After years of being overlooked by developers, high-profile projects are coming to Grove Park, a Bankhead neighborhood on Atlanta’s Westside.
Westside Reservoir Park will be the city’s largest park when it opens in 2019. Work will start on a segment of the Atlanta BeltLine in the next few years. And now, real estate development company Urban Creek Partners has announced plans for Quarry Yards, a 70-acre mixed-use development next to the Bankhead MARTA Station on Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway. The development will include 850 residential units, a 300-key hotel and space for offices, retail and restaurants.
Quarry Yards’ 27-acre, $400 million first phase will break ground by the end of 2018. It comes to a neighborhood where less than two years ago, 41 percent of homes were vacant, and about the same percentage of residents were impoverished, according to Atlanta Magazine.
Mark Teixeira, former Atlanta Braves first baseman and MLB All-Star, serves as founder and partner of Urban Creek. He spoke with Crain’s Atlanta about how he got involved with Quarry Yards and the project’s work on affordable housing and cleaning up nearby Proctor Creek.
How did you get involved with this project?
I went to Georgia Tech and in 2008, a friend of mine from Georgia Tech – Joel Bowman, who’s one of our partners – called me up when I was playing with the Braves and said, "Hey, I know you’re interested in real estate. I have a really interesting opportunity on the westside, west of Georgia Tech." Because of the financial crisis at that time, a guy who was part of a land bank had defaulted on a loan and they had asked if I could come in and help out this land bank, this group of people that were kind of putting old, industrial, vacant land together in West Atlanta. And I said, 'Sure, it sounds like a fun opportunity.'
As soon as I actually went and saw what the investment was, what the area of town was, I just fell in love. I fell in love with Proctor Creek. I fell in love with the bones of the neighborhood.
Back in 2008, [Joel] said, "Atlanta’s going to expand." And if you really look at where it can expand most economically, it’s the Westside. Because of the Fifth Street Bridge and because of Technology Square, Midtown had started getting expensive. The Eastside had started getting expensive, and when you looked at the Westside just kind of being a blank canvas, he had the foresight to know that people were going to want to live on the Westside within the next 10 years. And here we are 10 years later.
Why is there a focus on Bankhead and Grove Park?
Quarry Yards is the only development site in all of Atlanta that has MARTA, the BeltLine and a major park all in the same spot. So we are on all three of those, and it’s completely unique in the city of Atlanta. So when you put those three things together – and even though there’s not much there now – when you look at the growth and you look at just since our announcement [in February], the amount of developments that have been announced around our area, it’s just everyone was ready for that community to thrive. That’s why our place is unique.
And then you add Proctor Creek running through there, which is just a beautiful amenity. So you want it to be an amenity for the community of Quarry Yards, but you also want the water quality for the Chattahoochee River. So by cleaning up Proctor Creek and improving the water quality, we’re creating a boon for everyone in the southeast that drinks water out of the Chattahoochee River and Lake Lanier.
Forty percent of the pollutants from the city of Atlanta that run into the Chattahoochee River come from Proctor Creek. It just makes sense. We’re creating sustainable water treatment for the entire Proctor Creek basin by activating our area and not just letting it be a concrete wasteland.
What plans do you have for the residents who live in Bankhead and that area now?
You have to separate what we can control and what we can’t. And what we can control is creating affordable housing units. So we have a proposed project for 200 units just south of Quarry Yards on land on the southside of Donald Lee Hollowell…We’re actively trying to figure out exactly how that deal works.
The second thing is that we’re fully committed to the 15 percent of affordable housing in all of our apartments that we do. [Editor’s note: The City of Atlanta requires developers of certain neighborhoods, including Grove Park, to dedicate units to people making 60 to 80 percent of area median income. Developers can pick between making 10 percent of units available to 60 percent area median income or 15 percent of units to 80 percent area median income.]
Now, we’re not apartment builders, but all of our partners know that part of a deal with us is you’re committed to building affordable housing. What we can’t control is all of the neighbors in the area. That’s policy. So what we’re trying to do with policy is we’re trying to work with AHA [Atlanta Housing Authority], BeltLine, City of Atlanta, Invest Atlanta. We’re trying to work with all of these groups to have a comprehensive strategy to make sure that people that are in their homes can stay and their rents don’t get too high or their taxes don’t get too high. And we’re just going to do our small part to be good stewards of the entire community.
Could you tell me more about the 200 units?
We’re talking with the AHA right now to create 200 senior affordable units, which to me is when you talk about the most at-risk residents in Bankhead right now and in Grove Park right now, it’s seniors. A lot of the residents aren’t going to get new jobs or aren’t going to be working up the ladder. They need to be able to stay in this community that they’ve lived in their entire lives. So that’s why we wanted to do the first deal as a senior deal: to make sure that these residents are not kicked out by rising rents and rising taxes.