops and amusement offerings that have popped up on the Westside.

Atlanta’s supply of talent in technology makes the city even more attractive to Microsoft, said Daniel Ives, an equities analyst at Wedbush Securities in New York. The company’s largest and fastest-growing business division, cloud computing, desperately needs a reliable supply of computer software and hardware engineers and Georgia Tech provides that.

“If you look at Microsoft’s success in the cloud and what they’re building over the next decade, it makes a ton of strategic sense for them to build in the Atlanta area,” he said.

In two of Microsoft’s largest locations, the Seattle area and Silicon Valley in California, the company is either running out of space, struggling to find talent, or both, Ives said. Microsoft has several locations on the East Coast, though nothing like a second headquarters.

An emerging community of Black tech talent could also help Microsoft diversify its ranks.

Microsoft is increasing its presence elsewhere in Atlanta. It will open a new office in Atlantic Station. It partnered with the CDC Foundation to finance a pandemic response center here. And it gave tablet computers to newly enrolled Morehouse College students

The city of Atlanta would want Microsoft to meet policy goals, likely through an affordable housing requirement, said Kathryn Zickert, a land-use attorney at Smith, Gambrell & Russell. That could be accomplished through a community benefits agreement, which Summerhill and surrounding neighborhoods obtained from Georgia State University when it redeveloped Turner Field.

That won’t be an issue for Microsoft, which is active in corporate social responsibility issues like job training and environmental sustainability, said Brad Reback, an Atlanta-based equities analyst at Stifel Financial who covers the company.

Because of its location in a low-income neighborhood, the Quarry Yards site will qualify for numerous subsidies, such as state Enterprise Zone and both federal and state Opportunity Zone status, said Peter Stathopoulos, an economic-development consultant at Bennett Thrasher.

“A company could get all three credits if they located in the right area,” in addition to the typical economic incentives that Georgia or Atlanta provides to recruiting targets, such as job tax credits and free training programs, Stathopoulos said.

Microsoft may not be the last tech company that economic developers in Georgia look to recruit for a corporate campus. Atlanta’s relatively low cost of living and availability of talent and land for development would be attractive to many growing tech firms, said Reback, the analyst.

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