Atlanta Business Chronicle- Blueprint Midtown becoming reality by Doug DeLoach
Blueprint Midtown, a community planning initiative launched in 1997 by the Midtown Alliance and supported by stakeholders from business and government, put the Midtown submarket on a trajectory that has produced a significant urban transformation.
“The Blueprint was a physical plan, which was put together using visual preference surveys, and through discussions among representatives from the residential community and business community about what they wanted Midtown to be and look like,” said Kevin Green, president and CEO of Midtown Alliance.
A decade and a half later, the efficacy of the Blueprint model can be seen by driving around a one-square-mile section of the submarket designated as the Midtown Core. Bounded by I-75/85 on the west, Piedmont Avenue on the east, I-85 on the north, and Ralph McGill Boulevard on the south, the area is currently benefiting from some $560 million in private development investments.
“Since 2000, we’ve seen an increase of 8,000 residential units, 7.6 million square feet of office space and 2 million square feet of retail in the Midtown core, which includes Atlantic Station,” said Shannon Powell, executive vice president and chief operating officer at Midtown Alliance.
Since the inception of Blueprint Midtown, an estimated $4 billion in new public and private investments has been changing the landscape and impacting the demographics of the area. Currently, Midtown Alliance reports four major projects under construction west of the interstate, which will deliver more than 1,000 apartments in the next 12 months.
East of the Midtown Core, 274 new residential units, 330,000 square feet of retail and 450,000 square feet of office space will be part of Ponce City Market, a $200 million mixed-use project developed by Jamestown Properties. The area has also benefited from some 12 miles of sidewalks, streetscapes and the shade of 750 new trees.
“When our firm first moved to Midtown in 1980, it was a relatively barren island between downtown and Buckhead,” said Willard Lariscy, managing director of the Atlanta office of architecture firm Perkins+Will Inc., whose current project list includes leading the design team for the Atlanta Beltline.
In 2010, having outgrown the firm’s original location — a house on the corner of Peachtree and Seventeenth streets — Perkins+Will purchased the Invesco building at 1315 Peachtree. The structure has since been transformed into an award-winning, environmentally forward-thinking office building, which also houses a branch of the Atlanta Fulton County Library and the Museum of Design Atlanta.
After two years of searching for the ideal relocation spot, Lariscy said the decision to stay in Midtown hinged not only on the usual factors, such as cost and convenience, but also on the fact that the area had become a thriving urban enclave, replete with amenities the business community expects.
“As a global design firm, we have people coming in from everywhere,” Lariscy said. “They fly into Hartsfield, take MARTA to the Arts Center Station, then walk a block to our office. They walk a block to eat lunch, walk a block to the hotel, and walk a block to eat dinner before heading back to their hotel.”
One of the original objectives of Blueprint Midtown was to draw anchor institutions to the area. In 2003, Georgia Tech’s decision to jump across “the Gulch” (the downtown expressway) to Technology Square ranks among the pioneering efforts. The ongoing expansion of Emory Crawford Long Hospital, now Emory University Hospital Midtown, and the presence of the Savannah College of Art and Design represent additional examples.
Today, the area is poised for further expansion in the form of the Georgia Proton Treatment Center. The 115,000-square-foot facility on the northeast corner of Peachtree Street and North Avenue, which will cost an estimated $335 million, is a joint development by Advanced Particle Therapy LLC and Signet Enterprises LLC. The center will be operated by Emory University Hospital, and is scheduled to begin providing advanced treatment to cancer patients in 2016.
“We’d like to think the Federal Reserve can take some credit for the [Federal Reserve’s]move from Marietta Street to Peachtree and Tenth, which created another anchor tenant for Midtown,” said Dennis Lockhart, president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, who serves as chair of the executive committee at Midtown Alliance.
“We’ve also seen a number of the major law firms move into the area, which fosters a core of professionals who work, dine, shop, and some of whom live here,” Lockhart said. “The population density is rising, which is good for businesses. It’s a cycle of positive reinforcement.”
Midtown Alliance has been working with area educational institutions to advance the submarket as an innovation hub, which would be attractive to entrepreneurs. To that end the organization is encouraging developers to incorporate relatively inexpensive collaborative spaces, as well as similar, complementary amenities, in their plans.
“At its very core, Blueprint Midtown is a set of principles for urban design, which continually challenge us to do it better than we did the last time,” Powell said.
“Getting people to believe that it’s good enough before the plan is complete is perhaps our greatest hurdle to building a livable, walkable, sustainable urban community that is second to none.”
Blueprint Midtown represents a bold, ambitious undertaking, which so far has proven to be a winning proposition. It would seem that the old adage, “Build it, and they will come,” still holds true when the blueprint is drawn correctly.