With gently rolling pastures as a backdrop, Chick-Fil-A CEO Dan Cathy and partners unveiled plans Thursday for a $700 million-plus mini-city within walking distance of Pinewood Atlanta Studios near Fayetteville.
The plan, if successful, would be one of the most ambitious real estate ventures on metro Atlanta’s southside.
The vision for Pinewood Forrest includes hotels, restaurants, shops, office space and about 1,300 residences on more than 230 acres in the center of Fayette County. Initial work is already underway and construction of the first homes and commercial areas is scheduled to start next year.
The project is aimed at families, millennials and empty-nesters as well as people connected with Pinewood Studios, perhaps the most tangible example of the state’s film production boom. Developers say the project will dovetail with expansion plans in downtown Fayetteville, which is about four miles away.
Fayette, which also includes Peachtree City, is one of the metro area’s more affluent counties, but growth has slowed since the recession. The Pinewood Forrest site, in a lightly developed part of the county where the movie studio is now virtually by itself, is removed from freeways that funnel people to other large-scale mixed-use centers to sprout in recent years.
Cathy owns the project independent from his role as head of Chick-fil-A, the chicken chain based near the Atlanta airport. Cathy is heavily involved in a partnership that helped create the Pinewood Studios campus, his other major real estate venture.
He predicted Pinewood Forrest will be the “genesis” that will usher in a new era of urbanist design in the southern Atlanta suburbs.
“We envision this to be your ultimate sandbox,” Cathy told movie studio executives, local dignitaries and journalists at Thursday’s kick-off. Cathy said his development team includes “top thinkers” in new urbanism.
“It’s going to be a community that has a little edginess to it,” Cathy said. “We have no interest in bringing on used furniture, used ideas … We’re going to be breaking new ground in many directions here.”
The project has no announced commercial tenants so far but talks are underway for a health care and wellness center operator, hotel companies and potential retailers, partner Bill Lynch said.
Pinewood Atlanta Studios, which was a 288-acre wheat field just a few years ago, ranks among the jewels of Georgia’s heavily-subsidized film industry, and has been the home to a number of Marvel Studios films, including Ant-Man.
Film campuses tend to be self-contained and inwardly-focused hives of activity. If Cathy and his team are successful, Pinewood Forrest would be the first large-scale development next to a film studio in the state. A sprawling studio and mixed-use campus planned near Savannah fizzled.
In addition to production facilities, the Pinewood Studios campus houses the Georgia Film Academy, a state-backed school for industry workers, and a number of support businesses and suppliers.
Gov. Nathan Deal’s office said last July that 248 television and movie projects shot in Georgia in fiscal year 2015, spending $1.7 billion in the state. That’s more than six times what filmmakers spent in Georgia in 2008.
Echoes of Serenbe
The Pinewood Forrest design has echoes of Alpharetta’s Avalon, though it will cover more space and be less dense, and the more pastoral Serenbe in south Fulton County.
In addition to having high-end homes, developers said the community should be affordable to production crew members as well as firefighters and teachers.
There will be apartments, and homes for sale will include large single-family houses, Savannah-style row houses, flats with ground floor retail or studio space, and an elevated living quarters known as “the Treehouse.”
“We do expect (Pinewood Forrest) to be very inclusive,” said development partner Bill Lynch. Homes will range in price from more than $200,000 to more than $1 million.
Planners also envision some 15 miles of sidewalks and trails. A bridge or tunnel will connect workers who live at Pinewood Forrest to Pinewood Studios’ campus across Veterans Parkway.
Palmer Bayless, an Atlanta real estate broker who is the exclusive representative in the metro area for Starbucks, said the project will need destination merchants and restaurateurs. The lack of a major interstate nearby will limit visits from “impulse” shoppers, but it can enhance the project’s appeal as an oasis, he said.
“There’s certainly the income in these areas to support that,” Bayless said.
Fayetteville is crafting a downtown master plan of mixed-used development that would add more single-family and multi-family homes, walking paths and make room for more retail and other businesses.
“We see this (Pinewood Forrest) as a complement of that,” Fayetteville Mayor Ed Johnson said. “We have a lot of development going on in Fayetteville but this is the most exciting …”
Peter Chesney, a special effects professional at the event, said the project would likely appeal to “film gypsies” — people who frequently travel from location to location. It would enable them to put down roots in a community, he said.
“This makes sense. You have a lot of property. So, it’s like an anchor store,” said Chesney, whose credits include “No Country for Old Men.”
The Path to Pinewood
Fall 2009: Fayette County business partners Len Gough and Rick Halbert set their sights on creating public/private film and entertainment ventures.
June 2010: Gough contacts Chick-fil-A executive Dan Cathy to gauge his interest in expanding his Peachtree City facility to add more sound stages at Falcon Field, where the television show “Drop Dead Diva” is filmed. Cathy’s not interested.
Spring 2012: Gough reaches out to Cathy again regarding film and entertainment industry ventures. Cathy’s interest is piqued. Gough, Halbert and Jim Pace put together a plan to bring in or develop a movie studio in Fayette County.
July/August 2012: Cathy meets with Pinewood Studios’ top management in London during the Summer Olympic Games, forging the beginnings of a working relationship.
September 2012: Nick Smith, the No. 2 man at British film giant Pinewood, and Andy Weltman, the top officer of Pinewood’s U.S. operations, arrive in Fayette County for a visit. They’re shown a site near Falcon Field in Peachtree City but prefer 288 acres of farmland in north central Fayette as the future home of the company’s first American film studio complex.
Dec. 20, 2013: Pace takes a team to London to meet with Pinewood and work out details of the deal which was unofficially agreed upon.
Feb. 5, 2014: The London team returns to Fayette. Pace, who becomes the managing partner of River’s Rock LLC, the American arm of the joint venture, signs deal. The same day, Cathy sets up an independently managed trust to invest in the Pinewood studio deal.
April 26, 2014: Pinewood Shepperton PLC signs a $107 million, 10-year deal with River’s Rock to build Pinewood Atlanta, a full-service film and entertainment studio complex in Fayette County. The deal is announced three days later.
2015: A mixed-use complex, including new studio space, is pitched to local and state planners in a Development of Regional Impact filing.
July 21, 2016: Cathy and partners, which include Pinewood Studios, unveil plans for Pinewood Forrest, a $700 million-plus, 234-acre “live-create-play” community with homes, condos, hotels, shopping venues and walking trails.
What: A mixed-use development billed as a “live, create, play” community with about 1,300 residences ranging from single-family homes, “micro-cottages,” apartments and flats and “tree homes.” It will include 300 hotel rooms in separate boutique and separate extended-stay developments, 275,000 square feet of office, retail and restaurant space, trails, 118 acres of public green space.
How big: The project announced is 234 acres, and including the studio complex and future phases, could grow to 900 acres.
Developers: Dan Cathy, Chick-fil-A CEO; Jim Pace, Pinewood Forrest advisor and co-developer; Bill Lynch, project director and executive with Pace Lynch Corp.; Lew Oliver, urbanist and planner; Rick Halbert, construction manager, Halbert Development