Don’t sleep on South Metro Atlanta.
That was the message from speakers at the 2020 South Metro Development Outlook conference recently held at the Georgia International Convention Center. The conference, now in its 18th year, gathers commercial real estate professionals, business leaders and elected officials to discuss the latest economic development trends in the region.
South Metro communities have tended to lag behind Atlanta’s bustling submarkets to the north like Midtown, Buckhead, Central Perimeter, Alpharetta and Cumberland-Galleria, which have become some of the most prominent business hubs in the Southeast. But the South Metro – a six-county area south of I-20 – is increasingly attracting the interest of investors, including regional, national and international players.
Ackerman & Co. is one of those investors bullish on South Metro. The company, with partner MDH Partners, purchased the 423,000-square-foot Lee + White project in the West End area just south of I-20 and is currently diversifying the popular entertainment and food & beverage destination to include loft offices, retail and a food hall.
In addition to Lee + White, Ackerman is involved in the $1-billion Airport City project in College Park as the exclusive land broker marketing the 320-acre property adjacent to the airport for a mix of office, hotel, retail, entertainment, residential and other uses.
“The time is right for this type of mixed-use development in South Atlanta. This area has traditionally been underserved by retail in particular, but the opportunity to serve the local community as well as the millions of Hartsfield-Jackson passengers who visit annually makes it ideal for the local, national and international end users we’re seeking to attract,” said Steve Langford, Ackerman & Co. Senior Vice President and land broker for Airport City.
Investing in Future Growth
The South Metro region is home to the biggest economic driver in the state – Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, which serves 100 million passengers a year, employs 63,000 on-site workers and generates a $34.8-billion annual economic impact.
Speakers pointed to a number of trends and developments that position the region to attract economic development while leveraging its strategic location at the gateway to the world’s busiest airport.
South Atlanta is the largest industrial submarket in metro Atlanta, with a total of 196 million square feet of warehouse and manufacturing space. It is also home to global headquarters such as Delta International and Chick-fil-A. More recently, South Metro attracted the relocation of Porsche Cars North America headquarters from Sandy Springs, a $100-million project that includes the Experience Center race track.
The region is preparing for much more success. Aerotropolis Atlanta, a public-private partnership representing 13 South Atlanta communities, aims to create the region’s next premier business district. Aerotropolis is working with other agencies on a variety of infrastructure improvements, including a $13-million diverging diamond interchange at Camp Creek Parkway and I-285 designed to improve traffic flows around the Airport.
“We don’t want to duplicate the traffic congestion of other parts of the metro,” said Gerald McDowell, executive director of the Aerotropolis Atlanta CID.
Another project being proposed is a “pod car” network that would provide speedy connections to Airport terminals and nearby destinations such as the Porsche and Delta headquarters via dedicated cars holding up to eight passengers. This project would cost roughly $15 million per mile, McDowell said, which is far less than other public transportation initiatives.
“We have been denied transportation solutions because we’ve been told it’s not affordable,” he said. “This is affordable, and we believe this is a solution that could provide an example of how to expand throughout the region.”
Adding Amenities to Attract Talent & Businesses
The film industry has a growing presence in the South Metro region, and it’s generating some exciting spin-off development. Pinewood Forest, a 235-acre mega project near Pinewood Atlanta Studios, will ultimately feature 700 homes, 600 apartments, 300 hotel rooms, and 270,000 square feet of commercial space with restaurants, retail and a 9-screen theater featuring a rooftop cinema.
“This type of development is setting the stage for attracting talent, and the companies that employ them will follow,” said Joan Young, president of the Fayette County Development Authority.
Christopher Pike, economic development director for the City of South Fulton, discussed two major projects planned in the newly formed city, including a town center mixed-use development and a 200-acre riverfront district.
“These are quality of life projects that will bring a different flavor to South Fulton,” Pike said.
In addition to new amenities that will help the South Metro better compete with northern communities, the region has another major selling point – its lower development costs.
Shannon James, president and CEO of the Aerotropolis Atlanta Alliance, said the relatively low cost of land – which includes 50,000 acres of undeveloped land around Hartsfield-Jackson – impressed his colleagues from Beijing, China’s, Aerotropolis.
“They salivated over the opportunities here compared to the cost in their neck of the woods,” he said