By J. Scott Trubey, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Could something even greater than a deal to keep the Atlanta Hawks in a significantly overhauled Philips Arena be in the works for downtown?
Mayor Kasim Reed and the Hawks confirmed talks last week about a deal to renovate the arena. Reed called it a $150 million to $250 million project that might, among other things, undo the wall of suites that is out of fashion in the NBA.
But he also said something intriguing about downtown real estate at the end of this quote:
“I think in the next 120 to perhaps 180 days you’ll see a series of announcements related to Atlanta that are just stunning. Let’s look at the block around the Mercedes-Benz Stadium. …You are going to have an 800 (room) hotel that’s coming in between 250 and 350 million, you are going to have between 150 and 250 million going into retrofitting Philips Arena. You’ll probably see residential and commercial construction component around Philips Arena between 500 million and a billion.”
Reed declined to say in an interview after his talk at the Bisnow conference if any of the $500 million to $1 billion in possible residential and commercial construction “around” the arena would somehow involve the Hawks or actually be attached to or immediately adjacent the arena.
“Around” could be considered part of the general area. Either way, development of that scale would be profound.
It also begs questions, such as: Is it one project or more? Where exactly would such a high-dollar development(s) be built? And by whom?
The Atlanta Braves are in the vanguard of building a mixed-use entertainment district next to their new ballpark in Cobb County. Might the Hawks, led by new owners including billionaire Antony Ressler and basketball great Grant Hill, follow suit?
The Hawks’ former lead owner, Bruce Levenson, who was forced to sell the team after discovery of a racist email, talked with the AJC early last year about Philips’ future. The discussion included Levenson’s desire to have an entertainment district around it.
But the Hawks were largely mum last week with my colleague Chris Vivlamore beyond confirming the renovation talks and discussing some other improvements underway to player areas in the arena.
Reed’s statement about development around the arena doesn’t appear to be totally about things already planned. He’d already rattled off projects in his talk, such as the future 800-room hotel at the Georgia World Congress Center and other plans widely known to be in the pipeline.
The Falcons have a new stadium slated to open in 2017. Post Properties is working on an apartment development in the area.
A Hyatt House hotel recently opened along Marietta Street. The congress center’s governing board also is in talks to buy the Metro Atlanta Chamber headquarters to expand Centennial Olympic Park.
Beyond that, developer David Marvin of Legacy Property Group is working on fresh development plans in the area.
Marvin said in an interview he hadn’t heard of a project like what Reed mentioned, but there’s plenty to talk about within the Luckie Marietta District as it’s called.
Marvin’s group is working on a 300-room hotel near the Hilton Garden Inn he developed last decade. Legacy also recently acquired the downtown DoubleTree hotel that will be renovated.
The city’s hospitality community is on fire, he said. The Center for Civil and Human Rights and College Football Hall of Fame have added to the roster of attractions to help combat an unfair rap that there’s nothing to do downtown, he said.
“We’ve got a lot going for us,” Marvin said.
And the Atlanta Business Chronicle reported on Friday a few new tourist rides are to be added next to the downtown Ferris wheel.
There are still plenty of underused lots near the park and Philips Arena that could handle higher density development.
But that also got me wondering … Could 2016 finally become the year of the Gulch?
Don’t laugh. (OK, maybe laugh a little.)
Sure, it’s one of the spots in downtown that did yeoman’s work representing a dystopian zombie wasteland in The Walking Dead, but the unsightly tangle of railroad lines and parking lots around CNN Center and the Five Points MARTA station has gotten a lot of attention lately.
MGM Resorts International looked at the sprawling property as part of its search for a location for a downtown casino complex near the city’s tourism district. MGM is a major proponent of a bill to allow Las Vegas-style gambling in Georgia.
For the record, Reed said he’s not convinced gambling is a good idea for Atlanta. (Given that and the uncertainty of gambling being legalized, he likely wasn’t talking about the $1 billion proposal from MGM.)
And what about plans for a new transit mega-terminal that would link together rail and buses in the center of downtown?
The terminal is a tantalizing $1.5 billion dream that’s come up about $1.5 billion short in funding and has never progressed much beyond talk.
A spokesman for railroad giant Norfolk Southern, which owns the lines that cross through the Gulch, did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
Atlanta was founded as a rail hub and the Gulch is a pretty busy corridor for both Norfolk Southern and CSX, both of which have seen freight traffic grow amid a prolonged, if slow, economic recovery. More is likely to come with the deepening of the Savannah port.
If a half-billion dollars in development or more is headed to a downtown spot near Philips Arena, the Gulch is about as big and open – if complicated – a spot as you can find.