Exploring ATL's "Ring of Fire" Projects
A mind-blowing collection of large-scale real estate projects that are transforming Downtown ATL right before our eyes...
This is Part Two of a 2-part newsletter that describes ATL’s Ring of Fire. Part One provides an overview of what the Ring of Fire is and why it’s important. Part Two (below) goes into detail about ten transformative projects that are planned or being built along the Ring of Fire. If you would like to have access to Part Two, you will need to become a subscriber. Thank you.
Now entering the “Ring of Fire”
The ATL Ring of Fire boundary (denoted with a black line on this map) is somewhat arbitrary. The area is roughly defined by Northside Drive on the west, North Avenue (appropriately) to the north, Marietta Street to the east, and Whitehall and McDaniel Streets to the south/southwest.
My map includes ten transformative projects: Underground Atlanta, South Downtown, Freight House Flats, Centennial Yards, Artisan Yards, Smith & Porter, Reverb Hotel, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, State Farm Arena, and the Margaritaville Hotel. The map also identifies twelve additional projects that are just outside the RoF boundary.
Underground Atlanta: Ground Zero
After the devastation of Atlanta during the Civil War, the city began to rebuild itself around the railroad tracks that brought goods and people to the city. However, by the 1920s, Atlanta had a growing traffic problem. A series of viaducts was built to bridge the railroad tracks and relieve congestion in the downtown area. The viaducts illustrate a dramatic early 20th-century chapter in local transportation and were part of a largely unrealized City Beautiful plan to fashion a Beaux-Arts civic center above the railroad. Atlanta continued to grow above these viaducts — and above the original street level of the center city. The ground floors of these buildings, essentially sealed off by the viaducts, reflect the typical architecture of this period. Those that front Alabama, Pryor, and Peachtree streets remain the most intact examples.
These postbellum business blocks were abandoned for decades but were rediscovered and redeveloped as a shopping and entertainment district called Underground Atlanta in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Today they remain a distinct, urban environment. The storefronts along the north side of Alabama Street are the surviving lower portions of buildings that were demolished to make way for the MARTA rapid-rail line. Most of the storefronts in Underground Atlanta date from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and are generally Victorian in style. Within the district is also the Zero Mile Post, which marked the beginning point of the State-built railroad line that fostered the development of the city. Source: US National Park Service
Today, you will find a two-story parking deck on the block where State Square once stood. On the lower level of that garage, you will find the Zero Mile Post — the very spot (reason) where ATL began. The ZMP started out as a stake in the ground where Col. Stephen Harriman marked the terminus of the Western & Atlantic Railroad. Ergo, the moniker: “Ground Zero.” More on all that in a future issue of ATLsherpa!
In November 2020, Underground Atlanta was sold to Billionaires Funding Group, a Norcross, GA based investment firm. The seller was WRS, Inc., which had purchased the property from the City of Atlanta in 2014. On 12/15/20, Rose Scott of Closer Look on WABE spoke with Shaneel Lalani, CEO about his plans for the property. According to Lalani, BFG will be meeting with local residences and other developers in the area over the next several months. They hope to submit some new plans for Underground Atlanta sometime in 2021. No additional details are available as of December 2020.
The scale and location of South Downtown make it one of the most transformative projects in all of ATL. Over time, this massive redevelopment will breathe new life into what was once a thriving retail and hotel district. The project, which is led by Newport RE USA, involves the renovation and adaptive reuse of 47 historic buildings totaling one million square feet of existing space in an eight-block area just south of the Five Points MARTA station. Newport’s footprint encompasses the former retail district of ATL and the Historic Hotel Row District.
