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Structural supports of the Nelson Street bridge are planned to be the ceiling of a bar or restaurant.

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Inside the renovation of Norfolk Southern Buildings, a downtown Atlanta landmark

Abandoned, century-old offices will house industrial lofts and a retail corridor called “The Canyon” in the latest major investment near the Gulch

Atlanta famously sprung to life as a railroad town, and the long, relatively thin structures collectively known as the Norfolk Southern Buildings played an integral part in making the city an industry hub.

Base floors for both structures were finished in 1912, and each was expanded to eight stories in 1928. Through the years, the first two stories housed logistics, distribution, and storage for the railroad company, while office workers toiled upstairs. Until 2004, that is, when the last employees were transferred to Midtown.

The buildings, while sturdy, have been moldering ever since, overlooking the underutilized Gulch. Artifacts from recent television and Hollywood productions—signage from The Walking Dead, a door that read “Los Angeles Police Department”—were the only signs of recent life.

But since April, that’s been changing in a hurry.

CIM Group, which is angling to build a mega-project in the Gulch next door, has teamed with Stream Realty Partners for a roughly $70 million, adaptive-reuse project that echoes recent ventures from Old Fourth Ward and the Westside to the residential conversions of Castleberry Hill next door.

By next year, it could be the clearest signal yet that South Downtown’s long-envisioned reinvention is indeed happening.

Both buildings are eight stories, but this longer structure—connected via a multistory bridge over Nelson Street—is twice the size of its counterpart. The two brick buildings at far left are being held for future development.

Billy Stark, Stream Realty Partners managing director, recently led Curbed Atlanta on a tour of the 280,000-square-foot project. He spoke of its potential significance as a missing link between Castleberry Hill and downtown—and a primetime pregame spot for events at two stadiums down the street.

Plans call for six or seven retailers, about 50,000 square feet of offices, and hundreds of new residents. Developers hope to announce its official name in coming weeks. Expect a railroad theme, of course.

An ancient awning on the Ted Turner Drive facade.

CIM Group bought the buildings—and two brick structures just to the south, also former Norfolk Southern property—for $25 million last year. The deal included the Nelson Street bridge, which remains closed for now.

(A CIM spokesperson says an August 16 fire in the smaller building was caused by debris that had ignited during renovations and was quickly extinguished by the Atlanta Fire Department. No significant or structural damage resulted).

Signage for a faux coffee company used recently in a film production.

One facet in particular has potential to add something Atlanta doesn’t have: a below-grade restaurant row.

From an entrance off Ted Turner Drive (formerly Spring Street), the project’s parking lot will be at left (below), while a subterranean retail corridor dubbed “The Canyon” will begin at right.

Stairwells and elevators will be added.

Markers for Whithers Foundry, dated 1911, can be seen in some of the stone pillars outside the ground floor.
Where the railroad company used to handle shipping (and the recent Jumanji remake filmed), The Canyon will aim for a speakeasy vibe (think: music and string lights). All sealed dock doors will be reopened to reveal the interior.
A view of the building’s facade from the planned retail corridor.

Workers (below) are cleaning and fortifying the first two levels for office and commercial uses again.

Remnants of the buildings’ industrial days—steel doors and a giant fan used in the shipping process, for instance—are being incorporated into buildouts for character. Some resident amenities will also be housed here.

Floors three to eight (below) will house the apartments, with an emphasis on smaller units, including 525-square-foot studios. It’s too early to predict rents, but Stark says the emphasis will also be on keeping the apartments attainable.

Of 250 rentals, 36 percent will be studios, 44 percent one-bedrooms, and the rest two-bedroom units.

During a visit earlier this month, most of the nasty 1980s carpeting, ceiling tiles, and other detritus had been purged from these levels. Original brick and flooring is being retained where possible, Stark says.

A stairway leading between the fourth and fifth floor in the skybridge between the two buildings. Some levels of these spaces could be converted to interior lounges or coworking areas.
Original wood flooring and brick from the early 1900s.
Hardwood flooring along the outside and a strip of marble down the middle in a section of the fourth floor. Columns represent the typical width of a future one-bedroom flat.
Both sides of the building have main lobbies. This one includes marbled walls, and the left entryway will probably house a restaurant once construction is complete.
An ornate staircase leading from one of the main lobbies to the upper floors.

The remnants (below) of offices that had yet to be fully gutted earlier this month. These were utilized as Norfolk Southern computer rooms until the 1990s, per developers.

For now, the roof (below) is a mess of piping, condensers, and rusted catwalks. Fans of The Walking Dead will recall this space from key plot twists filmed here in early seasons, especially the first.

The roof will remain largely off-limits when the building opens, save for a section of the skybridge where plans call for removing its roof to create an open-air lounge.

With little space for a swimming pool or other amenities, the building’s retail will be meant to serve as a key attraction for renters, not unlike the arrangement at Ponce City Market, says Stark.

As seen from the roof, the Gulch could look drastically different if CIM’s vision for up to 12 million square feet of new construction is realized.

Plans call for lower-level commercial uses facing the Gulch (below), and the Nelson Street bridge to be reopened for pedestrians (other renderings call for the addition of trees along the bridge). Expect about 450 parking spaces, project leaders say.

Renderings: Surber Barber Choate + Hertlein
The below-grade Canyon district, with retail frontage along Mitchell Street shown at right.

An official project website might be pending, but commercial leasing efforts have begun. Plans call for retail to begin opening in the second quarter of next year.

Apartments should deliver in the second and third quarters of 2019, Stark says.

Overall, residents and visitors can expect the feeling of a more intimate Ponce City Market—and the first finished downtown redevelopment of this scale, with much more likely on tap.

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