Designers discuss plans for redevelopment of downtown Atlanta’s Gulch

8:45 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018 Business
Representatives for developer CIM Group presented design concepts for redevelop of the Gulch near Philips Arena into a mixed-use community. Ben Gray / bgray@ajc.com

Representatives of a California development team planning a redevelopment of 27 acres of downtown Atlanta’s Gulch pitched design concepts Thursday they say would create a vibrant and mix of offices, shopping, restaurants and residents over what is today an empty morass of parking.

Representatives for CIM Group presented what they called a design concept with private streets and expected building sites over future structured parking, similar to the construction of Midtown’s Atlantic Station.

CIM Group is seeking a special administrative permit that requests variances from current zoning that mainly relate to aesthetics. The conceptual plan calls for more than 9 million square feet of office space, 1 million square feet of retail and restaurant space, 1,000 residences and 1,500 hotel rooms.

For perspective, the project would have more office space than what is being sought by Amazon for its ballyhooed second headquarters project, known as HQ2. It’s an enormous undertaking rivaling in scope downtown’s Peachtree Center development.

Chris Sciarrone, a planner with Atlanta design firm Perkins+Will  who presented the concepts, said the total amounts of office space, retail and residences are subject to change. He said, for instance, the final plan could include more residences. 

The project is designed “to create a vibrant, walkable urban district for downtown Atlanta.” 

It would better connect neighborhoods such as south downtown with Castleberry Hill and the commercial corridor around the Five Points MARTA station, designers said.

AP Photo/John Bazemore
A tract of land known to locals as The Gulch is shown Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018, in Atlanta. As Atlanta vies to entice Amazon to build its second headquarters on the site, local leaders are studying a proposal to build a $5 billion project with more than three times the office space of New York's Empire State Building.

But the mammoth redevelopment does not include plans for the long-wished-for but unfunded downtown multimodal transit terminal, a representative for the developer said.

Kyle Kessler, a member of the design review committee, said encouraged the developers to include accommodations for a future terminal given the revived interest in transit development by the state and many local governments.

The board of the Design Review Committee also expressed some concerns about the plans for private streets.

The project would create a grid of largely privately controlled streets that would look and feel like typical public thoroughfares downtown, developer representatives said.

Last week, Amazon named Atlanta as one of 20 communities in its shortlist for the project.

The state hand-delivered its proposal for Amazon’s “HQ2” Oct. 19, and included the Gulch and dozens of other potential development sites around the metro area. Amazon is seeking 8 million square feet of office space by 2027, and CIM’s development timeline anticipates completion that same year.

Sciarrone declined to discuss the project as a possible site for Amazon. He also said he was not familiar with leasing discussions with any potential corporate tenants. 

Asked if CIM would be the sole developer of the project, Sciarrone said that is one possibility, or the firm might find partners to developer certain parcels on the site. 

In November 2016, the Atlanta Hawks and then-Mayor Kasim Reed announced a deal for a $192.5 million overhaul of Philips Arena, which includes $142.5 million in public funds. As part of the project, Reed promised a major redevelopment would come to downtown.

CIM — founded by Richard Ressler, the brother of Hawks lead owner Tony Ressler — has been planning a mixed-use development near the team’s home.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
A schematic of the Gulch development site shows 18 parcels, including nine high-rise buildings. SPECIAL

The team and city officials have discussed the project for years, which would bring a mix of uses and include shopping and dining similar to L.A. Live outside Staples Center in Los Angeles or The Battery Atlanta outside the Braves’ SunTrust Park.

But the CIM concept is considerably larger.

Documents submitted to regional planners show the Gulch land carved into 18 parcels. The concept included at least nine skyscrapers that will be 225 feet or higher, including one rising to 500 feet or about 40 stories, according to documents filed with the Atlanta Regional Commission.

CIM’s plans divide the site with a grid of new streets or “driveways,” and the project also would create new entryways to the Five Points MARTA station and the one that serves Philips Arena and CNN Center.

CIM, meanwhile, has been an active buyer downtown. This summer, a company affiliate acquired south downtown’s Norfolk Southern complex, an aging stretch of buildings near the federal courthouse. The acquisition sparked speculation of a far broader redevelopment vision as the Norfolk Southern site is about three-fourths of a mile from Philips Arena.

This is a developing story and it will be updated later today at myAJC.com.

Related coverage

» Is Atlanta really a contender for Amazon HQ2?

» Atlanta Gulch project could include nine high-rises, new streets

» Atlanta races for another ‘Olympic moment’ with Amazon bid