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Coke moving 2,000 workers downtown

By J. Scott Trubey - The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Coca-Cola’s plan to move about 2,000 suburban workers downtown — one of the biggest intown jobs relocations in years — is a big lift for the city’s core, business owners and area boosters said Monday.

Atlanta-based Coke confirmed its plans to relocate information technology workers from Cobb County to a building connected to SunTrust Plaza on the north end of downtown. The number is far larger than anticipated.

The move will bring the IT workers — once part of Coca-Cola Enterprises before Coke bought most of the bottler in 2010 — closer to the beverage giant’s downtown headquarters campus.

It also will bring new customers to restaurants and retailers in the area that depend on nearby office workers and conventions for the bulk of their business.

Coke’s move is a vindication of sorts for Alan LeBlanc, who opened his second downtown restaurant, White Oak Kitchen & Cocktails, 11 months ago.

“We have faith in downtown. We have faith in what’s happening here,” said LeBlanc, who’s owned Max Lager’s Wood-Fired Grill & Brewery with his wife Cindy LeBlanc for 15 years.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in April that Coke had identified the SunTrust complex as the preferred location for 500 to 1,000 IT workers at Cobb’s Towers at Wildwood Plaza, citing people familiar with the decision. The company at that time did not confirm the move.

Coke bought the U.S. operations of Coca-Cola Enterprises in 2010. The affected workers are now under the Coca-Cola Refreshments division.

Coke’s decision, while a win for downtown, comes at the expense of Cobb County.

Brooks Mathis, vice president for economic development for the Cobb Chamber of Commerce, said Coke needed a larger space than what was readily available near Cumberland Mall.

“While it is something we don‘t like to see, jobs leave our community, if they do have to leave our community … we are glad they are staying local,” he said.

Coca-Cola Enterprises remains a separate but smaller company focused on international bottling operations, and it is still headquartered in Cobb.

Coke is leasing more than 275,000 square feet for 10 years at the SunTrust Plaza Garden Offices atop a parking garage on Peachtree Center Avenue.

Office vacancy in downtown stood at 26.2 percent at the end of first quarter, compared to about 21.1 percent for the metro area, according to data from real estate services firm Jones Lang LaSalle.

But downtown is the home of some of the metro area’s signature economic development projects, said Cousins Properties President and CEO Larry Gellerstedt, a real estate services firm that owns or manages properties throughout metro Atlanta.

He cited the $1 billion planned new dome for the Atlanta Falcons, the streetcar project, the Center for Civil and Human Rights, the College Football Hall of Fame and new student housing and learning facilities at Georgia State University, among others.

“It’s easily between a billion-and-a-half to two-billion-dollars in new investment activity in downtown,” Gellerstedt said.

LeBlanc, the restaurant owner, said Peachtree Street is becoming more vibrant, hotels are investing in renovations and the convention business is getting stronger.

“People underestimate the attributes of downtown,” he said.

Coke spokesman Kent Landers said no government incentives are involved in the move. Coke will have more than 6,500 workers between its North Avenue and IT center campuses after the relocation is complete.

The relocation, he said, will position IT staff and contractors “in one central location to further improve the efficiency of our operations.”

The affected workers occupy 3200 Wildwood off Windy Hill Road near I-75 and I-285. Coca-Cola will continue to have workers at the neighboring 2500 Wildwood tower.

Coke’s decision to plant workers on the SunTrust campus continues a long history of ties between the two Atlanta companies. SunTrust predecessor Trust Company of Georgia had a lead role in taking Coca-Cola public in 1919.

Coke kept the secret formula for its namesake soda in SunTrust’s vault for decades until moving it to the World of Coca-Cola museum at Centennial Olympic Park in 2011.

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