By Douglas Sams and Maria Saporta
Published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on March 27, 2015
Two longtime Atlanta real estate companies known for some of the most recognizable buildings on the city skyline are competing to develop a $300 million mixed-use project for Georgia Tech — the next expansion of Midtown’s Technology Square.
Cousins Properties Inc. is vying against Portman Holdings to develop the project. Cousins has also teamed with Houston-based powerhouse Hines.
The new project would rise over Tech Square on the site that housed the Crum & Forster building at 4th and Spring streets. It would add up to 750,000 square feet of new development to Tech Square, including a new 600,000-square-foot office building anchored by Georgia Tech, and a High Performance Computing Center.
It would also include street-level retail that would likely feature local restaurant operators geared toward Tech’s Square’s mix of students, professors and CEOs.
Technology Square is a landmark project that includes academic buildings and retailers such as Starbucks and Walmart. It’s intertwined with its sister project, Centergy One, and home to Tech’s Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC).
Tech Square has become an innovation hub, luring companies such as The Home Depot Inc., AT&T Mobility and GE Energy to launch research and development centers in the project.
NCR Corp. is also moving its headquarters to Tech Square, where it will bring as many as 4,000 jobs to Midtown.
Georgia Tech plans to submit its choice for the developer of the project to the Georgia Board of Regents — which oversees the state’s colleges — by April or May, said Georgia Tech President Bud Peterson.
The team of Cousins and Hines, and Portman Holdings, declined comment.
Few Atlanta real estate companies have done more to shape the region than Cousins and Portman.
Cousins, led by CEO Larry Gellerstedt, is known for projects that include downtown’s CNN Center, the 50-story One Ninety One Peachtree Tower and Bank of America Plaza, the city’s tallest building.
Cousins partnered with Hines on the One Ninety One Peachtree project, and the two companies teamed up again last year to launch Victory Center, a 23-story tower in Dallas.
Cousins/Hines have retained architect Jon Pickard of Pickard Chilton, the firm that designed Atlanta projects including Buckhead’s The Pinnacle and downtown’s 55 Allen Plaza for Ernst & Young.
Hines also worked with Pikard Chilton on the Devon Energy Corp. headquarters in Oklahoma City, Okla., a 2-million-square-foot tower for the largest U.S. based independent oil and natural gas producer. The project may feature some similarities to the Tech Square expansion, including street-level retail.
Portman is the developer behind iconic downtown Atlanta buildings including the 60-story SunTrust Plaza; Peachtree Center, The Westin Peachtree Plaza, the Hyatt Regency Atlanta, the Marriott Marquis and the Atlanta Apparel Mart. Portman had a profound effect on the expansion of downtown Atlanta in the 1970s. Portman later became a world-renowned architect with projects spanning from Australia to China to the middle East, the United Kingdom and Mexico.
The rivalry between Cousins and Portman dates back to the 1970s when both were competing to build a new convention center for Atlanta.
Then-CEO Tom Cousins eventually won the right to develop the Georgia World Congress Center and the Omni Coliseum.
Georgia Tech will put itself on an even larger stage with its latest expansion of Tech Square, which includes a 60,000 to 80,000 high performance computing center. The entire mixed-use project is expected to draw international interest. It already landed Stuttgart, Germany-based RIB Software AG, which plans to relocate its North American Headquarters to the development.
Georgia Tech will have no ownership stake in the project.
Either Cousins/Hines or Portman will provide the debt and equity, sources familiar with the discussions said.
Georgia Tech would also preserve the remaining portion of the Crum & Forster building at 771 Spring Street.
Local preservationists had tried unsuccessfully to preserve the entire building several years ago.
Tech Square also reflects the expansion of investment and development over the past decade from the heart of Midtown at Peachtree and 14th streets.
Until recently a missing piece has been residential developers. Now, they one of the biggest drivers behind its expansion, with hundreds of residential units either underway or in the works. The projects are helping Spring Street, known more as an intown thoroughfare, evolve into a mix of high-rise towers overlooking a walkable district.