As 2018 rounds to a close, the season for looking back across Atlanta’s year in high-rise development is upon us. In doing so, one project stands out, in virtually every way.
Construction on lilli Midtown began in 2016, and this past summer the JPX Works project officially debuted, marking the South Midtown area’s first new high-rise in years (a forest of other towers are following suit now).
It’s an obvious choice for Curbed Atlanta’s high-rise of the year, 2018.
Standing 25 stories with thoughtful design by New York-based architecture firm ODA, lilli brought 147 rentals to Peachtree and 3rd streets, replacing an abandoned building and adding no new parking spaces.
It’s a highly visible, svelte addition to Atlanta’s skyline, clad in paneled metal with an artful, Jenga-like balcony and window arrangement that invites the eye to keep looking up.
In the Q&A below, the project’s developer Jarel Portman, who cofounded JPX Works alongside Bruce Fernald in 2011, chats about lilli’s challenges, the precedent he hopes it sets, and why the exterior is more clever than most people realize.
Curbed Atlanta: What do you think sets this tower apart from other projects around town?
Jarel Portman: lilli Midtown is set apart from other apartment buildings around town by its materials, location, and a design by ODA out of New York. It features nontraditional use of the balconies. Ours don’t follow a typical pattern, and they are recessed into the apartment space as opposed to the traditional 5-foot-by-7-foot outboard balconies. That interfaces well with the metal panel skin on lilli—as opposed to the more common stucco—which we worked hard to be able to afford.
Our unusual location was only developable because we were able to connect to the top two floors of an existing parking deck. This is more sustainable and respectful of the built environment in place, which was very important to us as a team. It also allows the building to have a really elegant relationship to the street, which we feel makes for a better experience.
A restaurant will open in the retail space on the corner of 3rd Street and Peachtree Street in August, and it will bring great, great energy to this part of South Midtown.
Walk us through how that decision for no additional parking came about.
The only way we were able to make this project work was with a perpetual parking easement from the Georgian Terrace/Southerly Hotel Company for a part of their under-utilized parking deck. The agreement immediately produced 205 parking spaces for our tenants accessed via a pair of elevated bridges. We think it’s a win-win for both parties involved.
Every project runs into speed bumps and hurdles. Sometimes that’s permitting delays; maybe design tweaks. What challenges has lilli faced during or before its ascent?
As we were working with ODA on the design for lilli Midtown, we went through a few different iterations before we landed on one that would pencil out. The building site is one-third of an acre, which explains its height, but it also meant construction was very challenging throughout.
We were fortunate that we had a great contractor in Brasfield & Gorrie, and that we had on our development team Trent Germano of Mariner Group, who has built over 64 projects with B&G. Building on that relationship capital, Trent, along with Henry Spain at Mariner and [architect] Matt Vyverberg of JPX Works, made this challenging construction process about as smooth as one could hope.
The local architect of record—MSTSD and Rafa Garcia—also played a vital role in getting this very different building built. It truly was a great show of teamwork by the developers, architects, and contractors.
Tell us about the implications of planting lilli at this languishing location. What does it do for the area? What precedent does it set for future development nearby?
We felt that South Midtown was going to become a focal point, due to the success of Tech Square, along with the addition of CODA and Anthem’s Headquarters, and anticipated future growth nearby, which has since become reality with the announcement of CA Ventures’s student housing and Cousins’s new office tower.
We felt our 147-unit boutique multifamily apartment building would be an asset for those who want to live close to work as well as be across the street from the Fox Theater in historic Midtown. The juxtaposition of the modern building against historic buildings around it worked out well, in our opinion.
We believed in the future and, fortunately, so did our lenders. We hope this sets a fresh precedent for great architecture in Atlanta and for the multifamily sector specifically.
We see some green on the rooftop terrace. That’s a trend we’re seeing more and more, and I’m curious how your firm decides how to implement that.
We love green space. We think that nature should always be a part of the built environment. We always strive for a grand vision regarding a green roof, but they’re still difficult in terms of economics, weight, waterproofing, and drainage.
The market doesn’t—yet—enable us to tackle that full set of challenges on a building that only has 147 units, so we do as much as possible.
What’s something about lilli that most people—even reporters who cover real estate and development—are missing? What are your favorite elements of the project?
One of the best things about lilli is its elegance. The club room, pool deck, and outdoor gathering areas on the top floor are great spaces that allow you to see the whole of Midtown, downtown, the Westside, or the eastside with pretty much unimpeded views as far as Stone Mountain and Kennesaw Mountain.
It’s just a great place to watch what’s going on in our great city. Another thing we love about the building that most people don’t know: how it got its name. lilli was derived by turning one’s head sideways and discovering that the balconies on Peachtree Street actually spell lilli. We just love that.
Finally, what Atlanta project would you award second place this year, if you were in our shoes?
Portman: I can’t really pick a favorite 2018 development; it’s been a great year for Atlanta, and there are too many choices.
I am always looking forward, so I’ll say I am excited about CODA—I am biased as it is a Portman Holdings project—but I’m also extremely excited about the Morris Companies’s Star Metals and anything done by Third & Urban, especially with the addition of Chris Faussemagne to that team. I’m also looking forward to what lies ahead in the future with CIM in The Gulch.