South­ern Ex­po­sure

At­lanta’s star is ris­ing from sub­ur­ban sprawl

Business Traveler (USA) - - INSIDE - By Michael An­dré Adams

At­lanta’s star is ris­ing from sub­ur­ban sprawl and free­way flight to be­come real city again

Hav­ing tri­umphed through the same era of eco­nomic down­turn that much of the coun­try faced, the city of At­lanta is once again boom­ing, hold­ing onto its sta­tus as the epi­cen­ter of the Pro­gres­sive South. Both busi­ness trav­el­ers to the city and those who live here are dis­cov­er­ing the of­fer­ings have risen by an or­der of mag­ni­tude. For new­com­ers to the Un­of­fi­cial Cap­i­tal of the South, it will help to get your bear­ings. The city it­self is roughly di­vided into quad­rants, split north-south by the I-75-I85 cor­ri­dor, and from east to west by I-20. Sur­round­ing all this is The Perime­ter, aka I-285, a 64-mile­long, 8- to 18-lane-wide river of con­crete that en­cir­cles At­lanta and con­nects many of its out­ly­ing sub­urbs. If you’re fly­ing into At­lanta, you’ll want to know that Harts­field-Jack­son In­ter­na­tional Air­port is sit­u­ated about 6 o’clock on the cir­cle, wedged into a tri­an­gle of land where I-85, I-75 and I-285 criss­cross south of down­town.

With all this woof and warp of in­ter­state high­ways wo­ven through­out the ur­ban fab­ric, you might con­clude that At­lanta is just a gi­gan­tic string of sub­urbs with a life­less, even de­te­ri­o­rat­ing down­town core at its cen­ter. And 10 years ago, you might have been right.

“Up un­til the last decade, At­lanta had been the poster child for sub­ur­ban sprawl. But the re-ur­ban­iza­tion has re­ally made the in-town ex­pe­ri­ence on par with other great cities,”

ex­plains Mark Toro, founder of North Amer­i­can Properties. “At­lanta has be­come a real city inas­much as we now of­fer a vis­i­tor an ur­ban ex­pe­ri­ence that they were not able to ex­pe­ri­ence be­fore.”

“Thanks to the vi­sion of our most re­cent mayor, Shirley Franklin, and our cur­rent mayor, Kasim Reed, we have been busy lay­ing the foun­da­tions for a dra­matic trans­for­ma­tion of in-town At­lanta, which ex­pe­ri­enced sig­nif­i­cant pop­u­la­tion growth dur­ing the past decade, in spite of a national re­ces­sion, ”ex­plains At­lanta City Coun­cilmem­ber, Kwanza Hall. Hall’s Dis­trict 2 in­cludes much of Down­town and Mid­town At­lanta, where sig­nif­i­cant change is most ev­i­dent.

Toro’s com­pany, North Amer­i­can Properties, has launched a joint ven­ture with CBRE, the world’s largest com­mer­cial real es­tate com­pany, to pur­chase the rel­a­tively new, 138-acre mixed use de­vel­op­ment called At­lantic Sta­tion from the once-trou­bled AIG.

“We bought At­lantic Sta­tion on New Years Eve, 2010, and are in the process of repo­si­tion­ing that as­set to es­sen­tially re­al­ize its po­ten­tial, which is an­other great ex­am­ple of what’s hap­pen­ing in At­lanta’s in-town com­mu­ni­ties. In the last 24 months, we’ve signed 24 leases and are bring­ing in the first three chef-driven, lo­cal restau­rants, which is what that com­mu­nity seeks, ”Hall says proudly. “At­lantic Sta­tion is re­ally the only sig­nif­i­cant con­cen­tra­tion of re­tail and restau­rants in all of in-town At­lanta.”

The live/ work/ play mix at At­lantic Sta­tion in­cludes ap­prox­i­mately 2,900 res­i­den­tial units and more than 1.4 mil­lion square feet of Class A of­fice space. This is nicely com­ple­mented with nearly 50 re­tail shops and restau­rants, and ap­prox­i­mately 11 acres of parks for recre­ation. Now the for­mer steel mill site is the largest ur­ban brown­field re­de­vel­op­ment in the US, an en­ergy ef­fi­cient, pedes­trian friendly com­mu­nity that serves as a national model for new ur­ban­ism and smart growth.

Tak­ing Care of Busi­ness

Metropoli­tan At­lanta’s five-and-a-half mil­lion in­hab­i­tants make up the most pop­u­lous ur­ban area in Ge­or­gia, the third largest in the south­east – be­hind Wash­ing­ton, DC, and Mi­ami – and the ninth largest in the US.

As with most ma­jor metropoli­tan ar­eas, busi­nesses tend to con­gre­gate based on in­dus­try sec­tors.

