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Guest Column

Atlanta can overcome challenges to create an Aerotropolis; lessons of Atlantic Station

Jim JacobyGuest Column by JIM JACOBY,
Developer of Atlantic Station

With the passage of time, it is easy to forget the economic insecurity and fear that followed Sept. 11, 2001. The appalling human tragedy of that awful moment in our nation’s history dwarfs the financial market shock of Sept. 15, 2008.

But one cannot avoid a sense that we have been here before. I am confident that we will rise to the occasion once again.

The dreadful déjà vu for me is a repeat of the economic conditions we faced just as a milestone project for our city was gaining momentum. We are proud that Atlantic Station is invoked so frequently today as the sort of project that others wish to emulate.

But the spring of 2002 was not, at first blush, a promising time to be tackling the most ambitious brownfield redevelopment to date in Atlanta.

Similarly, as this spring arrives, it is a daunting time to be attempting the most ambitious mixed-use redevelopment to date south of downtown – Aerotropolis on the site of the former Ford plant in Hapeville.

But the most remarkable and significant parallels between then and now are not the challenges we confront but, rather, the opportunities at hand.

While economic, political and social cycles come and go, significant long-term trends persist:

• Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport has driven our city’s economic development for more than a half century;

• our success in attracting human resources to Atlanta has inversely impacted our natural resources and adversely affected our quality of life; and

• the region’s ability to continue to thrive on inexpensive energy requires a combination of innovation and conservation.

Economic development, talent, natural resources and energy.

How do we balance them all to the benefit of the crucial urban core of our region?

The aims we pursued at Atlantic Station, and others have since pursued elsewhere around the city, are more relevant than ever.

Let’s reclaim former industrial sites to create environmentally and economically sustainable places that attract people to live, work, pray and play in proximity to a mix of transportation options.

We re-developed Atlantic Steel into Atlantic Station on 138 acres at the intersection of interstates 75 and 85, and created it transit-ready, with a shuttle to MARTA to the east and prepared for the BeltLine to the west.

We’re developing Aerotropolis on 130 acres at the juncture of Interstate 75, the Airport’s new international terminal, the Southern Crescent Transit Center, and future transit such as the Griffin line.

Why is it important to shift our focus south of downtown to the airport?

Because just as seaports drove development in the 18th Century, railroads drove development in the 19th Century, and cars drove development in the 20th Century, it is airports that will drive the most important, progressive development of the 21st Century.

We’ve been transforming brown fields. We now need to see them as brown ports – places with potential, like traditional seaports, to receive all forms of transportation and to transfer all sorts of cargo, from tangible goods to intellectual capital.

As Richard Florida recently described in an Atlantic magazine article, “The places that thrive today are those with the highest velocity of ideas, the highest density of talented and creative people, the highest rate of metabolism…. The economy is driven by key urban areas ….”

Atlanta will rise to the occasion.


  1. david March 27, 2009 10:17 pm

    Is Atlantic Station really something other cities should strive to model? Let’s take a look – retail that is not successful? check. More new office in a market that is already oversupplied with such product? check. Residential product that overall hasn’t done well? check. Jim, you may very well have gotten out of that project with a positive return, but you did this city no favors. True, it is site to see. Cool, even. But let’s be honest, there are many people like me. I live within 2 minutes of it and have been probably 5 times in 3 years. Why? Well, exactly, why? I already have 2 major regional malls within 10 minutes and a 3rd within 15. 5 major office submarkets are within 10 minutes – each with a “healthy” 15%+ vacancy rate. Oh, and thanks to Jim Borders there are also 6000 condos within 10 minutes of me as well…and those are just the ones that are first generation! So Jim, what exactly did you do for my city? You basically helped oversupply 3 of the 4 major property types in Atlanta. But hey, let’s hand you the visionary award! You could’ve built a world class park, maybe planted a bunch of trees. Something, anything, but a new city within a city that did nothing but add to a glut of product. No Jim, I’m not a tree hugger, I’m in real estate and I’m tired of developers like you under the guise of “doing good” actually do double the harm compared to the little good you do. If your retail wasn’t built, and your offices didn’t soar, and your residential didn’t leak (ooops) I mean wasn’t constructed, maybe some of the the other existing buildings would’ve been filled. Maybe there would only be 5,000 condos for sale. Just 10% office vacancy! Maybe there wouldn’t be retailers that everyone knows are struggling in your development…could it be they all have sister stores within 10 minutes? So whom did you actually build this little city for Jim, your ego or Atlanta? I think the answer is clear. Now, we have to watch you fool more investors into doing it again next to the airport. I wonder what neighborhoods you will kill by sucking all of their industry into your bright new development? Boy I can’t wait to find out! I see another visionary award coming! Congrats.Report

  2. margaret June 22, 2009 3:05 pm

    Pg4OJC ega7Kl0dnDduqp6s2bnp1oReport


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