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Density Turning Central Perimeter More Into Midtown

For now, the former Gold Kist headquarters is a solitary 260K SF building perched on a hill overlooking Interstate 285 in Central Perimeter. But its owner, Crown Holdings, sees something bigger: up to 2M SF of development, including a 24-story office tower, a 28-story hotel and a potential convention center.

“Will the whole site get developed? It will,” Crown co-founder Blair Schlossberg said.

Construction of Phase II of the State Farm campus in Dunwoody.

Crown's project is just one in the pipeline of ambitious mixed-use developments in Central Perimeter that are turning the one-time suburban bedroom community into the closest thing to an urban environment outside of Atlanta.

“For several years, Central Perimeter has straddled the urban-suburban divide. Depending on how you look at it, it’s either been the most urban of suburban markets or the most suburban of urban markets,” Transwestern Director of Research Keith Pierce wrote in an email.

“Recent events like the game-changing development of State Farm’s campus and the coming addition of Twelve24, as well as several large projects in the planning stages — such as High Street Atlanta — are increasing density and creating an ever-more-urbanized dynamic in the area.”

Schlossberger will be among many commercial real estate executives who have Central Perimeter projects at Bisnow's Future of Central Perimeter event May 30, which will cover topics from density and congestion to the new developments in the works.

State Farm's complex is being built right atop MARTA's Dunwoody station to capitalize on transit, a move that highlighted the desire by companies to locate near transit, even in the suburbs.

A view of Central Perimeter -- with the iconic King and Queen buildings of Concourse Corporate Center in the foreground

Since the advent of that project, developers have released plans for a number of other large projects, including GID's High Street Atlanta, being developed in partnership with North American PropertiesTrammell Crow's Twelve24 mixed-use office tower, Crown's Gold Kist redevelopment and Grubb Properties' four-building condo project called Park at Perimeter Center East.

Most of the projects are clustered close to I-285 or Georgia 400, the area where density is most accepted, and many have access to transit.

“This is where you want to develop to keep people off the roads,” Schlossberger said.

This kind of density is new for Central Perimeter. The submarket, which is made up of portions of the cities of Dunwoody, Sandy Springs and Brookhaven across two counties, has long been a popular office and commercial destination.

But increasingly, commercial development in Central Perimeter has transformed from disparate insular uses — a shopping center here, an office building there — to the types of mixed-use campuses seen in Midtown and Buckhead.

“In the coming years, Central Perimeter will become even more of an urban-suburban hybrid than it has been, with corporate campuses continuing to show strength north of Abernathy while the Hammond Drive corridor near the Perimeter could eventually look like a couple of blocks in Midtown, or at least like The Battery [in Cobb County],” Pierce said.

That means density: cramming more square footage and more people into tighter land parcels.

“We're of the size where we're not putting in density for density's [sake]. We're trying to put density in where it makes sense and where it's smart,” Dunwoody Mayor Denis Shortal said. “Putting 900 condo units in the middle of Dunwoody Village, there would be a ton of resistance to that.”

Dunwoody Mayor Denis Shortal talks traffic issues with Perimeter CID Executive Director Ann Hanlon at a recent Bisnow event.

In the past five years, more than 9,000 people have moved into the commercial district of Central Perimeter, populating apartments that were not there before, Perimeter Community Improvement District Executive Director Ann Hanlon said. That is creating a new energy in an area that was once simply where people worked and shopped from 9 to 5, then retreated back to their homes in Cobb and Gwinnett counties.

New residents are fueling demand for alternative ways to get around, especially pedestrian trails, which the PCID is targeting in partnership with its various cities, eventually even connecting its system with Buckhead's PATH400.

“At some point, we're going to reach a critical mass of people. It feels like we're in the middle of a renaissance because of that transition. All signs show that we're moving towards a more urban market,” Hanlon said. “There's even talk sort of on the periphery about a school in the Perimeter area.”

The transition is not painless. Congestion problems have been a continuing issue throughout Central Perimeter and has prompted the PCID to undertake a number of roadway improvements to mitigate the traffic, including plans to transform the intersection at Abernathy Road at Georgia 400 into a converging diamond interchange, similar to what was done at the other main gate into Central Perimeter on Ashford-Dunwoody Road and I-285.

The Georgia Department of Transportation also is underway with a major reworking of the I-285 and 400 interchange. Hanlon also said the PCID is petitioning GDOT to add access ramps on the Perimeter Center Parkway bridge that spans over I-285.

“The more gates we can open to the market, that helps,” she said.

Congestion is a reason Sandy Springs leaders expect to push back against dense development proposals within the city limits, Mayor Rusty Paul said. 

"I think you're going to continue to see pushback on density until the congestion problem is alleviated to some degree," Paul said. "In the absence of being able to move with congestion still a challenge, there's always going to be pushback when you can't move on the streets. We're paying a price for failure to invest in infrastructure and build out a transit system over the last 30 years."

Even with developments locating next to MARTA stations, Paul said he is skeptical that commuters will use transit to get to them. A big part of the reason: MARTA just doesn't go where most commuters live.

"Unless you live in town and use the transit system to get to here, it doesn't take you where you need to go," he said.

As Bisnow previously reported, despite State Farm's first phase opening, ridership at the Dunwoody Station has actually declined.

By State Farm's own count, roughly 10% of its existing workforce uses MARTA, a stat many say is higher than expected for Atlanta's population, which remains married to vehicles for its daily commutes.

“MARTA ridership by State Farm employees is actually very high compared to most of the large employers in the Central Perimeter area, and we see that trend increasing as the majority of State Farm’s employees move to the Park Center campus in the next couple of years,” KDC Regional Vice President Alex Chambers said in an email.

KDC is developing the State Farm project in Central Perimeter.

Hear more from Chambers, Hanlon, Shortal and Schlossberger, as well as MARTA Senior Director of Real Estate and Transit Oriented Developments Jacob Vallo, Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul and Brookhaven Mayor John Arthur Ernst Jr. at the Future of Central Perimeter event 7:30 a.m., Thursday, May 30, at the Terraces office complex in Dunwoody.