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By Maria Saporta

After decades in the real estate business, Hal Barry took time Wednesday to reflect on his career and the state of the industry in a talk to the Atlanta chapter of the Urban Land Institute.

He has seen the ups and downs of Atlanta real estate economy, and what he has seen is that “the playing field has changed and it’s changed again and again.”

Barry has not been immune from the downturn in the economy, but he has seen other real estate recessions in Atlanta.

“I have no idea where 2010 is going to take us, but I feel it’s going to be better than 2009,” Barry said.

Up until 2007, there was a range of different financing options available to real estate developers. And then came the crash.

“Nobody saw this one coming,” Barry said. Unlike former downturns, this real estate recession began in the residential sector rather than the commercial market. “It’s been an interesting, interesting ride. I can’t tell you where we will be a year from now.”

Barry did share his thoughts about some of the challenges Atlanta is facing. The capital of the South is beginning to lose ground to other Southern cities.

“Nashville has become a great market for us,” Barry said. “Atlanta is sitting on its hands and feet on our problems. We are not getting it done on traffic.”

The economic development division in Tennessee also is “running circles” around Atlanta partly because it doesn’t have to deal the problems of a major city.

“Thy have a can-do attitude,” Barry said. Nashville also has a strong music industry, universities, the medical industry, and it is still small enough to get things done. “It reminds me of Atlanta several years ago.”

Barry was asked about the challenges facing newly-elected Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed. Barry said he agrees with Reed’s priorities, including improving security, finding solutions for the homeless and dealing with the city’s traffic problems.

Two projects critical to Atlanta’s ongoing success will be developing a multimodal station to serve commuter trains and getting a green light to build a streetcar that would travel up the Peachtree spine and connect several top tourist attractions.

“There is going to be a point and time with people moving back in and they’ll get rid of their cars,” Barry said. “The streetcar would be one of the best things to happen to Atlanta.”

Later, Barry told ULI attendees that he often stays downtown across the street from his Allen Plaza development. “Walking to work is pretty good,” Barry said.

When asked about the BeltLine, Barry shared an unconventional view that it might not be the best investment for Atlanta. He openly questioned whether it would preferable to encourage development between Pershing Point and downtown where there already is a transportation infrastructure that includes MARTA.

“We don’t need to be spreading people out,” said Barry, who started out as a suburban developer. Incidentally, Barry and a couple of his associates were involved in a deal to buy five key miles in the northeast sector of the BeltLine, but fell through when the city decided it would rather buy the property itself.

Despite being about seven decades old, Barry still wants to get his father’s approval.

“My mother was an enthusiast. Her glass wasn’t half full. Her glass was over the top,” Barry said. “My father was the other way. He had not confidence in himself and he had no confidence in me. I’ve gone through my whole life trying to prove to him that I can be anything I want to be.”

So as Barry tries to work through another real estate recession, he shows no signs of slowing down.

Maria Saporta

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.



  1. Raleirh Urbain January 7, 2010 9:42 am

    I was at this talk. It was interesting to hear from one of Atlanta’s development legends. Two points. He stated that traffic should be one of Mayor Reed’s major points of emphasis. Unfortunately, the traffic issue is a regional problem that the legislature has failed to address for two straight years. While I think Mayor Reed should lobby the hell out of our legislators, beyond that I think his hands are tied up like he was in a bondage flick.

    Mr. Barry tried to avoid it, but he could not prevent himself from slipping into the quasi-hysterical Glenn Beck line of thinking that under Barack Obama we’re turning into a socialist country. I guess he was playing to the audience, but I could have done without it.Report

  2. SB January 7, 2010 3:57 pm

    Agreed with your comments Raleirh especially that last point. I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who found that portion of the remarks misguided and unproductive.Report

  3. Dose of Reality January 8, 2010 9:59 am

    When it comes to transit funding, Atlanta will continue to get shafted by the legislature until metro leaders (with the help of Atlanta-area legislators) learn to play hardball and start creating/exploiting divisions between other parts of the state. Atlanta has practically zero leverage in shaping any kind of legislation at the state level because the rest of the state is united against us. Until this changes, North Carolina/ Texas/ Florida will continue to distance themselves from us.Report

  4. Rico January 8, 2010 10:51 am

    While Hal’s comments in the later part of the discussion may have been “misguided & unproductive” in your opinion, the fact remains, Atlanta will never prosper as a true city until the crime element is taken care of! The city needs to be cleaned up before it can thrive. If you don’t agree with that, then just stick your head back in the sand…Report


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