New Children’s Healthcare, Emory campuses spur development

Developers flock to properties near emerging medical campuses with projects pitched to health care workers

North Druid Hills Road has long been a unique connector among Atlanta’s suburbs, representing the place where Fulton County blends into DeKalb County and where the cities of Atlanta, Brookhaven and Chamblee merge.

Jason Linscott, a principal at Atlanta-based developer Stein Investment Group, grew up in this corridor and considers it a “hidden gem.” Even before real estate became his profession, he said the hodgepodge of governments and lack of a cohesive vision led to the area, especially along I-85, being overlooked.

“Why in the world was the very first exit coming out of the city of Atlanta northbound just a bunch of junk,” he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I always thought it was some of the most underutilized areas of the city.”

Over the past five years, two of Atlanta’s largest and most influential health care companies have each launched $1 billion-plus medical campuses, investments that have attracted developers like Linscott to pitch at least a half-dozen large mixed-use developments.

Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta (CHOA) and Emory University are both investing more than $1 billion in sprawling medical campuses on either side of North Druid Hills Road just east of I-85 in the southern tip of Brookhaven. Both health care giants expect to employ thousands at the new facilities, with Children’s replacing the decaying Executive Park Motor Hotel and Emory redeveloping the former Executive Park office complex.

The CHOA and Emory campuses, along with a neighboring mixed-use project, will add a new level of density to suburban streets already clogged with traffic, a longtime concern for existing residents. The area is served by MARTA buses, but not by heavy rail. Neighborhoods in the area, much like the rest of Atlanta, have seen soaring housing costs.

“The rule of the game is don’t leave your house before 9 a.m. and you better be home by 3 p.m.,” said Carol Kilgore, a resident of the nearby Lavista Park neighborhood.

But developers say their projects will bring workers closer to their jobs, lessening the burden on local roads. They are targeting well-paid, well-educated hospital workers and medical researchers, pitching a lifestyle without a commute.

W. Allen Morris, the chairman and CEO of Allen Morris Company, is building Bryn House, a $100 million project with 337 luxury apartments. He said he expects medical workers will want to walk or bike to work.

“It was a no-brainer,” Morris said. “The demand was going to be there for this project.”

Credit: Allen Morris Company

Credit: Allen Morris Company

Billion-dollar campuses

Children’s announced plans for a new $1.3 billion hospital in 2017.

The 446-bed Arthur M. Blank Hospital, named after the Falcons owner and philanthropist who donated $200 million to its development, will rise 19 stories, and is the centerpiece of CHOA’s 78-acre campus. It will replace Egleston Hospital on Clifton Road.

Credit: Children's Healthcare of Atlanta

Credit: Children's Healthcare of Atlanta

In 2019, Emory announced its own $1 billion project on 60 acres across North Druid Hills Road from the Children’s site. The Emory Musculoskeletal Institute opened last year, and the sprawling medical complex is planned to later include a hotel, offices and several other research buildings.

Credit: Emory University

Credit: Emory University

The two health campuses triggered not only a land rush by developers but also a frenzy among cities to annex what had largely been unincorporated land.

Brookhaven, founded in 2012, will be the future home of both the Children’s and Emory campuses. The city annexed 160 acres along Executive Park, as well as some nearby property, boosting the city’s population to 53,000 and forcing city leadership to redraw its districts last year due to the uneven growth.

Christian Sigman, Brookhaven’s city manager, said it’s no surprise that every developer, municipality and community wants to be near Children’s Healthcare and Emory.

“Why would you not want those brands in your community?” he said. “They’re stable, they invest in beautiful buildings, they pay good jobs and they’ve been great partners with the city.”

Development rush

Within two miles of the medical district, at least six large mixed-use and apartment projects have begun development across unincorporated DeKalb County and Brookhaven.

Cortland Oleander opened along Executive Park in 2019 with 350 apartments, and an Emory spokesperson said developer Greystar is currently building another project nearby, which will create another 350 units. Bryn House, developed by Morris, broke ground earlier this year.

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Linscott’s company, Stein Investment, recently started construction on Lumen Briarcliff, a 264-unit apartment building off Briarcliff Road. A quarter-mile away, a second Stein Investment project called Briarcliff East would transform the shuttered Williamsburg Village Shopping Center into 392 apartments and 36,000 square feet of office, restaurant and retail space.

While the shopping center redevelopment has received support from residents, it was recently tabled by the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners over concerns about its integration into the surrounding area. Linscott said he’s confident those issues will be remedied by the board’s November meeting, and the project’s neighbors said they look forward to it.

“The developer is a neighbor, and he cares as much about it as we do,” Martha Gross said during an Oct. 4 meeting. “It looks to us like a first-class project.”

Credit: DeKalb County

Credit: DeKalb County

The project that’s received the most controversy is Manor Druid Hills, a 381-unit apartment project, hotel and medical offices by Related Group.

Located at 2601 Briarcliff Road, the site had been in unincorporated DeKalb. But the developer sought annexation into Brookhaven to pursue a $15 million tax break after DeKalb officials initially balked. On Oct. 13, the county’s development authority reversed course and approved the tax abatement for the $160 million project.

DeKalb Commissioner Jeff Rader opposed the tax break before the land was annexed into Brookhaven, and called it an unwise precedent to set for other developers.

“A tax abatement for one project puts other competing taxable projects currently under development at a financial disadvantage,” he said, “and can serve to inflate land values if those requesting them are enabled to bid more due to the tax advantage.”

‘Traffic, traffic and traffic’

The intersection of North Druid Hills and Briarcliff roads, just east of the medical campuses, was already one of the area’s most congested thoroughfares.

Chris Chelette, senior vice president of facility services for Children’s Healthcare, said residents’ “top three concerns were traffic, traffic and traffic,” prompting CHOA to implement a $40 million transportation improvement program.

Both health care companies connected their campuses to the Peachtree Creek Greenway, the multi-use trail in Brookhaven, and launched shuttle bus routes between the facilities and surrounding neighborhoods.

“The need for connectivity is huge,” Chelette said. “The need for reliance for something other than your car is so important.”

ExploreBrookhaven restarts plan to influence redevelopment of blighted areas

But in the morning and evening rush, traffic can slow to a crawl along North Druid Hills and Briarcliff roads and nearby Buford Highway. Julia Roberts, who lives off Briarcliff Road, is excited that the medical campuses are coming to an area with interstate access, as the existing medical centers near Decatur are difficult to reach.

She acknowledged the projects will undoubtedly strain surface streets.

“I don’t know that those intersections are at a point where they could really take the growth of the area,” she said.

Still, leaders of the communities remain bullish about investment coming to the area, pointing to projections of some 10,000 jobs.

“There will be a major halo effect,” Sigman said.