Mega Developments and Their Regional Impact

March 2, 2020

Call them what you will, mega-developments or mini-cities, but the biggest (literal) trend in real estate development over the last few years has been the rise of multi-billion-dollar mixed use projects.  These projects all follow similar underlying strategies: identify an underused piece of property in a strategically important area, typically a rail yard or former factory complex, ensure that proper public transportation access can be provided, and start building with grand plans.  The examples range from New York’s Hudson Yards to Chicago’s Lincoln Yards, and now Atlanta has two of its own in the works. 

Centennial Yards is Atlanta’s largest development project in terms of development dollars, spanning nearly 40 acres with $5 billion in proposed development costs.  The new community would require the topping of the “Gulch” downtown with a concrete cap and the creation of a brand-new street network. When complete, the project could tie together neighborhoods that have been separated by an active rail line for nearly all of Atlanta’s history.  The proposal gained its initial momentum when Amazon was famously shopping for its HQ2 site back in 2018.  Though Atlanta did not ultimately get awarded the Amazon project, planning work was continued by California’s CIM Group.  Much like similar developments across the country, the proposal includes dedicated space for nearly every commercial real estate use.  Should it come to full fruition the project would include office towers, multi-family apartments, retail space, and leisure and recreation space. 

Assembly Yards, the site of the former GM plant at I-285 between Peachtree Blvd. and Buford Highway, is the smaller of the two Atlanta projects in terms of dollars planned, though the physical site is nearly four times the size of its downtown sibling.  Spearheaded by The Integral Group, an international developer, the project hopes to achieve similar neighborhood building goals as some of its competitors but through a more gradual process.  Broken into distinct phases, each building on the success of the last, the site hopes to house some 750 apartments, millions of square feet of office space, and even its own movie studio. 

While there may not be anything truly unique about any of these developments, the two local projects do put a definite Atlanta twist on what they are trying to accomplish.  Centennial Yards hopes to tie together downtown with the residential neighborhoods to its west, while Assembly seeks to grow outdoor awareness and Atlanta’s commitment to the film industry, one of the nation’s largest.  Projects such as these have the potential to create positive benefits to their surrounding cities, bringing in smart and efficient designs, connecting public transit, and rehabilitating otherwise underused plots.  As is the case with all real estate development however, these projects will face their share of challenges as they are built out.  The construction timeline for Centennial Yards is 15 years.  But, with proper planning and capital, these city-changers have a chance to do good for all involved.

Carey Blakley