Whitehall Street Retail Historic District
The Whitehall Street Retail Historic District, which is centered on Peachtree Street SW (formerly Whitehall Street) and Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive SW (formerly Hunter Street) and whose principal streets include Forsyth Street SW, Broad Street SW (formerly Market Street), Peachtree Street SW, and Mitchell Street SW, is the intact core of a larger historic commercial urban area in downtown Atlanta (Fulton County). When the tracks of the Georgia, Macon and Western and the Western and Atlantic railroads reached what was to become Atlanta in the 1840s, they formed the nucleus around which the rest of the city would be developed. Peachtree Street SW (formerly called Whitehall Street within the district until 1976) quickly became the primary commercial corridor for the city, fueling a local building boom that put the district at the forefront of commerce beginning in the mid-19th century. The district is characterized by the late-19th and early-20th century single and multiple retail and office buildings that line its streets. Source: Georgia Department of Natural Resources
Historic Hotel Row District
The Historic Hotel Row District (Mitchell Street between Forsyth Street & Ted Turner Drive) is a single block of historic commercial buildings along Mitchell Street that, when built, was part of Atlanta's original business district, in the shadow of the city's main railroad station. This district is largely unchanged from the beginning of the 20th century. Only the first-floor storefronts have been modified. The brick buildings are between three and five stories high with plate glass storefronts and symmetrical facades. Several buildings were built specifically as hotels. Source: US National Park Service
Freight House Flats (Southern Railway Building)
Originally built in 1912, the Southern Railway Freight Depot and Office Building is the largest remaining element of Atlanta’s storied railroad past. Reborn as Freight House, the buildings now represent downtown Atlanta’s evolving future. A vibrant mixed-use campus, Freight House delivers a continuous combination of historical significance and cultural relevance. When complete, the project will add 275K SF of office space + 244 rental loft units + 50K SF of commercial space to the area. Source: Freight House Brochure
The Freight House project is noteworthy for several reasons:
It is the first new development to come online in or adjacent to The Gulch. You might say this is Gulch-Front Property!
It delivers 244 modern-day apartments to an area that has not seen any new housing units in many decades. While technically in Castleberry Hill (Ted Turner Drive is the dividing line) Freight House is on the South Downtown side of The Gulch.
Freight House residents and office workers will bring new energy and vitality to this area. The retail plans are very exciting and will also contribute to the renaissance of South Downtown.
Freight House is adjacent to the Historic Hotel Row District and the 222 Mitchell Building. Together, these projects very likely represent the ‘critical mass’ that will jump-start a wave of development in South Downtown and The Gulch in 2021-22.
Centennial Yards — The Gulch
The Gulch is a 40-acre site in Downtown ATL. This undeveloped area is roughly bounded by Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive on the south, a railroad line and the Mercedes-Benz Stadium on the west, Centennial Olympic Park Drive and Philips Arena on the northwest, CNN Center parking deck on the northeast, and Ted Turner Drive on the southeast.
In late 2018, CIM Group Inc. purchased 16.3 acres in The Gulch for $115 million from Norfolk Southern Corp. The land purchased consisted of parking lots and railroads between the Mercedes-Benz Stadium and State Farm Arena.
CIM Development has proposed a $5B development that will encompass more than 9M SF of office, 1M SF of retail, 2,100 apartment units, and 1,500 hotel rooms.
Artisan Yards is a ~10-acre adaptive re-use site located in South Downtown. The property, which is located at the southern end of ATL’s Ring of Fire, is currently being marketed by SSG Realty Partners. The video below provides some context and excellent aerial views of the area.
Smith & Porter
This new 115-unit apartment complex in Castleberry Hill was developed by Enfold Properties. It overlooks the Centennial Yards property (The Gulch) directly across from Freight House Lofts.
In December 2020, Hard Rock Hotels launched REVERB by Hard Rock, a new hotel concept designed to be an energetic cultural hub for connection, creation, and inspiration among music fans, locals, and travelers alike. With a prime location adjacent to Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium, REVERB Downtown Atlanta marks the first REVERB opening, with additional properties slated to open in major U.S. cities in the next two years.
