The Atlanta Civic Center, the money-losing and aging performing arts hall, now belongs to the city’s housing authority, which will move ahead with a $300 million mixed-use, mixed-income community on the prime in-town location.
Mayor Kasim Reed and authority CEO Catherine Buell announced Tuesday the housing agency closed on its purchase of the 19-acre site, which was first announced in August. The completed sale marks a new chapter for the property whose future was put in doubt last year when the city scraped a previous plan to sell and redevelop the land.
The plan now includes a mix of apartments and senior housing, office space, retail, a grocery store and green space. AHA plans to develop 250 low-income housing units, while Invest Atlanta, the city’s economic development arm, will provide incentives for 10 percent of the residences to be reserved as “workforce housing.”
Combined, 30 percent of the new residences will be designated as “affordable.”
At a City Hall press conference, Reed said the overall commitment to low-income housing hasn’t been seen in a single Atlanta development project in about 15 years.
“This is exciting news for affordability in a key part of our city and a strategic corridor where working families will be able to put down roots and thrive, and have access to the best of Atlanta,” Reed said. “Where they will be a forethought not an afterthought.”
Atlanta’s post-recession building boom has been overwhelmingly concentrated in luxury housing — particularly high-end rental. That’s put a squeeze on lower income families.
The Civic Center development, as outlined, would create hundreds of affordable units on the cusp of Midtown and downtown, two of the region’s largest jobs centers and home to some of the most valuable real estate in the city.
Dan Immergluck, a professor at the Urban Studies Institute at Georgia State University, said the city has lost about 1,000 units of affordable housing per year over the past several years as developers razed aging housing stock for glistening new mid- to high-rise apartments.
“It’s a great location for affordable housing, obviously, and it’s a great way to provide some long-term affordability,” Immergluck said, referring to the housing authority ownership. Immergluck said the new plans — including the significant affordable housing requirement — are a “big improvement” over the 2016 plans.
The area median income, or AMI, for a family of four in metro Atlanta is about $67,500, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The affordable housing crunch has hurt people making 60 percent or less than the region’s AMI the most, Immergluck said.
Immergluck said he hopes the bulk of the affordable units will benefit families making 60 percent of AMI or about $40,000 per year.
“That’s where the need is,” he said.
Immergluck said the city hasn’t fared particularly well in developing new affordable housing, though new initiatives in the past year or so have tried to bring more units into existence.
AHA is working to redevelop Herndon Homes, and this week, the City Council approved a new “inclusionary zoning” requirement for affordable units in new projects along the Atlanta Beltline and in neighborhoods near Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“It’s good to see AHA building affordable housing,” Immergluck said. “They’ve been out of the business for a long time. We’ve got to do a lot more.”
In responses to questions from reporters, Reed said his administration is tackling the affordable housing challenge with a mix of public and private-sector funds and initiatives.
He pointed to a privately backed fund to help protect homeowners from property tax increases in neighborhoods near Mercedes-Benz Stadium. He also touted a private-sector effort by large corporations and philanthropies to buy rental homes on the Westside and preserve them as affordable units to keep renters from being displaced.
Those programs are something, he said, that the city is trying to prove can be “scalable” to help other parts of the city.
“Please show me a city in the state of Georgia that’s doing that,” Reed said of his administration’s efforts.
Reed said the various steps to solve the affordable housing crunch will take time.
“I want the public to know that we are not sitting on our hands while people are pushed out of the city,” he said.
Creating a ‘destination’
The Boisfeuillet Jones Atlanta Civic Center could be a prime redevelopment site. The city started the process of selling it in 2014, and the following year Reed announced he was seeking a deal with Weingarten Realty of Texas.
Weingarten previously wanted to purchase the complex for $30 million, and announced an ambitious $300 million redevelopment that would raze the civic center and replace it with a mix of apartments, retail, office space and a park.
Talks dragged on and Reed ultimately announced he was abandoning a deal in October 2016.
But talks resumed, and in August, Reed and Buell announced the new plan, including a large affordable housing component.
A Weingarten official in Atlanta did not return a message seeking comment on Tuesday.
Buell said her agency will spend the next 120 days formalizing development plans. Weingarten will build and manage the retail components of the site, as well as the non-subsidized housing. AHA will lead development of the affordable housing.
Buell said Weingarten is expected to bring other development partners into the deal, to handle things such as the office space.
“Once we confirm our development timeline, then we’ll go into infrastructure improvement,” she said. “As you can imagine, the site needs new roads, new public spaces and the like.”
Buell said her agency is considering “a two-to three-year timeline for the initial phases of development.”
It was not immediately clear how much in taxpayer incentives might be involved in the deal.
Rosalind Rubens Newell, general counsel for Invest Atlanta, said her organization was tasked with finding a buyer who could transform the site into a jobs center and provide a mix of affordable housing, market-rate housing and retail for nearby neighborhoods.
“This site is going to be a destination just like Atlantic Station and Ponce City Market are destinations,” she said.
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