By Maria Saporta and Maggie Lee
The City of Atlanta plans to sell the 19-acre Civic Center property to the Atlanta Housing Authority, Mayor Kasim Reed announced at a press conference Thursday afternoon.
AHA would buy the site for $31 million, and it would partner with Weingarten Realty to develop retail and offices on the site. Weingarten had been selected as the preferred developer for the site when the city put the project out for bid, but the deal never closed.
Reed said AHA, which will be the lead developer of the site, has committed to setting aside a minimum of 30 percent of of residential units on the site as affordable housing.
“It’s exciting news for affordability,” Reed said, adding that previous proposals only called for 15 percent of the units to be affordable. “This is the biggest opportunity to do it in the heart of the city as opposed to the outskirts.”
Catherine Buell, CEO of the Atlanta Housing Authority, said the agency is still working on the design of the site, but she said it likely would have high density residential. It will be a “Home-Flex” project for AHA – a project-based rental assistance program.
“We are working on getting approval on the acquisition from HUD (the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development),” Buell said.
The site includes the Civic Center Auditorium as well as the building that once housed the SciTrek museum.
“We are working hard to close by Nov. 1,” Reed said. “By that time we are hopeful the asset will transfer from the City of Atlanta to the Atlanta Housing Authority. Sometimes the right partner is right around the corner.”
The Civic Center property has been hard to develop because of its water and sewer issues. Previously, developers have planned for the water to be stored in a large water retention tank underneath the development.
But the mayor said he would prefer to have that turned into a water feature that the public could enjoy.
“That’s my preference,” Reed said. “It’s too early in the process. The bottom line is we are going to find a solution. We haven’t picked a path yet. But that is my clear preference.”
When asked about the future of the Civic Center auditorium, Reed said: “I don’t think we’ll be able to preserve the Civic Center. We are in conversations to have another performing arts center in the area but on a smaller footprint.”
Another reason the Civic Center property sale has not moved forward has been its proximity to the Peachtree-Pine homeless shelter. But the controversial shelter is supposed to close by today.
“I think this is going to be one of the most important projects in the life of the city,” said Reed, mentioning workforce and affordable housing as well as being located near transit.
When asked about the desire to close the project by Nov. 1, Reed said he was just responding to the market.
“I don’t think about it as rushing into it at all,” Reed said. “I think it’s just about getting things done. Most of the energy to get things done is not being driven by us. It’s being driven by others.”
Reed said the market knows there will be a major change in political leadership at the City of Atlanta after the November elections. Half of the city councilmembers are not running for their posts again – many of them are running for either Mayor or City Council President. The mayor also said that most of his staff will probably be leaving when he leaves office with his term ending in January.