Turner Field area could loom as next redevelopment task

Other high-profile redevelopment projects in metro area

Fort McPherson — The former headquarters of the U.S. Army Forces Command and the U.S. Army Reserve Command closed in September 2011. The post, founded in 1889, consists of 488 acres and is still owned by the Army. Planning for the property is being overseen by the McPherson Implementing Local Redevelopment Authority, which is tasked with creating a mixed-use development vision that contemplates a science and technology park, mixed-income housing and parks.

Fort Gillem — The satellite base for Fort McPherson closed in September 2011. The sprawling post, opened in 1941, started as the Atlanta Quartermaster Depot and consists of more than 1,400 acres. The military retains part of the site, but the Forest Park/Fort Gillem Local Redevelopment Authority hopes to convert the campus into a thriving business hub for logistics companies and corporate campuses. The site is in need of environmental remediation, a point of contention between the state and military, related to disposal of industrial solvents.

The Gulch — The area near the CNN Center and the Five Points MARTA station has long been planned as a transit hub for MARTA rail, commuter rail and buses. The state Department of Transportation and developers Forest City Enterprises, Cousins Properties and The Integral Group are studying the feasibility of the site.

General Motors plant in Doraville — The plant closed in 2008. The 165-acre site sits near I-85 and I-285 near the Doraville MARTA station. The site has been coveted for redevelopment for years, but questions about environmental issues and a lackluster economy have vexed plans for the location. The Integral Group says it has an agreement with GM for due diligence in hopes of acquiring it. Integral Chairman and CEO Egbert Perry said Tuesday that the environmental issues do not appear as daunting as once thought.

Turner Field could soon go from the home of the Atlanta Braves to one of the metro area’s biggest redevelopment question marks.

The city of Atlanta now has to figure out a use for the area of roughly 55 acres, a lackluster stretch passed by hundreds of thousands of commuters each day that feels cut off from downtown by a sea of parking lots and car-choked interstates.

If the Braves complete their planned move to Cobb County, Turner Field will add to the list of high-promise, high-cost redevelopment dreams in the metro area, including the proposed Gulch transit hub downtown near the CNN Center, Fort McPherson, the General Motors site in Doraville and the sprawling Fort Gillem on the Southside.

Even with a guaranteed flow of tens of thousands of fans during the warm baseball months, there was little concrete investment in the south Atlanta corridor near Turner Field. Plans went nowhere for giant parking decks and mixed-use development partly financed by property tax funds.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed vowed the ultimate development will be one that validates his decision to let the Braves walk. He said the stadium will be demolished in 2017 and that it will be replaced by a development that will make the city proud.

“I guarantee you we won’t leave a vacant Ted,” Reed said. “When they leave, we’re going to have a master developer that’s going to demolish The Ted, and we’re going to have one of the largest developments for middle-class people that the city has ever had.”

That’s a heady task, especially when it’s put in context.

Atlanta officials are already grappling with ambitious redevelopment hopes such as converting Fort McPherson into a mixed-use, mixed-income housing and technology park. Construction could soon start on the $1.2 billion replacement for the Georgia Dome, which includes plans for redevelopment of the troubled neighborhoods around Vine City.

The Gulch near the CNN Center has been pegged as a multiuse transit hub for decades. Though developers are in place, the project is still in the planning stages. The Boisfeuillet Jones Atlanta Civic Center has also been pitched as an asset for redevelopment.

The city will complete next year the first phase of the Atlanta Streetcar. The Beltline’s loop of trails and parks is well under way, but it is another city-sponsored project that is envisioned as a long-term, transformative one for the city.

Reed sounded optimistic Tuesday. He said the city would offer the land — but likely no financing — for any redevelopment project. The focus would be on the type of close-in affordable housing that cities such as London and New York lack.

“We’ve been talking about adding 5,000 middle-class families to Atlanta for some time,” Reed said. “I think this tract of land, mixed with the kind of development that I have in mind, will work.”

In January, several high-profile developers pitched their visions for streetcars and mixed-use neighborhoods in the lonely swath of parking lots north of the stadium. But those plans largely hinged on the Braves slugging homers next door. Forest City Enterprises and OliverMcMillan, two of those firms, declined to comment Tuesday, and several others did not immediately return messages.

Steve Baile, a senior vice president with Daniel Corp., a developer of the mixed-use 12th & Midtown complex on Peachtree Street, called Turner Field “a highly desirable site when the Braves were there.”

“Why would it be now?” he asked.

Though Baile’s firm did not submit a vision for the area, Baile said the city missed an opportunity not envisioning a plan to develop one area with facilities for both the Falcons and Braves.

Some real estate experts hinted that the Braves’ migration to Cobb County could create a blank slate less than a mile from the state Capitol and Georgia State University for some form of mixed-use campus or potentially as an extension of the university’s campus or athletic facilities.

Tad Leithead, the chairman of the Atlanta Regional Commission, said the Turner Field area is “in the perfect spot for some form of redevelopment,” citing its proximity to downtown and Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Leithead is also chairman of the Cumberland Community Improvement District, whose jurisdiction includes the area of the proposed new Braves stadium near I-75 and I-285.

The ARC predicts that metro Atlanta’s population will double to 10 million over the next 30 years, and that infill development within the Perimeter will rise, Leithead said.

Egbert Perry, the chairman and CEO of the development firm The Integral Group, said major sites such as Turner Field have their own strengths and weaknesses that make them difficult to compare. Perry is also chairman of the downtown business coalition Central Atlanta Progress.

His company is attempting to buy the Doraville assembly plant from GM and is currently in a due diligence period.

“We have a couple of years’ notice,” Perry said about the move from Turner Field, “and the question is ‘What is the city going to do?’ ”