December 2, 2011
By Barbra Murray, Contributing Editor
Plans are in the works for a major mixed-use, multi-modal transportation hub in Atlanta and Forest City Real Estate Asset Services is onboard to spearhead the gargantuan project. Tapped by the Georgia Department of Transportation, Forest City is joining forces with Cousins Properties Inc. and The Integral Group to shuttle the 119-acre development from the beginning to the end of the line.
“This will be one of the biggest transit-oriented developments in the country,” Emerick J. Corsi Jr., president of real estate asset services for Forest City, told Commercial Property Executive.
Forest City and partners will oversee the fee-based master planning for the endeavor, performing a host of duties from synchronizing planning, engineering and architectural activities to orchestrating stakeholder involvement in the effort. The end product will sprout up on a sprawling site in Atlanta’s Gulch area, a neighborhood thirsty for redevelopment, within close proximity to such major destinations as the Georgia Dome and World Congress Center.
Specifics of the project are far from being set in stone, but the general idea is to erect a 24/7 community with residential offerings, office accommodations, retail space and recreational venues. Of course, the main feature of the endeavor will be a transportation network linking the rail and bus lines of the Metropolitan Atlanta Regional Transit Authority and other transit entities in a central spot allowing people to come and go from near and far without getting behind the wheel. And when commuter rail, local light rail, regional high-speed rail and streetcars make it to the area, they will also be connected to the site.
When completed, the development aims to induce the wide-eyed admiration of other traffic-burdened cities like Los Angeles. Once the pieces for the Atlanta venture fall into place, including both developers and financing, work will begin on a project that will alter Atlanta and, quite likely, influence other large cities that have not planned on transit-oriented developments, or TODs, to the same extent.
However, many cities have already gotten on the TOD bandwagon. In late September, ground broke on Miami Central Station, part of the $2 billion Miami Intermodal Center undertaking. At the end of august, the Denver secured a $1 billion federal grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation and Federal Transit Administration to help move along the city’s nearly $7 billion FasTracks transit expansion program.
It’s a slow-moving trend that is destined to pick up speed and become the norm, but it’s going to take time, Corsi believes. “The federal government is behind the eight-ball,” he says, “and you’re seeing a grass-roots system in the United States start with the city. So if you go into most major metropolitan areas today, cities that have light rail are increasing their light rail because one, it has to do with people who want access to transportation where they can get to point A to point B quickly and two, the price of gas. So I can see TODs as something to stay.”
As for the Atlanta project, Forest City’s role beyond the master-minding has not been nailed down just yet, but the company will certainly have its hands in some of the actual development activities. “We can have the option to move forward and do the entire development,” Corsi says, “which would be too big for any one person or any one company to take on.”
It won’t be Forest City’s first time at the rodeo. The company has been the force behind a bevy of TODs across the country, including Atlantic Center in Brooklyn, Westfield San Francisco Centre and, in its hometown of Cleveland, the Avenue at Tower City Center.