Amtrak in talks for new station at GM plant site

By Douglas Sams and Maria Saporta
As published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on July 31, 2015

Amtrak has entered discussions with state transit officials and a major railroad to put a new station on the former site of the Doraville General Motors Co. plant.

MARTA and Norfolk Southern Corp. have held conversations with Amtrak this year about that possibility, people familiar with the talks said.

The discussions come two years after efforts fell through to relocate Atlanta’s historic Amtrak station at Brookwood on Peachtree Street.

The former GM site, at the convergence of Interstate 285, Buford Highway and Peachtree Industrial, is an intriguing option for a multi-modal project involving Amtrak because of its central location that could link the region’s suburbs to its urban core.

Few sites have more transportation access for the region’s auto or train commuters.

Atlanta-based developer The Integral Group LLC started demolishing the 165-acre plant last year and renamed the project Assembly, setting the stage for millions of square feet of new office buildings, stores and residential units developed along MARTA’s Gold line.

MARTA and Norfolk Southern officials “have been talking with Amtrak,” said Eric Pinckney, an executive with The Integral Group. “We want to be a great partner to both Norfolk Southern and MARTA. We need them to make our development a true multi-modal location and to increase its regional significance.”

Norfolk Southern also confirmed discussions with the Georgia Department of Transportation and Amtrak “regarding a potential relocation of the current Atlanta Amtrak station,” Norfolk Southern’s Rick Harris said in an e-mail to Atlanta Business Chronicle.

“But, those are still just discussions,” he cautioned.

Harris did not specify whether the talks have also focused on additional sites or whether Assembly is the favorite.

For years state transportation officials have sought a site that could link commuter rail and MARTA trains and buses, forming a true regional multi-modal.

A little more than four years ago, Georgia DOT applied for a $22.5 million grant from the Federal Railroad Administration to build a replacement for the Brookwood station on 6.5 acres of state-owned property near Midtown’s Atlantic Station mixed-use project.

Funding fell through and the site has since gone under contract to Atlanta-based Fuqua Development LLC.

Plans for a downtown multi-modal hub near the Five Points MARTA station and CNN Center — known as “the Gulch — have also been undermined by a lack of funding.

Atlanta remains an important hub for Amtrak’s long-term expansion, according to a 2015 draft of a Georgia State Rail Plan. It includes the possibility of a new $35 million Amtrak station.

Amtrak also continues to invest in Atlanta, most visibly through its new Information Technology Service Delivery Center in Sandy Springs.

Amtrak spokeswoman Kimberly Woods said of the recent discussions about a new station, “We decline to provide additional comments on this issue.”

Norfolk Southern and MARTA are key players if talks progress at Assembly. Norfolk Southern operates multiple tracks that separate Assembly from the adjacent Doraville MARTA station. Integral also wants to build a road, called Park Avenue, underneath the tracks to connect downtown Doraville to Assembly.

The redevelopment of the plant is one of the most closely watched in Atlanta’s history.

State economic development officials are showcasing the site to companies looking across the Southeast for new operations, according to people familiar with those discussions.

Assembly is zoned for more than 10 million square feet of office, residential, retail and studio space.

Integral is working with New York-based architecture and design firm Perkins Eastman.

The development team has also partnered with Capstone South Properties to develop “Third Rail Studios” on a 6-acre section of the site.

Integral Chairman and CEO Egbert Perry has said he believes the GM redevelopment has potential to knit Atlanta’s politically and geographically tattered region together unifying the surrounding cities along the Perimeter.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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