By Doug Sams and Maria Saporta
Published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on April 24, 2015
Two years into its plans to put more residential units and retail space around its train stations, MARTA continues to expand its transit oriented development program.
MARTA officials are targeting May 4 for the release of its latest request for proposals, this time for a mix of residential and retail development on 6 acres surrounding its Arts Center Station.
MARTA would also issue an RFP for its Oakland City station later this summer, officials said.
The expansion comes two years after MARTA General Manger and CEO Keith Parker said the agency wanted to see more residential and retail in either planning or development around its stations by 2015.
Parker made several key hires, including Amanda Rhein, now the agency’s head of transit-oriented development, to carry out that goal.
Walton Communities is expected to break ground this year on its project at King Memorial.
Columbia Ventures would break ground on its projects at Avondale and Edgewood-Candler Park stations by early 2016, its executives say.
MARTA is also expecting the first proposals for a project around its Brookhaven station by May 28 and at its Chamblee station by June 2.
The expansion of MARTA’s transit-oriented development program reflects a much broader national trend that’s seeing companies move their headquarters to walkable mixed-use districts. That has also led more real estate companies to focus their investment and development around the stations.
That trend — which continues to gain momentum in Atlanta — will be a highlight of MARTA’s third annual “Development Day.
The May 5 event will give the transit authority a chance to talk about its TOD program and gauge the interest of regional developers in the next round of projects.
Over the past several years, noted land-use strategists such as Chris Leinberger have observed the rapid expansion of the Atlanta suburbs has slowed and the region has embraced more walkable, urban developments.
Leinberger, who is speaking at the upcoming Development Day, sees the same thing happening in cities across the country, from Seattle to Washington, D.C, with more investment and development clustering around transit stations.
“In D.C. 80 percent of the development is going [to] the rail stations, [and] 90 percent of office space is going to rail,” he told Atlanta Business Chronicle in an April 20 interview.
The trends are giving MARTA new clout in metro Atlanta, a region where the transit authority hasn’t always had support outside the urban core.
Recently, a majority of voters in Gwinnett County said they would support MARTA being extended into the county and are willing to pay for it, according to a new survey from the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce.
Last year, Clayton voted in favor of a penny sales tax to support the expansion of MARTA to the county on the south side of the metro region.
Cobb County, which landed the new stadium and mixed-use development for the Atlanta Braves, has opposed the expansion of MARTA.
But, even that may have to change over the next decade. Leinberger said Cobb officials should at least consider connecting the Braves ballpark and mixed-use project to light rail.
In recent comments before Cobb County economic development leaders, Braves Executive Vice President Mike Plant alluded to the changing attitudes about transit in metro Atlanta.
“As far as MARTA, we are in favor of using every mode of transportation, though we all know the expense of rail,” Plant said in a presentation before CoreNet Global Atlanta April 16. “But, for my kids, for the younger generation, they will look for other ways to travel, and we have to be open-minded about that.”
Increasingly, more Atlanta counties will be at an economic disadvantage without a link to rail, Leinberger said.
“Their economic competitiveness is compromised, if they don’t have transit and if they don’t have corresponding walkable urban places,” he said. “Regional malls are fading. Business parks are fading.”