Towers Add to S. Cobb Push to be Metro Hub

Two planned high-rises next to new arts center overlooking I-75 are expected to create intown atmosphere


DATE: November 3, 2006
PUBLICATION: Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The (GA)
EDITION: Main; The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

As part of a grand effort to create a citylike professional and social center in south Cobb County, a developer has won the right to build a prominent pair of high-rise buildings beside a new performing arts center and overlooking I-75.

A company tied to developer John Williams, a key donor who helped finance the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center, plans to bring an intown flavor to the suburbs by creating a walkable focus of activity near the venue.

Williams’ Grove Street Partners plans a 15-story office building and an 18-story hotel-condominium tower, as well as ground-level restaurants, shops and a central plaza.

The towers would complement the $145 million arts center, set to open next year as the new home of the Atlanta Opera, and the burgeoning Cumberland-Galleria area, home to corporate headquarters such as The Home Depot and Russell Athletic.

The proposal comes amid a flurry of development that’s establishing the district as one of metro Atlanta’s major hubs, said Bob Voyles, a developer and member of the Cobb-Marietta Coliseum and Exhibit Hall Authority, which is building the arts center.

Developers plan a 35-story luxury condo tower at Cobb Parkway and Cumberland Boulevard, Cumberland Mall has just enjoyed a significant face lift, and the Galleria Mall is due for a redesign. The area one day could be home to a mammoth $93 million bus transit station elevated above I-75.

As metro Atlanta’s population grows, certain key areas in the suburbs begin to build up, Voyles said. “It’s the logical pattern of growth — you have additional downtowns.”

Grove Street Partners, in which Williams is an investor, beat out two other developers, Cousins Properties and Colonial Properties Trust, in a bidding process to develop 5 acres of surplus land next to the performing arts center.

The seven-member Cobb-Marietta Coliseum and Exhibit Hall Authority, which bought the site for parking three years ago, chose Grove Street last month.

Grove Street was the high bidder in the process, offering to buy the site from the authority for $12.5 million, compared to $10 million offered by Cousins and $8 million by Colonial. The authority is now negotiating a contract with Grove Street.

Williams founded Atlanta-based apartment builder Post Properties. He is one of the Cobb Energy Center’s most generous benefactors, last year pledging $10 million of his own money to make the hall a reality. The center’s theater will be named the John A. Williams Theatre in his honor.

Williams also is a former chairman of the Cobb coliseum authority, a body created by the state. He served on the authority board from 1986 to 1992.

Earl Smith, the authority’s current chairman, said he did not think Williams was too close to the project for one of his investment companies to be awarded the rights to build the mixed-use center next door.

“We had three good proposals and all three were acceptable,” but in the end Grove Street was willing to move faster to build the project, Smith said. “It’s like the old saying, ‘A bird in the hand …’ They’ve got something they think they can put there and move forward.”

The authority set up the bidding process to be fair, Smith said. “We handled it very well,” he said.

The $170 million Grove Street development is in line with Williams’ propensity for the new-urbanism school of design. It includes a tree-lined “grand boulevard” leading to the arts center.

The hotel-condo building will include 200 hotel rooms in 12 floors and 38 condo units, according to the company’s proposal. The office tower is described as having 350,000 square feet of office space.

An artist’s rendering shows people eating and drinking coffee at outdoor tables as couples stroll on a broad sidewalk.

Arts center officials said they sought proposals that would create a minicity around the concert hall, providing a place where people could grab a drink or a bite to eat before or after a show.

“It’s an exciting concept, very pedestrian-friendly,” said Michele Swann, general manger of the coliseum authority. “It definitely lends itself to someone coming to theater to come early and have dinner.”