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Photos: With Reynoldstown’s Madison Yards, is contentious developer Jeff Fuqua getting it right?

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Fuqua: “It’s designed to feel like its own small town within a larger city”

A series of brick storefronts beneath a blue sky, with one called Righteous Wings in a lighted sign.
Righteous Wings and other businesses occupy stair-stepped, brick storefronts along Memorial Drive on a 17-acre site where the Leggett & Platt manufacturing plant had operated.

By all measures, Jeff Fuqua is one of Atlanta’s most successful, influential, and perhaps infamous developers. He’s been frequently, and fairly, criticized (on these pages and elsewhere) for masterminding mixed-use developments that don’t always look or feel like they belong where they’re built.

There’s the hulking self-storage facility and mini suburbia on a prominent lot bordering Atlantic Station. The former Walmart proposal in elegant Grant Park. The hectic surface-parking nucleus of Edgewood Retail District.

But as a matter of fairness, it’s worth asking if in the case of Reynoldstown’s rising Madison Yards—unlike, say, Midtown Place—could Fuqua be creating an example of good urbanism?

The developer certainly believes it to be.

A row of storefronts and apartments with seating outside and a sidewalk.
Madison Yards, wedged between Memorial Drive, Bill Kennedy Way, and Interstate 20, is a multi-block retail-living venture by Fuqua Development, which bought the site for about $30 million in 2017. These storefronts face a new section of the Atlanta Beltline built by the developer.

Before getting into the praise, the 17-acre mixed use project, located at the corner of Memorial Drive and Bill Kennedy Way in the Beltline Overlay District, continues its developer’s penchant for big-box stores as anchors.

Clearly it lacks the adaptive-reuse character of places like Ponce City Market and Atlanta Dairies next door, or another ground-up development down the street, Glenwood Park.

There’s a shiny new 53,000-square-foot Publix, with elevators on both sides of the entrance leading down to a parking garage. There’s also a 40,000-square-foot AMC Theatre, which according to Fuqua and partner Heather Correa, will open to moviegoers in early March.

Workers continues to load in storefronts along Memorial Drive where it connects into Madison Yards at Holtzclaw Avenue.

Today, Hoots Righteous Wings is probably the most noticeable business to anyone passing Madison Yards while driving east on Memorial Drive or traversing the Beltline’s Eastside Trail.

Other restaurants like breakfast/brunch spot First Watch, Jamba Juice, and Salata greet drivers and pedestrians heading south on Bill Kennedy, right where Fuqua’s Glenwood Place (“KroBar”) development is located on the other side of Interstate 20’s exit 59B.

Several more are coming, including a Marlow’s Tavern, Taqueria Tsunami, and Four Fat Cows ice cream shop. Elsewhere is a huge pet-care center, Lucky & Lady.

Other businesses open now mostly face Memorial Drive, including Salon Lofts, AT&T Mobility, Highland Yoga, and Blanc Nail Bar. Coming soon are a chiropractic office, The Sky Barre fitness center, and of course a CBD shop.

First Watch stands next to one of the housing blocks.
A series of buildings with sidewalks made of brick beneath a blue sky with bar trees around them.
The Beltline and future storefronts.

Along with office space, expect 500 multifamily rentals and 27 townhomes starting in the $500,000 range.

The storefronts, along with the Beltline-facing Elan Madison Yards apartments, distract effectively from the scale of the property. Sidewalks welcoming Beltliners to cut through Madison Yards for breakfast, a beer, or perhaps even a more intense workout at The Sky Barre, seem less of an intrusion to residents, and more of an invitation from them.

Less visible from the street, in a good way, is the parking.

Too often consuming an outsized amount of acreage in Atlanta’s mixed-use developments, the parking deck at Madison Yards is cleverly tucked in front of and mostly beneath Publix’s central area. And unless you’re specifically walking that way, it’s not in your face.

A rendering of a multi-building development project with streets all around.
The project as pitched before construction, with a cinema, Publix, and parking deck at its core.
Vantage Realty Partners

But the most simple and satisfying aspect of Madison Yards’s layout is the sidewalk engagement, which is still in nascent stages. Already, it integrates with the Beltline and Memorial Drive in practical and uncomplicated ways, via the use of ramps, silver railing with horizontal fence lines, and small groups of steps.

There’s plenty of pedestrian space on the sidewalks, with just enough distance between the curbs and the shops to denote separation.

And the classic brick facades don’t scream shiny superiority at humble, popular Reynoldstown hangouts across the street, such as Home Grown, just over Memorial Drive.

A series of buildings with sidewalks made of brick beneath a blue sky with bar trees around them.
The project’s sidewalk engagement.

In an interview this week with Curbed Atlanta, Jeff Fuqua says that was always part of the plan.

“The road dimensions, parallel parking, sidewalks, landscaping, and all that is based on typical Atlanta public street sections,” says Fuqua. “It’s designed to feel like its own small town within a larger city. As soon as we get the whole thing open, you’ll feel that.”

In another urban-friendly move, says Fuqua, his team saved room along the Beltline in case the city ever moves forward with rail transit through the area.

Blue and white townhomes rising up along a street in Atlanta.
Construction continues near a neighboring townhome development.
A series of buildings beneath a blue sky.
A large blank wall of the cinema could be called a sore spot.
A series of buildings with sidewalks made of brick beneath a blue sky with bar trees around them.
A worker building railing at a new apartment complex beneath a blue sky.

Fuqua calls Madison Yards a win already, just months after initial debuts. He says existing retail is doing “extremely well,” and that the community is happy with the outcome thus far.

“We’ve had no opposition to this project as we built it or before we started it, which is unusual,” he says. “It’s been really accepted and welcomed by the community, I would say.”

The Reynoldstown Civic Improvement League (RCIL) didn’t respond to a request for comment by press time.

But maybe this time, and going forward, it’ll be different.

Fuqua is a resident of Virginia-Highland who apparently has seen the flaws in earlier projects. Which all begs the question: Could Madison Yards be a turning point for Fuqua and his team?

If so, that’d likely be a positive development for the Memorial Drive corridor, the rest of Atlanta, and beyond.

A new movie theater with huge glass windows.
A series of brick buildings being built with streets and cars around them.