“Al­pharetta is home to 16 mil­lion square feet of class-A of­fice space that is pre­dom­i­nantly oc­cu­pied by tech sec­tor em­ploy­ers. So it’s Hewlett Packard, Mi­crosoft, ATT and Ver­i­zon, ”ex­plains Toro. “Buck­head is dom­i­nated by fi­nan­cial ser­vice firms and law firms. Perime­ter is home to larger cor­po­rate groups like UPS. And Mid­town is be­com­ing the tech sec­tor con­cen­tra­tion – not the large cor­po­rate tech busi­nesses, but the smaller midlife star­tups such as Square, Pan­dora, Nu­run and Ogilvy.”

Sig­nif­i­cant ar­eas of the city are be­com­ing pedes­tri­an­ized, Toro notes, re­flect­ing a shift away from free­way-cen­tric sprawl. “Be­cause of the con­cen­tra­tion of the creative class, peo­ple are con­gre­gat­ing at walk­a­ble busi­nesses, ”he says.“That is the bright line dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion be­tween At­lanta 10 years ago and At­lanta to­day – the abil­ity to lit­er­ally walk to work and your cho­sen place of en­ter­tain­ment, cul­tural fa­cil­i­ties, parks and recre­ation and mass tran­sit. For many years the knock has been that our tran­sit sys­tem is lack­ing, and it truly is. But in the in-town com­mu­ni­ties, we’ve got a very strong back­bone of tran­sit avail­abil­ity. Perime­ter, Buck­head and Mid­town all have MARTA (Metropoli­tan At­lanta Rapid Tran­sit Au­thor­ity) ac­cess that is truly vi­able to­day, which is rel­a­tively new.”

From the Ground Up

For the 95-plus-mil­lion pas­sen­gers that came to and through At­lanta’s Harts­field-Jack­son In­ter­na­tional Air­port in 2012 – ahead of Bei­jing’s 82 mil­lion and Heathrow’s 70 mil­lion – the ar­rival and de­par­ture process has be­come a much smoother op­er­a­tion with the May 2012 open­ing of the new in­ter­na­tional con­course.

“We just cel­e­brated our one year an­niver­sary,“ex­plains Louis Miller, avi­a­tion gen­eral man­ager for ATL.“The ad­di­tional 12 gates within the new Con­course F, along with the pre­ex­ist­ing gates at Con­course E, brings a to­tal of 40 in­ter­na­tional gates to Harts­field-Jack­son. This makes us one of the largest in the coun­try and al­lows a lot of op­por­tu­nity for fu­ture ex­pan­sion. Up un­til the ad­di­tion, when the gates in Con­course E were full, pas­sen­gers trav­el­ing in­ter­na­tion­ally had to fly out of a do­mes­tic ter­mi­nal. Now with enough ca­pac­ity for in­ter­na­tional flights, there’s more room to ac­com­mo­date do­mes­tic flights,”says Miller, who over­saw the pro­ject.

“We’ve also added a sep­a­rate new road­way sys­tem for the ter­mi­nal [com­ing from I-75], 3700 new park­ing stalls in­clud­ing a park-n-ride lot, a short term park­ing struc­ture and a new cell phone lot. Al­to­gether it’s helped us im­mensely to keep the traf­fic mov­ing very ef­fi­ciently through the in­ter­na­tional ter­mi­nal.”

But the one thing that Miller feels is sure to ap­peal to all pas­sen­gers trav­el­ing in­ter­na­tion­ally through ATL is the new bag­gage re-check process.

“Prior to the open­ing of the new ter­mi­nal, when pas­sen­gers went through US Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion on Con­course E, it was nec­es­sary to re-check your checked lug­gage. That meant go­ing through se­cu­rity again, then rid­ing the train up to the do­mes­tic ter­mi­nal to pick up your lug­gage from the bag­gage claim area. That alone could add 45 min­utes to an hour on your clear­ance time. So it’s has re­ally been a bless­ing for us and is work­ing very well.”

Other in­te­rior changes pas­sen­gers will ap­pre­ci­ate in­clude an in­crease in ver­ti­cal cir­cu­la­tion on Con­course D. Sched­uled for com­ple­tion in spring of 2014, the ex­pan­sion will al­low a smoother flow of pas­sen­gers com­ing in an out of the con­course; the same plan on tap for Con­course C.

And since 70 per­cent of all pas­sen­gers are mak­ing a con­nec­tion and typ­i­cally have 60-90 min­utes to kill in the air­port, pop­u­lar new in­ter­ac­tive di­rec­to­ries are fur­ther sim­pli­fy­ing nav­i­gat­ing the air­port, to help trav­el­ers find ameni­ties that in­clude re­tail, food and bev­er­age con­ces­sions and new pre­mium lounges, in­clud­ing Delta’s new Sky Club on Con­course F. An­other op­tion, the At­lanta Chop­House restau­rant fea­tures pri­vate meet­ing rooms for small or large groups. Its lo­ca­tion in the Atrium prese­cu­rity makes it ideal for meet­ings with lo­cal as­so­ciates who aren’t trav­el­ing.

