By Douglas Sams and Maria Saporta
Published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on May 2, 2014
Developer Egbert Perry wants to transform the idle Doraville, Ga., General Motors Corp. plant into a thriving transit destination.
Perry, chairman and CEO of Atlanta-based The Integral Group LLC, confirmed the company could complete the acquisition of the 162-acre site by August.
Perry, one of the Atlanta’s best-known developers and chairman of Fannie Mae, is also teaming with Roswell, Ga.-based Macauley + Schmit on the project. The Integral-Macauley development group has the property under contract.
The site has been one of metro Atlanta’s most intriguing, since GM closed its plant in 2008 as part of a major restructuring.
Its redevelopment has the potential to become one of the most important for the region’s connectivity.
The GM site sits at the intersection of the Atlanta Perimeter, Peachtree Industrial Boulevard and the northern terminus of MARTA in DeKalb County. It’s also just three miles from DeKalb Peachtree Airport, or PDK.
Perry sees the chance to create a project unlike Atlanta has ever seen.
“This is not going to be another Atlantic Station,” he said in an interview with Atlanta Business Chronicle. “It will be a true transit-oriented development.”
MARTA is already involved in the discussions. It issued a statement saying that its transit-oriented development, or TOD, team recently met with Norfolk Southern and The Integral Group about a possible pedestrian bridge between the adjacent Doraville transit station and the GM plant.
“A pedestrian bridge would provide convenient access to the GM site for MARTA customers and for the community on the east side of the station,” MARTA said.
The transit agency is “being very strategic” in the way it’s viewing its relationship to the site, Perry said.
“There is an opportunity to figure out a real transit solution,” he said. “Not only do we want to have a great transit station, we want to have a great transit destination.”
Regional planners also see the potential for a pivotal project.
Cobb County has the Cumberland Galleria. The Central Perimeter has the region’s largest office market. Maybe Integral’s project could spark similar development farther east on the Perimeter.
“The GM plant has sat idle too long,” said Dan Reuter, land use chief with the Atlanta Regional Commission. “We need to help as much as we can to make this possible.”
It could also bring new life into the center of Doraville. When the plant shut down six years ago, the city lost 10 percent of its tax revenue and 36 percent of its total employment. It was a devastating blow, Doraville Mayor Donna Pittman said in a speech to residents April 28.
“We are trying to reestablish the heart of Doraville,” Perry said. “Doraville had the heart torn out of it when GM moved out.”
Other Atlanta veterans of mixed-use projects praised Perry for his boldness.
“This is one of the most entrepreneurial real estate moves that I have seen in a long time,” said David Tennery, a managing director with real estate services giant Jones Lang LaSalle Inc.(JLL).
Tennery was also with the real estate company that developed Concourse Corporate Center in Sandy Springs in the 1980s, one of the South’s best-known mixed-use projects.
“Given the growth patterns we see now, with the private and public sector both expanding again, and with office space getting tighter in places like the Central Perimeter and Buckhead, the opportunities for a site such as [GM] are about as endless as they get,” Tennery said.
Ideally, the redevelopment would include “major drivers,” such as a corporate headquarters or a life-sciences user, given the site’s proximity to Emory University and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Perry said.
“We want to create jobs, not relocate jobs,” he said. “If we didn’t drive some new job creation, I would think that we would have failed.”
Perry and his team have been working through due diligence on the GM site for months. This past week he said ongoing studies of the possible environmental issues should be completed in about 10 days.
“We are not expecting any real surprises,” Perry said. “There was a need to just be prudent.”
Last fall, Atlanta Business Chronicle reported that Integral had worked out an agreement with General Motors that allowed an extended due diligence period on the site.
GM has been asking about $60 million for the plant.
The due diligence period was critical for Integral’s possible capital partners, which would help finance the project but first need confidence they can deal with the environmental challenges a heavy industrial site presents.
In a statement, GM said, it finalized a purchase agreement with Integral Group last July.
At that time, GM expected the sale could take about 12 to 15 months. GM said details of the purchase agreement are not being disclosed.
Former GM properties have been redeveloped into a variety of new uses including a movie studio in Pontiac, Mich., an industrial park in Baltimore and an electric vehicle assembly facility in Wilmington, Del.