By Maria Saporta and Doug Sams
Published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on Friday, April 12, 2013
Thanks to a $5 million grant from the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation, Georgia State University now has raised enough money to build a new College of Law building on a key downtown site that is currently a surface parking lot.
The $82.5 million project, to be located just off Peachtree Street just south of the Georgia-Pacific Center tower, will position Georgia State’s professional schools next to downtown’s core business district. Eventually, the J. Mack Robinson College of Business also is planned to go on the same block.
“It really puts the law school in a showplace building at a showplace location,” said Mark Becker, president of Georgia State University.
Gov. Nathan Deal’s budget included $58.8 million in bonds for GSU’s new law school building, which was a priority for the Georgia Board of Regents.
It was passed by the Georgia General Assembly, and it currently is awaiting the governor’s signature.
“The Woodruff Foundation gift put us over the top,” Becker said. “We have got all the funding we need to build this building.”
Not only is the development expected to provide a boost for Georgia State and its law school, but also for that section of downtown.
Although it is located only one block east of Peachtree and one block north of Woodruff Park, it has been underdeveloped for years. Currently, it is just surface parking lots and a low-rise garage, a block that could be described as a “missing tooth” in downtown. Formerly, the restaurant Mumbo Jumbo was located on that block.
“It’s an under-utilized strategic parcel that ties into the framework of Georgia State’s campus and downtown,” said A.J. Robinson, president of Central Atlanta Progress. “It’s a bridge block that will be only 100 feet from the Atlanta Streetcar.”
In fact, the Atlanta Streetcar, which will connect Centennial Olympic Park with the King Center on Auburn Avenue, will travel through the heart of Georgia State’s campus.
Robinson added that the new building is also “significant because the law school needs a modern state-of-the-art facility.”
GSU’s College of Law, founded in 1982, has been housed in the Urban Life building on Piedmont Avenue at Decatur Street since its inception.
“We are literally out of space,” said Steven Kaminshine, dean of Georgia State’s College of Law. “We can’t add one more faculty member. It’s time for a school with our trajectory to have a building that is commensurate with our reputation.”
The building, designed by the national firm of SmithGroup and the Atlanta firm Stevens & Wilkinson, will have all the latest amenities for a law school — a 230-seat formal moot courtroom, a law library of the future, faculty offices embedded on the teaching floors, collaborative learning spaces and legal clinics for the underserved.
All its clinics and outreach centers will “enhance our reputation for community engagement,” Kaminshine said.
The building also will have an arbitration center with three large hearing rooms and nine breakout rooms to support Georgia’s commitment to become an international venue for dispute resolution.
“Right now there’s no physical identity for the law school,” Kaminshine said. “This has transformative implications. Having the new building, with the excitement it will bring, will give us a competitive edge in attracting faculty and students.”
Becker said downtown already has seen a bounce after Georgia State announced plans to develop the block.
“The big story from our perspective is that our growth, our development and our plans are providing private developers an impetus to invest in downtown,” Becker said. “We do not have a goal of owning everything downtown. We don’t want to be the only ones downtown.”
Specifically, Becker pointed to the residential project being developed by the Ambling University Development Group one block east of the new law school, saying it was just the beginning of new private investment.
Ambling is redeveloping a vacant hotel on Courtland Street into a mid-rise student housing project with 144 units and 290 beds. It also is building a 16-story tower with 109 units with 426 beds and a six-story on-site parking deck.
The project will include a rooftop terrace, a 24-hour fitness center, a pool and a private courtyard as well as a study lounge and study rooms.
The private residential development is in addition to the 4,000 beds that Georgia State, traditionally a commuter school, provides for its students on campus.
“Georgia State is going to continue to grow,” said Becker, adding that the university received a record number of applications this year. “There’s going to be an increased residential presence downtown, more retail, more coffee shops, more pizza places …”
Becker said it’s too early to know what impact the streetcar will have in bringing tourist traffic and more visitors to the campus. But as Georgia State grows, he could see downtown needing a grocery story and other quality-of-life amenities.
Also, the Metro Atlanta Chamber’s higher education initiative is encouraging entrepreneurs and startups to locate in incubator space that could help bridge the area between downtown and Midtown.
“That will get us to the density and dynamism that will make Atlanta a premier city in the urban core,” Becker said. “We just need for the economy to be robust enough for that to happen.”