Galleria shops to close down – Mall to become mixed-use area

Richard Whitt – Staff
Thursday, March 31, 2005
It’s time to say goodbye to the Galleria Specialty Mall. Most of its customers already have.

The Cobb-Marietta Coliseum and Exhibit Hall Authority wants to turn the mall into a mixed-use development that would help subsidize the new Cobb Energy Centre for the Performing Arts.

The arts center, under construction and scheduled to open in 2007, will need $1.5 million in operating subsidies in each of its first five years, according to a financial forecast by KPMG, the national audit, tax and advisory firm.

The authority, created in 1980 by the Georgia Legislature to operate the Galleria Centre, is seeking ideas from developers on what to do with the mall. The board has set a deadline of April 29 for proposals and hopes to
select the winning design by the end of May.

“Instead of dictating all the criteria, we have given a broad license to developers,” said Robert P. Voyles, an authority board member. “It could include a mix of residential, retail, office and a hotel.”

The seven-member Galleria authority board is made up of elected and appointed officials, including Smyrna Mayor Max Bacon and Marietta Mayor Bill Dunaway, and is chaired by businessman Earl Smith.

The conversion at the Galleria mall is part of sweeping changes to the Cumberland Community Improvement District, the 5 1/2-square-mile business park that is beginning to see major residential development projects.

Once a vibrant retail center with an array of specialty shops, the Galleria Specialty Mall had already begun to lose its glitter when the authority bought it in late 1999.

“Our motivation [to redevelop the mall] was to protect our asset,” said authority CEO Michele Swan. The mall is adjacent to the authority’s highly successful convention center and across from the new arts center, which the
authority also will operate.

The movie theater complex shut down a year ago when a multiplex theater opened near Cumberland Mall. Ruby Tuesday’s appetite for its Galleria location diminished shortly after that, and the restaurant chain pulled out.
Then Winfield’s Restaurant shut down, and other closings followed.

The mall is now 62 percent leased, with five leases ending this year, two in 2006 and one in 2007. The remaining leases are month-to-month, according to Swan.

“We see this property as being totally underutilized,” said Cobb Commission Chairman Sam Olens, an authority board member.

Voyles said a mixed-use development would create employment and be a better economic generator than the mall. “What was the highest and best use in the 1980s is not the highest and best use today,” he said.

Some of the expected increase in revenue from the redevelopment will go to support the day-to-day operating expenses of the new $106 million arts center.

The facility is being built with $57 million from the sale of bonds, money raised through the sale of naming rights ($20 million to date) and $11 million from the authority and corporate donors.

The bonds will be repaid with proceeds from the county’s hotel/motel tax.

The challenge at the mall, as envisioned in the request for proposals, is to “create an engaging, pedestrian-friendly environment that will attract residents, shoppers and diners . . . by offering a variety of activities.”

The development plan should include cafes, boutiques and village-style building facades with benches, wide sidewalks, streetlights, landscaping and street furniture such as water fountains, and public art fronting on Cobb Parkway, the authority said in its request for ideas.

Condominiums would be sold fee-simple and the remaining land will be leased to the developer for 50 years with negotiated extensions.

The authority chose the mall for redevelopment because of its “potential strategic impact, suitability for redevelopment, marketability and the surge in economic development in the Cumberland-Galleria area,” according to the
request for proposals.

“What’s exciting is that we’re at the crossroads of northwest Atlanta,” Voyles said. “You’re allowing people to key off of an address.”