By Douglas Sams and Maria Saporta
Published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on June 19, 2015
A giant Houston-based real estate investment trust and a group led by TV host Steve Harvey have emerged as finalists to buy and redevelop the 20-acre Atlanta Civic Center.
People familiar with the process say there is a strong possibility the two finalists could end up joining forces and present one winning bid for the project.
Weingarten Realty Investors (NYSE: WRI), a publicly traded REIT known best in Atlanta for owning shopping centers, is vying for the Civic Center site. The other team includes Harvey, known for hosting Showtime at the Apollo and the TV game show Family Feud. Harvey has joined with Ceasar Davis, CEO of Anthony Global Development.
So far, the city isn’t totally comfortable with the separate proposals each team has presented, according to people with knowledge of the talks. The teams offer different strengths: Weingarten has access to Wall Street capital and relationships with national retailers, and Harvey and Davis have connections to the entertainment industry.
Atlanta officials appear to favor aspects of both plans, including Weingarten’s ability to find a grocery anchor and partner with an apartment developer. More recently, the company has been in discussions with promoter and event company Livenation, sources said.
Harvey and Davis have impressed city officials with the promise of an entertainment-focused project. Harvey and Davis are also working with development experts with real estate services company Jones Lang LaSalle Inc. (JLL).
The two development teams recently met with Invest Atlanta, the city’s economic development arm, to see if they might leverage their strengths and present a combined bid to acquire the Civic Center, according to several people familiar with the talks.
That plan has intriguing possibilities, insiders say.
The city hopes the redevelopment of the Civic Center can spark investment just south of North Avenue and better connect the district to the bustling Old Fourth Ward, where Jamestown’s Ponce City Market and the Beltline’s Eastside Trail have sparked several new projects.
Weingarten could lure notable retailers to a stretch of Piedmont that many developers have bypassed for years, opting instead to build projects on Peachtree Street.
Although Weingarten is still filling new shopping centers with big-box retailers including PETCO and TJ Maxx, it’s latest project in Seattle might offer more of a blueprint for the Civic Center.
In west Seattle, it broke ground last year on the Whittaker, where it’s co-developing the six-story project with Lennar Homes. The developers struck a deal with Whole Foods Market Inc. for a 41,000-square-foot store. The project will also feature about 400 apartments.
Atlanta wants the Civic Center redevelopment to become a catalyst for Piedmont the way Ponce City Market has sparked investment along Ponce de Leon and North avenues.
The city has sought to redevelop the civic center since the economy began to recover a few years ago.
Those ambitions picked up speed earlier this year after Atlanta voters approved overwhelmingly a $250 million infrastructure bond, allowing Mayor Kasim Reed to focus on selling the city’s real estate assets including the Civic Center and Underground Atlanta, among others.
Reed’s latest hopes for the Civic Center included a mix of residential, office and retail space. The city also wants the project to support the expansion of workforce housing.
“The mayor is going to let the developers drive the vision,” Reed spokeswoman Anne Torres said in an email to Atlanta Business Chronicle. “The Civic Center is located in one of the most important commercial corridors, and any agreement reached would have to be very special.”
The administration wanted a bid on the site by the end of spring. It would like to see the process close out by the end of August, Torres added.
In an editorial board meeting with Atlanta Business Chronicle early this year, Reed said the highest of the formal bids was $32 million. Reed also disclosed the city had received an offer from an unidentified buyer to acquire the Civic Center for $42 million.
Atlanta-based developers Carter and Ackerman & Co. have also submitted separate plans to redevelop the Civic Center. Ackerman previously had the rights to develop the property dating back to 1986.