A Look at The Evolution of Atlanta’s Creative Loft Office Market
By: Jeff Pollock, Owner and Managing Principal, Pollock Commercial
Back in 1999, when I entered the business, there were only a handful of creative loft office options in Atlanta. Projects such as Zonolite, Stove Works, The Biltmore, Southern Dairies, King Plow Arts Center, Carriage Works and a few others started to take shape, but they were not on the radar of most “corporate” tenants. Local developers, such as my previous firm, Parkside Partners, as well as Raulet Property Partners, Urban Realty and Cross-Town, were leading the charge delivering new, adaptive reuse projects throughout the intown Atlanta submarkets. These projects offered authentic architecture with concrete floors, exposed ceilings, skylights and outdoor amenity spaces and performed extremely well from an occupancy and rental rate perspective. The tenant mix was comprised of mostly local entrepreneurs with company sizes from 5-25 employees and space requirements from 1,000-10,000 square feet.Once Ryan Gravel’s vision for The Atlanta Beltline started to gain traction around 2005 and construction was underway, it seemed that the entire Southeast started to see the potential benefits of having a pedestrian and bicycle friendly thoroughfare connecting some of the most desirable neighborhoods in Atlanta to Piedmont Park (with future expansion around a 22 mile loop). Residential development and retail surged until the economic downturn in 2008-2009 temporarily stalled development and construction.
In 2011, Jamestown announced Ponce City Market, a comprehensive adaptive reuse mixed-use development of the 2,100,000 square-foot building used by Sears, Roebuck and Co. from 1926–1987 and later by the City of Atlanta as “City Hall East.” Ponce City Market opened in 2014, and, in addition to apartments and retail, it delivered a world-class food hall and more than 600,000 square feet of loft office space. Jamestown retained more than 70,000 square feet for its own corporate offices; and, premier companies such as Athena Health, Cardlytics, Mailchimp, Cox Enterprises and others committed to long term leases at record-setting rental rates.
All the while, the development, brokerage, and business communities were paying attention, and a new era of development has been underway in Atlanta ever since. Virtually every owner in town has been feverishly trying to capture the creative office magic that these early projects and Ponce City Market have delivered. Dropped ceilings are being replaced with exposed ductwork and open plans, outdoor spaces are being converted to accommodate putting greens, bocce, corn hole and communal seating areas, and landlords are also offering more, recurring programming for their tenants with food trucks and other events.
This new energy is not limited to in-town and just along The Beltline, West Midtown has exploded with office options, and so has Brookhaven, Chamblee and The West End. As for the suburbs, North American Properties, the developer who acquired and reinvented the retail at Atlantic Station, launched a major suburban mixed use project, Avalon on 86 acres in Alpharetta, just 18 miles north of Atlanta’s urban core. In addition to brand new, Class A office space, the project includes more than 500,000 square feet of retail, a movie theater, a full-service hotel, single-family residences and high-end apartments with an emphasis on unique programming throughout the year for residents and the community at large. Needless to say, it too has attracted a number of premier office tenants.
Now the newest phenomenon that is changing the creative office market is the emergence of co-working spaces. The largest operator of shared spaces in the world, Regus, with dozens of locations in Atlanta, is reinventing their brand with a new concept called SPACES. Newcomers to this concept include players like WeWork and Industrious, in addition to the number of local operators such as Strongbox and ROAM. These companies are seeking to capitalize on the entrepreneurial trend of employees leaving larger firms in order to provide their expertise and services as independent contractors. These facilities offer flexible lease terms and amenity-rich spaces and programming with the goal of creating a sense of community among their tenants. There are also co-working opportunities that have found success through more specific programming and services. Atlanta Tech Village, TechSquare Labs, Switchyards and The Gathering Spot focus on helping to launch startups through coaching, funding and providing other resources designed to help their occupants grow and prosper.
Atlanta has truly emerged as a leader in numerous technology verticals and benefits from a diverse economy of corporate headquarters, creative services firms and financial service providers. We are growing at a pace of well over 100,000 people per year, and with powerhouse educators such as Emory, Georgia Tech and Georgia State, we continue to attract companies seeking to capitalize on our innovative and well-educated local talent.
The creative loft office market has matured from a small niche product type to a mainstream category with high demand. There are dozens of new projects underway; and, we look forward to watching these trends continue to evolve and working with landlords and tenants who recognize the value of creating energizing workspaces that reflect their core values, culture and brand.
Jeff Pollock is the owner and managing principal of Pollock Commercial, an Atlanta-based commercial real estate services firm founded in 2009. Jeff has represented both tenants and landlords and focuses on helping his clients maximize the value and utility of their real estate.
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