By Maria Saporta
Although the City of Atlanta has an agreement to sell the 19-acre Civic Center property to Houston-based Weingarten Realty Investors, the plans for the project are subject to change.
In a brief interview, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed made it clear he still hopes the project will evolve beyond the current plans.
“That story is not over yet,” Reed said recently. “We’ve been working to try to create a better product. We are achieving a higher value for the asset.”
Reed went on to say that the city is “constantly focused on job creation,” and that it is thinking “more and more about equity” with proposed projects.
“The negotiations really haven’t reached me yet,” the mayor said.
Weingarten plans to develop a mixed-use project of street-level retail, apartments and offices as well as an amphitheater and a plaza with green space.
“It’s definitely fluid,” said Bill Coats, a Weingarten vice president and senior regional director of development in Atlanta, in a telephone interview Monday evening.
The project will definitely have three basic elements, Coats continued. There will be “necessity-based” retail, such as a yet-to-be-named grocery store.
The first phase also will have about 350 units as well as about 300 apartments and an estimated 300,000 square feet of “new generation” office space.
“We are open to different ideas as long as they blend well with the other uses,” said Coats, who added that several hotel groups have expressed interest in being part of the project.
But Coats added that discussions with EUE/Screen Gems, which would have developed film and video production space, have stalled.
“We have talked to that group,” Coats said. “At this point, their interest was primarily reusing the existing SciTrek building, which does not work with our plans…. Our whole plan has never contemplated keeping the Civic Center.”
Weingarten was the winning bidder for the Civic Center project – agreeing to pay $30 million for the city-owned property.
“The plan is to close (the transaction) in the summer o of 2016,” Coats said. Meanwhile, Coats said Weingarten will work with the city and the surrounding communities as the project progresses.
“The location sits at the convergence of downtown, Midtown and the Old Fourth Ward,” said Coats, who added he will work with City Councilman Kwanza Hall to figure out the best way to involve the different communities.
But Coats also said an amphitheater and the plaza will be “central” to the project.
“We want to create outdoor activities and events,” Coats said. “We want to draw people in. There will be an outdoor seating area. That will open the project up from the outside.”
Some in the community have questioned whether Weingarten, historically a suburban developer, would be able to design a more urban-style project.
“Historically, that would not be too far from the truth,” Coats said.
But in the past several years, Weingarten has sold many of its suburban properties and is focusing its efforts on more urban developments in major markets.
“Four years ago, we had about 400 properties,” Coats said. “Today we have about 250 properties.” Although the company now has fewer properties, the existing holdings actually have greater value than the 400 it used to own.
Once Weingarten selects its partners to develop the re looking to rebrand the property with the help of a branding company.
Asked about his thoughts on the nearby Peachtree-Pine homeless shelter, Coats said: “It’s something we think is going to be resolved. Obviously we would prefer if that were a better situation.”