Down to Earth in At­lanta

Ac­cord­ing to Mark Demi­dovich, as­sis­tant state traf­fic en­gi­neer with the Ge­or­gia Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion traf­fic op­er­a­tions, At­lanta’s bad traf­fic rep­u­ta­tion is more bark than bite.

“There are far worse places in the US where one can get stuck in traf­fic, ”Demi­dovich ex­plains. “Pub­lic trans­porta­tion con­nects many of the busi­ness trav­eler’s es­sen­tial trans­porta­tion nodes, in­clud­ing the air­port, Down­town, Mid­town and Buck­head. ”He points out that while At­lanta has the rep­u­ta­tion of be­ing an aw­ful traf­fic city, it tends not even to make most Top 10 Lists of ‘bad traf­fic’ cities across the US, far­ing bet­ter than smaller places like Austin, TX, and Bridge­port, CT, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent story in USA To­day.

Rib­bon cut­tings cer­e­monies galore are ex­pected around Cen­ten­nial Olympic Park, with the open­ing of two cul­tural at­trac­tions, the Col­lege Football Hall of Fame and the National Cen­ter for Civil and Hu­man Rights. “Also in 2014, the new At­lanta Street­car will be­gin con­nect­ing vis­i­tors of the at­trac­tions around Cen­ten­nial Olympic Park –in­clud­ing the Ge­or­gia Aquar­ium, CNN, the World of Coca-Cola and the Chil­dren’s Mu­seum of At­lanta – to the Martin Luther King Jr. His­toric Site, ”says Coun­cil­man Hall.

Con­cern­ing the city that has also be­come a haven for ‘food­ies,’ Toro says, “Eight of the top 10 law firms in At­lanta re­side in Mid­town. So you see a lot of ex­ec­u­tives fre­quent­ing the restau­rants in the five­block ra­dius of Peachtree and 14th Street, which is Main and Main, At­lanta, GA. That’s where the cen­ter of grav­ity is, if you look at the high-rise res­i­den­tial den­sity, the con­cen­tra­tion of cul­tural and recre­ational fa­cil­i­ties and the con­cen­tra­tion of of­fices and ho­tels, ”he ex­plains. “Loews Ho­tel is rel­a­tively new. You’ve got the Four Sea­sons, a W Ho­tel and a num­ber of other ho­tels serv­ing that mar­ket. Peo­ple who come to At­lanta to do busi­ness are ea­ger to take a cab, check into their ho­tel, do busi­ness and then walk to din­ner. You’re see­ing a lot of that on Cres­cent Street. A new seafood restau­rant called Lure, is one of many in the area, fre­quented by both busi­ness trav­el­ers and in-town lo­cals.”

And while Toro’s “Main and Main” is doused with a plethora of great eater­ies, in­clud­ing STK, he be­lieves the steak­houses in Buck­head still rule the roost with most top-drawer law firms.

“But you’re see­ing west Mid­town restau­rants such as Ford Fry’s con­cepts, in­clud­ing King + Duke, now in Buck­head. Fry has two other con­cepts in Mid­town, in­clud­ing JCT Kitchen and The Op­ti­mist, which was voted num­ber one new restau­rant in the US by Esquire. (theop­ti­mistrestau­rant.com) Busi­ness trav­el­ers are seek­ing a lo­cal restau­rant ex­pe­ri­ence that’s not the clubby steak house. They’re seek­ing to find that young, new hot chef with a con­cept that’s res­onat­ing with the in-town com­mu­nity,” Toro con­cludes.

And when it comes to sushi, Buck­head’s Czar Ice Bar boasts one of a hand­ful of the world’s mas­ter sushi chefs – Chef Saito Saito, as the ge­nius of sushi. Visit czarice­bar.com.

And fi­nally, do not de­part At­lanta be­fore grab­bing a Sub­lime Burger from Cy­press Street Pint and Plate in Mid­town. Fea­tured on food shows and net­works galore, this deca­dent burger of beef, topped with ched­dar cheese, caramelized onions and strips of ba­con is sand­wiched be­tween two glazed dough­nuts made ex­clu­sively by At­lanta’s pre­mier dough­nut shop – Sub­lime Dough­nuts. Visit cy­press­bar.com.

For more de­tails visit at­lanta.com. BT

Op­po­site page: Sky­line At­lanta, Ge­or­gia Be­low: Mil­len­nium Gate tri­umphal arch at At­lantic Sta­tion in Mid­town At­lanta

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