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By Sean Keenan

The much-anticipated Quarry Yards mixed-use development slated for Atlanta’s Westside appears to be kaput, further complicating already intense speculation about the future of affordable living in the area. 

For years, Atlanta Braves star-turned-real estate developer Mark Teixeira and his firm Urban Creek Partners had been cooking up plans for a colossal revamp of the nearly 70 acres where the Westside Park at Bellwood Quarry, the Atlanta Beltline and the Proctor Creek Greenway converge. 

But in a surprising turn of events, the developer unloaded the coveted land to a real estate company affiliated with tech behemoth Microsoft for about $127 million, the Atlanta Business Chronicle first reported. 

Although the Urban Creek Partners project had raised eyebrows in the Grove Park neighborhood and its environs, due to its landscape-shifting — i.e. gentrifying — potential, the once-proposed development did promise some affordable housing. 

Granted, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, whatever Microsoft is imagining for its prime real estate is also expected to deliver affordable housing. But as Bloomberg Opinion columnist Conor Sen noted on Twitter, “this could be the biggest gentrification bomb Big Tech has ever dropped in the U.S.”

“If Microsoft is going big on the Westside, then real estate speculators are going to gobble up every cheap, dilapidated property in the vicinity and sit on it,” he added

Georgia State University urban studies professor Dan Immergluck concurred with Sen’s assessment, noting the project could be a “huge driver of gentrification and displacement.”

But, Immergluck supposed, site’s redevelopment provides an opportunity for a “major community benefits agreement,” meaning the development team could contractually promise to incorporate the needs of its Westside neighbors when drafting blueprints for the property. 

Immergluck told SaportaReport that community benefits agreements — or CBAs — “have not been widely used in Atlanta,” even though stakeholders lobbied for them during the development of projects like downtown’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium and the Georgia State University and Carter redevelopment of Turner Field and the surrounding neighborhoods.

“But [CBAs] have been used in other places, and there is no reason that they can’t be used here, especially if they receive the support of local elected officials and other key players,” he said in an email.

“Microsoft has been viewed as a key driver of housing prices in Seattle,” Immergluck said, later adding, “It could be quite an embarrassment to them if their move in Atlanta ended up gentrifying a substantial set of historical and predominantly Black neighborhoods and led to greater speculation by investors at the cost of Black tenants in the area, especially right now as lower income families are falling behind on their rent and having worsening housing affordability problems.”

Atlanta City Councilman Dustin Hillis, who represents the district where the land in question is located, told SaportaReport in an interview that municipal leaders will surely look into the prospect of a CBA, and he said he’s pushing to see affordable housing remain a component of the area’s future.

Hillis said he hopes Microsoft won’t just plop down a massive tech campus in such an underserved area — a move that likely wouldn’t bode well for its longtime residents.

But this recent deal caught the councilman by surprise, too, and there’s still so much up in the air that his approach to the impending redevelopment proposal is still being fleshed out.

This story was edited on September 11, 2020 at 12:45 p.m. to remove mentions of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which WABE reported would not take part in the site’s redevelopment. 

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7 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Concerned Resident September 11, 2020 1:52 am

    The Gates Foundation has told WABE that they are not involved in the project – just Microsoft.

    It will truly be a shame if this unique property that promised revitalization for Grove Park – at the pivotal intersection of Atlanta’s largest park, MARTA, and the BeltLine – becomes nothing more than the backyard for an insular, single-use, private corporate campus that displaces thousands of residents once employees with west coasts salaries are imported and flood the area.Report

    Reply
  2. Avatar
    Dana F. Blankenhorn September 11, 2020 1:25 pm

    Rejecting Microsoft, or gentrification, is dumb, retrograde politics. I’ve lived in Kirkwood most of my life. Most of my neighbors now have money. Not all of them are white.

    Cities where most are poor die. Atlanta was dying before people moved in with money.

    The “power balance” in Georgia has consisted of poor cities, run by black mayors, surrounded by rich suburbs filled with right-wing Republicans who used fear of those cities to elect Jim Crow politicians. It’s how we got Brian Kemp. It’s how we got Donald Trump.

    That is changing. Suburbs are changing. Poor people are living there now. People there can’t run away. So they’re changing politically, and changing the state’s balance of power in the process.

    At the same time folks with money are becoming the majority in Atlanta. This threatens the city’s status quo. But it also threatens the state’s status quo, because these new residents vote similarly to their poorer neighbors. Kirkwood is still Stacey Abrams country.

    If we’re going to get rid of Jim Crow once and for all, if we’re to get rid of Trumpism once and for all, we have to change the power dynamic in Georgia. Gentrification is an integral part of that. City leaders need to deal with it, if we’re to have more progressive policies on a state level.Report

    Reply
    1. Avatar
      Not Reall September 12, 2020 5:16 pm

      You do realize that Jim Crow almost exclusively a product of the Democrats.Report

      Reply
      1. Avatar
        Exurbanist September 13, 2020 2:32 am

        But those were Southern Democrats like Strom Thurmond and George Wallace — Democrats in Name Only because they refused to be Republicans (even though they were conservative politically) as that was the party of Lincoln, and we all know what he did.Report

        Reply
        1. Avatar
          I live in Grove Park... September 13, 2020 7:58 am

          Stop injecting race/“social justice” into this great news for the neighborhood. I live in Grove Park. We are in desperate need of new development. There is a massive new affordable homes project being built directly across the street from Quarry yards right now. How much more do we need? “Gentrification”, the cleaning up of the ghetto is a great thing for everyone. The “affordable housing” push is merely a tactic used by the Mayor to increase the number of black voters to keep her in power. Sad.Report

          Reply
  3. Avatar
    Concerned Resident September 13, 2020 9:11 am

    @I live in Grove Park… so do I! I purchased property a few years ago after doing research about the area’s green space, proximity to hot Intown locations, and affordability.
    The area desperately needs amenities like grocery stores, pharmacies, and banks, but not all development is good development – just look at how many self storage facilities have popped up in prime locations. Holding Microsoft accountable to bring a mixed use development that serves the community is not a bad thing. Would you rather have PCM or Apple Park in your backyard?
    And btw: the housing development across from the proposed Quarry Yards site are supposed to be affordable housing apartments called “Parkside at Quarry Yards”.
    I encourage you to attend the next GPNA meeting for more information and updates on our neighborhood!Report

    Reply
  4. Avatar
    xyz September 17, 2020 4:12 pm

    I highly recommend this article from The Economist though I think it’s behind a paywall: https://www.economist.com/united-states/2018/06/21/in-praise-of-gentrification

    The word ‘gentrification’ has negative connotations but it could also be relabeled economic growth or revitalization. If a large employer comes into an area, it will bring lots of jobs, new restaurants will pop-up (creating more jobs), construction work (creating more jobs), schools get better, crime goes down. Existing businesses see more customers and homeowners see their home values increase. Tax collections go up, which help the local government provide services to those that need them. That sounds like progress. It makes sense that rents go up (because the area is more desirable!) and there’s the potential for displacement and affordable housing requirements as new multi-family units get built are an important offset to that negative impact. Being just blanket against development is really counter-productive (and insane) though. People complain about a lack of investment in an area and then when there’s investment, complain about that too. Ugh.Report

    Reply

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