Could Microsoft development spell trouble for Westside affordability?
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.