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Best Repositioning of a Flagging Project: Atlantic Station Rights the Ship

As part of the selection process for the 2011 Curbed Atlanta Awards, we reached out to professionals and experts in the worlds of real estate development & investment, architecture, community development and preservation to solicit their well-informed opinions on projects and programs from 2011 that are worthy of a Curbed Award. However, sometimes you got keep things in-house. So we are fielding this award based on our own in-house CA expertise. What?! Trust us, we know what we're doing here!

When Atlantic Station opened in 2005, it was heralded as the future of mixed-use, urban re-development. In Atlanta, the project needs little introduction, but across the country (and world) people flew in to see the new shining example of repurposing contaminated brownfields in to mixed-use communities where people could live, work, shop and play all in walking distance.

Fast forward seven years and we know that Atlantic Station, far from being a failure, has failed to fully live up to its much ballyhooed potential. To be fair the project was racked by the major macro forces of the Great Recession which crushed retail stores, stunted economic growth in Atlanta and brought down its big-money investor AIG. Despite these big market factors, many visitors to A.S. have said its the little things that kept them from coming back - parking woes, an unsatisfying mix of shops and restaurants, and loitering teens to name a few common criticisms.

Enter real estate mega-player CBRE and its partner North American Properties, a Southeast-focused real estate company. Together these parties purchased Town Center, the retail component of Atlantic Station, on Dec. 31 last year (Ok, so we are fudging the Awards eligibility dates a little bit - this isn't the Oscars). Separately, CBRE also purchased the BB&T building and 14 acres of undeveloped land at the project, and it completed its conquest with a buy-out of the debt of the office building 201 17th Street just a few days ago.

Since the purchase, the new owners have been very public in their plans to re-position the project. Two and half million of capital money was put in place to address lighting and parking signage in an effort to improve the parking experience as well as addressing safety concerns. The partners have also recognized that the retail mix wasn't right. Located in West Midtown the project failed to capture the cutting edge feel of the burgeoning neighborhood and instead relied on a mix of traditional national retail chains. Unfortunately, if Atlantans want those chains, they go to malls.

Atlantic Station needs to be an anti-mall and offer a more unique, urban experience and the new owners get that. Already they've announced several small local boutiques and a couple of new restaurants to upgrade the retail mix. It will take a couple years to fully achieve the right balance of stores but great results are already being shown with 80% of existing retailers showing double-digit growth in sales this year. Additionally, in a big score the project, Atlantic Station will host the Atlanta Tennis Championship in July which will bring a lot of attention and traffic to the project.

We think the new ownership group of Atlantic Station gets "it", and the new direction of the project will position it to ride the wave of better economic times ahead (we hope) and develop to its full potential of a landmark destination. For its re-positioning of a marquee Atlanta real estate project, we bestow a distinguished Curbed Award on Atlantic Station (if this were youth soccer, it would be the Most Improved Player Award).

Congrats Atlantic Station, now fill those holes in the ground on 17th Street, they are an eye-sore.