"This is not a mall. This is not a shopping center," Dene Oliver, OliverMcMillan CEO, told a crowd of hundreds Friday. "This is a redevelopment of multiple blocks of your city… This is going to be the center of town!" The white-haired Californian led a rousing topping-out ceremony for what he called the most difficult project of his career, the eight-block Buckhead Atlanta. Chain-smoking laborers, media throngs and Atlanta power brokers huddled under the same huge white tent to acknowledge that the project, fraught with years of financial and logistical complications, has reached its peak physical height and will open pretty soon. Oliver promised that "everything you're going to see here is really unique" and Mayor Kasim Reed predicted "this is going to be an iconic development in our city for years to come." Unfortunately, the event was more dog-and-pony show than revelatory press conference, but it had some intriguing — and awkward — moments. No new retailers were announced Friday. Womp womp. But plenty has leaked so far to give a fair indication of Buckhead Atlanta's eventual flavor. By early July, you should be able to drive there, park and spend.
It's no secret that haute retailer Hermes, Etro and the Spanx compound will call Buckhead Atlanta home. Oliver stressed that restaurant offerings will run the gamut from ultra-pricey to affordable, such as the first Georgia outpost of Shake Shack. Culinary offerings will also include local ventures The Southern Gentleman and Gypsy Kitchen, along with Doraku Sushi, comfort food spot American F+B, a pizza concept, upscale French bistro Le Bilboquet, a couple of cafes and Georgetown Cupcakes. Other retailers are expected to be introduced as they open, or as news leaks when they file for permitting.
— Oliver noted that a few massive trees, standing 60-feet tall, will be lifted in and planted, lending the project an immediate mature canopy.
— A Balfour Beatty Construction official said 825 workers have reported to the site on a daily basis since the project was green-lighted last year. Of 500,000 man-hours logged, no one has been seriously injured.
— The same official offered humbling honesty: "Many of our staff thought this project would never start again … How long were those cranes in the air?"
— Each of the project's three parcels is on — or ahead of — schedule. All 1.5 million square feet is scheduled to be open by next spring.
Moments That Caused Fidgeting:
— Oliver gave a "shout out" to Ben Carter Properties, the company who assembled the land and tore ahead with construction until the Recession crushed their dreams. While Oliver's gratitude was sincere, the subject still seemed sore.
— Oliver pledged his support for all of Mayor Reed's future political ambitions.
— A running joke between speakers involved vaguely phallic humor about the height of the microphone and "small packages."
— A poorly constructed backdrop kept falling down, triggering "Oooh" and "Ahhh" sounds from the audience that befuddled oblivious speakers.
— Reed recorded a video of the crowd and media with his personal smartphone, smiling.
— Reed's exuberance for the project, which included this statement: "This feels like a city should feel!"
— The in-house cowboy musician who pacified the masses as the program started 45 minutes late. His rendition of "Margaritaville" was a superb, twangy lullaby.
— Sam Massell. The legend. In the flesh.
[Photos: Christopher T. Martin, Curbed Atlanta]