Georgia Tech reshaping the future of Midtown skyline

Atlanta Business Chronicle by Doug Sams, Staff Writer
Date: Friday, November 11, 2011, 6:00am EST
Related: Commercial Real Estate, Education

Georgia Tech’s new 200,000-square-foot building has become the forerunner of more science- and technology-led development that will ultimately reshape the Midtown skyline.

Tech, in fact, is already considering plans for future projects on Spring Street, as the economy and commercial real estate development pipeline continue to rebound slowly.

Tech has concepts for the expansion of its Technology Square at Spring and the Fifth Street Bridge, a second phase that would be anchored by a 24-story, 700,000-square-foot building featuring a high-performance computer modeling and simulation center, said Kevin Green, Midtown Alliance president and chief operating officer.

Technology Square is the landmark mixed-use project Tech launched more than 10 years ago that includes academic buildings, Starbucks and Barnes & Noble. It is intertwined with its sister project, Centergy One, home to the RBC building, and Tech’s Advanced Technology Development Center, its incubator for startup companies.

Centergy One was developed by Georgia Tech alum Kim King, who worked closely on the project with former Tech President Wayne Clough.

No site has been chosen for Tech Square’s expansion, but somewhere on Spring Street is under consideration, said Howard Wertheimer, Tech’s director of capital planning and space management.

The Georgia Tech Foundation earlier this year gained ownership of the SunTrust Banks Inc. branch on Spring Street at Fourth and West Peachtree, another sign that Tech was extending its reach into the heart of Midtown and moving its campus closer to its collaborative partner, Emory University.

The site could be an option, Wertheimer said.

Tech Square’s next phase isn’t the only project in the early planning stage.

Seven Oaks Co., Kim King Associates and The Brookdale Group have about 7 acres along Spring Street where they hope to capture rapidly growing startups.

Seven Oaks founder Bob Voyles said San Francisco’s expanding social media companies offer a glimpse of similar possibilities in Atlanta, and the entrepreneurial talent might come out of Tech’s graduate programs.

“We think Tech is going to be a tremendous catalyst for us and for Midtown,” Voyles said. “The important thing will be retaining that talent in Atlanta. We think we can create a project that can help do just that.”

Voyles is working on a master plan for the project that would appeal to Generation Y workers who attend Tech and want to live and work in Midtown.

In the past decade, Midtown has received a lot of attention for its ambitions to create blocks of new street-level retail on Peachtree, generally known as the Midtown Mile.

It saw a spate of new condos and office towers rise along the city’s most famous street. But, metro business leaders want to bring more science and technology companies and their high-paying jobs to reinvigorate the economy. Midtown could become a big part of that effort, with Emory and Tech helping lead the way.

Tech’s new engineered biosystems building at 10th and Atlantic, for example, should create stronger partnerships with the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. That could spur economic development linked to bioengineering.

“Science and technology is a focus for this state, and Midtown is going to be well-positioned for companies that choose to locate in Georgia,” Green said.

Midtown Alliance, an influential group of business leaders, has given Tech and Emory a greater role in planning the district’s future, a decision spearheaded, in part, by Larry Gellerstedt, CEO of Atlanta’s Cousins Properties Inc. and chairman of the Alliance’s executive committee. Michael Mandl, Emory’s executive vice president of finance and administration, now sits on that board. So does Steven Swant, who holds a similar position at Tech.

“Larry recognized the future of Midtown was going to involve the expansion of Tech and Emory,” Green said.

Tech has been one of Midtown’s biggest drivers for growth for more than a decade. Since the Olympics, Tech has developed and acquired about 7 million square feet across its Atlanta campus and in Midtown, Wertheimer said.

Its most high-profile project in Midtown is Technology Square, a $180 million development that expanded Tech’s reach across the Downtown Connector.

“We don’t have any natural barriers like other cities, but we created one in the Connector,” said John Dewberry, the former Tech quarterback turned developer who has some 25 acres of land holdings and buildings in Midtown. “Clough had the vision to cross that barrier. It has been probably the most meaningful development in Midtown.”

Several developments could start along Spring Street in coming years, Green said. Tech’s latest project, he said, is just further proof that the school is going to help fuel much of that momentum.

Douglas Sams covers Commercial Real Estate Georgia Tech reshaping the future of Midtown skyline.