When Atlanta rapper T.I. was growing up in the Center Hill neighborhood, he considered it a vibrant community that anyone could be proud to live in.
But after what he calls the “crack era,” the entertainer saw the area start slipping into disrepair, from the mid ’90s to around 2012, he told Inc. Magazine.
Center Hill, located on Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway (formerly Bankhead Highway) north of Westview, became a food desert, and in some places, an eyesore. “There’s no CVS,” T.I., born Clifford Joseph Harris, Jr., told the magazine recently. “There are liquor stores.”
Rather than take his fame and wealth exclusively elsewhere, leaving the neighborhood to become more blighted, the musician has taken it upon himself to help out. As a budding developer.
With the real estate venture T.I. founded in 2017—called “Buy Back the Block”—he’s working to revitalize the area, one piece at a time.
Since last year, Harris has spent roughly $2.7 million to buy six properties in Center Hill, one of which used to be the Kmart where his family shopped, Inc. reported.
Harris told Inc. many of the buildings he’s bought will be transformed into mixed-use housing complexes. One of the smaller residential projects could open by late next year, as could a larger development—with more than 100 units, he said.
Harris is working on the project with real estate agent Krystal Peterson, who is advising him on how to price his developments without displacing long-planted residents, per the report.
“[Locals] are very pleased to see that I’m involved, that I’m taking steps to have ownership within the community—they know I’m a product of it,” he said. “But they also wonder what’s going to happen.”
For this endeavor to be successful, green space and gardens are imperative, Harris said. He also wants to develop a movie theater, a bowling alley, and a laser tag arena—amenities he didn’t have growing up.
“I’m trying to build a community where the people within it can be proud,” Harris continued. “If they’re proud, they’ll have more of a sense of wanting to maintain it.
And it sounds like T.I.—who made headlines elsewhere in recent days by vowing to boycott the NFL this year and Atlanta’s Super Bowl—is adamant about not waiting around for monied developers to swoop in and have their way with his home turf: “Why wait for someone else to come into a community where I went to elementary school, where I rode my bike and played?”
T.I.’s not the only celeb with Atlanta ties to dip toes in the real estate development realm west of Midtown and downtown.
Maybe a mile from Center Hill, the Urban Creek development team, backed by former Braves and Yankees star Mark Teixeira, is moving forward with Quarry Yards, a planned Grove Park mixed-use goliath on 70 acres near the Bankhead MARTA Station and Westside Reservoir Park.
Quarry Yards’s first phase alone is expected to cost upwards of $400 million.
Construction, officials have said, should launch before year’s end.