Given the commercial bustle and rising apartment stacks around it, Suburban Plaza could strike an observer as the most ironically named shopping center across ITP’s rapidly changing landscape. Built in 1958, it’s one of Atlanta’s first suburban-style shopping centers, and the name harkens an era when suburbanization was synonymous with progress.
Then again, Suburban Plaza’s name might be perfectly on point.
As the Great Recession petered out, prominent Atlanta developer Selig Enterprises announced a new look for the tired, struggling strip mall with designs inspired by the award-winning Shops Around Lenox. Plus, a Walmart Supercenter.
The latter component stoked the ire of neighbors, who formed a group called Good Growth DeKalb and filed a lawsuit in hopes of blocking Walmart, citing typical Wally Word concerns about increased traffic, public safety, and small business viability. A judge sided with Selig, and Suburban Plaza was soon reborn as a nearly 300,000-square-foot shopping and dining hub with Walmart as the anchor, alongside Ross Dress For Less, HomeGoods, Jo-Ann Fabrics, among other businesses, and a drive-thru Starbucks rimming surface parking lots.
For the area’s redevelopment, however, it was merely the beginning.
Beyond Suburban Plaza, the appearance of this commercial node and confluence of major DeKalb County roadways, just beyond Decatur city limits, could shock visitors who haven’t been in a couple of years. It’s like an ITP Suwanee has sprung up overnight, which isn’t to say the changes, collectively speaking, are being perceived as negative, especially for tax coffers. Additions include roughly 1,000 new apartments and hundreds of thousands of square feet of retail, most of its customers channeled in via asphalt parking lots.
It’s a confluence of urban-leaning development patterns and unabashedly suburban, car-first functionality that’s virtually indecipherable from the outskirts of any metro Atlanta city.
And it’s all within a $1 Bird ride of downtown Decatur, the area’s walkability standard-bearer, with its 200 independent shops and eateries.
Nobody’s lamenting the loss of an abandoned Ford dealership, streets without sidewalks, and other parking lots; and businesses such as Comet Pub and Lanes and Louisiana Bistreaux are certainly local high points.
But for those who don’t live in or visit the area, this installment of Visual Journeys aims to illuminate changes happening on a massive scale: where dense multifamily construction overlooks seas of parked cars and 12 lanes of traffic, where a beloved local bowling alley—which scrapped its own “Suburban” name after 60 years—is rubbing elbows with the likes of Dunkin Donuts, Zoe’s Kitchen, and Great Clips.