With 195 rooms, 11 floors, unique workspaces, dynamic common areas and unparalleled views of the Atlanta skyline and Mercedes-Benz Stadium from the RT60 Rooftop Bar, REVERB Downtown Atlanta is an ideal hangout for travelers looking to get a taste of a new city from the perspective of a local or see their own city from a bird's eye view.
Mercedes-Benz Stadium is a multi-purpose sports and entertainment stadium that opened in August 2017. It serves as the home stadium of the Atlanta Falcons of the National Football League (NFL) and Atlanta United FC of Major League Soccer (MLS). The stadium is owned by the state government of Georgia through the Georgia World Congress Center Authority and operated by AMB Group, the parent organization of the Falcons and Atlanta United. The video below conveys the energy and excitement that the “Benz” has brought to the Ring of Fire…
State Farm Arena
State Farm Arena (formerly Philips Arena) is a multi-purpose indoor arena that serves as the home venue for the National Basketball Association (NBA)'s Atlanta Hawks. It formerly served as home to the National Hockey League's Atlanta Thrashers from 1999 to 2011, before the team moved to Winnipeg, as well as the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA)'s Atlanta Dream from 2008 to 2016 and 2019. It replaced the Omni Coliseum.
A recent $200 million renovation of the State Farm Arena transformed the 20-year-old venue to maximize revenue, improve the fan experience, and embody Atlanta’s unique culture.
The proposed future Margaritaville Vacation Club resort in Atlanta will transform the city skyline with 22 floors of brand-new suites, available to both Margaritaville Vacation Club and Club Wyndham owners.
In summary, ATL’s Ring of Fire is living up to its name! The number and scale of transformative projects taking root in such close proximity to each other are unprecedented in ATL. The historical significance of the land upon which these projects are being erected adds another dimension to the equation. Based on their early plans it appears that the architects, developers, and their marketing teams are making a sincere effort to incorporate this historical dimension into their designs and ultimate buildings. Keep an eye on Downtown ATL!
Articles, Maps & Resources
Ring of Fire Projects
WRS Inc. CEO on sale of Underground Atlanta: ‘Did not want any more delay’ (Atlanta Business Chronicle)
Underground Atlanta Story (historical context by WRS)
South Downtown: Where It All Began (historical context by Newport RE USA)
Can South Downtown Thrive Again (Atlanta Magazine)
Whitehall Street Retail Historic District Listed in the National Register of Historic Places (Georgia Department of Natural Resources)
Hotel Row Historic District (US National Park Service)
Hotel Row Leasing Brochure (stunning materials by Newport RE USA)
Terminal Station: Then & Now (Emory Scholar Blogs)
Freight House — Southern Railway Building (CIM/Stream)
Frequently Asked Questions About the Gulch (City of Atlanta)
Air rights procurement moves CIM Group closer to Gulch redevelopment (Curbed Atlanta, Mar 2019)
Court hands big win to city, would-be developer in Atlanta’s Gulch (Saporta Report)
Gulch Developers File Permits To Prepare Site For Massive Mixed-Use Project (BisNow, Dec 2020)
Centennial Yards (CIM website)
Artisan Yards (SSG Realty Partners)
Reverb Hotel (Hard Rock)
Hard Rock Launches New Reverb Brand In Downtown Atlanta (Hospitality Net)
Mercedes-Benz Stadium (official website)
State Farm Arena Gets A Makeover (Thornton Tomasetti)
Sneak Peek at Margaritaville Hotel & Vacation Club (Club Wyndham)
Atlanta Main Street (City of Atlanta)
Atlanta Investment Map (Invest Atlanta)
ChooseATL (Metro ATL Chamber of Commerce)
Georgia’s Economic Development (Georgia Tech)
Atlanta’s Emerging Neighborhoods (2014) — really interesting look-back!
If you know anyone who likes to explore and learn, please let them know about the ATLsherpa. Until next time, please stay healthy and keep exploring!
Steve Saenz, ATLsherpa
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