Revitalize (verb): to give new life to
By: Liz Gillespie, Partner and Vice President, North American Properties
After decades of suburban flight and the neglect of city centers, downtown communities across America are experiencing a renaissance. People of all generations are migrating to urban cores in search of walkability, convenience and unique entertainment, shopping and dining experiences. This trend has ignited a new wave of downtown revitalization efforts, including in our own backyard in Midtown Atlanta.
In the late 1800s, Midtown was one of Atlanta’s finest neighborhoods with beautiful homes lining Peachtree Street. Post-World War II led to a downturn in Midtown as people left the city for Atlanta’s growing suburbs. In the 1960s, Midtown was best known for its unsavory streets and underutilized land – a wasteland between Buckhead and Downtown.
Then, a few urban visionaries reclaimed the neighborhood and began its resurgence. In 1973, Colony Square became Atlanta’s first mixed-use project, led by Jim Cushman, who recognized this location would one day be Main and Main in the heart of Atlanta. The project consisted of two office towers totaling 719,402 square feet, 162,953 square feet of retail space, as well as residential condos and a 467-room hotel. Colony Square was built internally facing, shielding itself from the unsavory streets. The concept for Colony Square was forward thinking. And despite the questionable neighborhood, Cushman’s vision for Midtown’s bright future led him to put a stake in the ground at what has become one of the densest intersections in the Southeast.
Since the opening of Colony Square nearly 50 years ago, Midtown has emerged as the vibrant arts and innovation hub of Atlanta – a coveted location for new class consumers looking for walkability, access to public transit and diversity of experiences. Midtown’s 1.2-square mile district holds 15.5 million SF of Class A office space and 65,000 jobs, and its population has grown at a rate 5 times faster than the city of Atlanta. Currently there are 49 new developments under construction. Midtown has become the heartbeat of Atlanta, and it continues to grow stronger as the evolution continues.
Our team acquired Colony Square in December 2015 with plans to transform the existing, outdated buildings into an experiential mixed-use community. Instead of razing the storied property, we decided to breathe new life into it through reimagining both the software and hardware. While our design team worked to reimagine the hardware, we immediately started activating the software through placemaking, social media, branding, events, pubic art and the creation of a central community-gathering place. After 200+ interviews with community members and stakeholders, we landed on a new brand and purpose: Colony Square will embody The Art of Modern Life.
These artful community activations and placemaking initiatives – including the installation of the 40-foot MIDTOWN sign – have rekindled Colony Square’s soul – breathing new life into this dated project. This fall, construction will begin on the first phase of the redevelopment, and the interior space will become an open-air and connected community, with plenty of outdoor dining, unique shopping and entertainment, community-focused events and programming and comfortable places to gather.
The revitalization of buildings like Colony Square will ultimately benefit the entire urban core by attracting new companies, retailers and people near and far to shop, dine, live, work and explore. One of our newest tenants, WeWork, represents the shift in office space preferences: employers seek cool, walkable places with natural amenities and access to transit where they can attract and retain top talent. Retailers are also looking to locate in experiential mixed-use communities that complement their brands and create street-level energy. For example, Veda Juice has opened a stand at Colony Square, providing complimentary juice tastings at Colony Square’s free weekly yoga series, Yoga on the Square. Ultimately, our residents, office tenants and guests are looking for diversity of experiences – to enjoy the art of modern life in the heart of Midtown.
The revitalization of Colony Square is just one chapter in Midtown Atlanta’s story. We must continue on the journey towards becoming a city with a healthy heartbeat – a healthy urban core – by looking for opportunities to grow our built environment in smarter, more sustainable ways.
As a Partner and Vice President at North American Properties, Liz Gillespie is known around the office as the “idea volcano.” Liz recently spearheaded the marketing strategy for Avalon, a $1 billion mixed-use community in Alpharetta, Georgia. Her bold efforts to deliver “The Avalon Experience” contributed to the property’s highly successful grand opening, with 98 percent of the 380,000 square feet of retail space leased. Since opening in 2014, Avalon has won numerous awards and set a new standard for urban, experiential design in a suburban setting. Most recently, Liz leads marketing for the reimagining of Atlanta’s original mixed-use project, Colony Square, and the new mixed-use community set to anchor the Infinite Energy Center in Gwinnett. Liz has more than 25 years of experience in commercial real estate marketing, and is recognized by Bisnow as one of the top 40 most powerful women in Atlanta commercial real estate. Her approach has won numerous awards, including 22 ICSC MAXI Awards, which honor the highest caliber of marketing, community outreach, sales promotion and new media efforts within the U.S. retail real estate industry, and she is an ICSC Certified Marketing Director (CMD).
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