- J. Scott Trubey The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
The implosion of the Georgia Dome sets the stage for an overhaul of the Georgia World Congress Center campus that, coupled with planned future development in downtown Atlanta, could dramatically change the face of south and west downtown.
In about a year, crews are expected to convert the old dome site into the Home Depot Backyard, a 13-acre green space that will be a community park most of the year and a premium tailgating site for Atlanta Falcons games, Atlanta United matches and other big events at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The Georgia World Congress Center Authority, the state agency that owns the convention center, the dome and the new stadium, envisions a new luxury hotel on about one acre of the site.
Planning for the hotel has been underway for several years. It’s part of a strategy by the Congress Center to overtake other convention facilities across the country, which have added lodging and other amenities in the unending race to win big meetings business.
On Nov. 28, the authority board is expected to consider plans to expand the convention center hotel concept from a previously announced 800 rooms to more than 1,000 guest rooms and suites.
“At the end of the day the consultants are recommending us to go larger, not smaller,” said Jennifer LeMaster, the Congress Center Authority’s chief administrative officer. “It’s what the market needs.”
The authority is still expected to partner with Drew Co. of Boston to develop the project, but LeMaster said the board will now consider having the authority serve as the sole owner of the high-rise hotel.
Last March, state lawmakers approved $400 million in new bonding capacity for the Congress Center Authority to use to build the hotel. The bonds would be repaid by hotel operations.
Fairmont and InterContinental remain two brands in the running for the four-star luxury hotel.
If approved by the authority board, construction could start in 2019.
Though the Congress Center hotel would have more rooms, it could share amenities with the convention center to hold down costs. These include parking, meeting room space and ballrooms, LeMaster said.
Wave of development
Downtown Atlanta is on the cusp of a new wave of development unlike anything seen in a generation. The new Mercedes-Benz Stadium is finished. And a $192.5 million renovation of Philips Arena is underway.
A German development firm, Newport, acquired or has under contract about four dozen historic buildings south of the Five Points MARTA station that it plans to renovate for restaurants, retail, art galleries, office space and apartments.
Separately, CIM Group, co-founded by Richard Ressler, the brother of Atlanta Hawks lead owner Tony Ressler, is leading negotiations for land and development rights for a mix of apartments, offices, retail, restaurants and hotels in a project akin to what the Atlanta Braves built next to SunTrust Park.
Earlier this year, an affiliate of CIM acquired the former Norfolk Southern office buildings near the Richard B. Russell Federal Courthouse complex.
In October, an unnamed group filed plans a document with the city that outlined 10 million square feet of development on 9 acres owned by the city near Philips Arena. The filing was seen as a possible lure to Amazon for the second headquarters project.
The filing, known as an impact fee assessment, described the project as having more than 9 million square feet of office space, 1 million square feet of commercial space, 1,500 hotel rooms and 2,100 apartments or condos.
LeMaster said the authority wants to partner with the Hawks, Falcons and other groups that want to see more activity downtown. Giving conventioneers more to do after business hours is one of the authority’s top goals.
“We want to bring more life to downtown streets,” she said.
The Home Depot Backyard and the expansion of Centennial Olympic Park also fit into the authority’s plans for providing not only more amenities to land big citywide conventions, but options to entertain conventioneers.
A new downtown park
The new green space on the old dome site will help bring more people to the immediate area of the stadium, while the park will provide a link between neighborhoods south and west of the stadium to downtown, said Frank Fernandez, vice president of community development for the Arthur M. Blank Foundation.
The idea is for community arts, sports and cultural events on non-gamedays, with the Home Depot Backyard becoming a prime tailgating and pre-game events space for football games, concerts and soccer matches.
“It’s not just about big festivals and events but the everyday stuff,” Fernandez said. “How can we catalyze every day activity?”
Given the location next to convention center and a future hotel, he said, “you don’t want this to be just for out of town tourists. You want this to be owned by native Atlantans as well.”
Blank Foundation officials have studied New York City’s Bryant Park and Houston’s Discovery Green. Both are heavily programmed with daily activities.
Another inspiration is Titletown Park, a green space developed by the Green Bay Packers next to Lambeau Field.
About 11 acres of the 13-acre site will be covered with grass. It will take about three months to clear debris from the imploded dome and grade the site, plus another seven months to construct the park. The park will open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, subject to the events schedule.
The park also will feature a 35-foot diameter soccer ball sculpture by London’s Studio Roso, a playground, room for a soccer pitch and flag football games and restrooms.
MYAJC.COM: REAL JOURNALISM. REAL LOCAL IMPACT.
AJC Business reporter J. Scott Trubey keeps you updated on the latest news about economic development and commercial real estate in metro Atlanta and beyond. You'll find more on myAJC.com, including these stories:
Never miss a minute of what's happening in local business news. Subscribe to myAJC.com.