In a day when land and labor are becoming too expensive to build new homes, one developer in Norcross is pitching an idea to convert a vacated office campus into a 10-acre, mixed-use development within walking distance to downtown.
The office park housed employees from the paper and packaging giant Rock-Tenn, who merged with Virginia-based MeadWestvaco Corporation in 2015 and announced last year it was moving its employees to Sandy Springs. Soon the campus could actually be houses.
The plan under consideration would include 292 multifamily units, 65 townhomes, shared office and workspace, shops, restaurants and a public park. This would be another large attraction for the small city east of Roswell. City leaders had led the charge for a 6.8-acre development at the corners of Lillian Webb Park that included two new parking decks, and three- and four-story multi-use buildings that included retail, office and residential.
As a city, Atlanta has kind of matured in the way developers and planners are having to think about new projects. The old way was to buy large tracts of land and build your uses separately. You can see evidence of that all throughout the suburbs where there are large neighborhoods filled with hundreds of homes, right next to large strip malls filled with shops and restaurants. Back then, the solution when you ran out of land was to move farther out. But it could be that we are finally going too far out.
There are very few desirable large tracts of land available anywhere within 20 miles of I-285. So developers are having to get more creative by either trying to fit more onto smaller lots or making due with what is there.
Cost for this type of development is much more expensive than when buying raw land. When a developer puts new buildings on raw land, they have a blank canvas, and the only thing they have to knock down are the trees. With an existing development, the costs are much more if they have to remove the building and all of the underground infrastructure. To do this and still make a profit, developers need to increase the density on the lot. So many are trying to figure out how to make due with what is already on the property.
The most significant project by far in the metro area that exemplifies this is Ponce City Market in Atlanta. It is a 2.1-million-square-foot building that used to serve as a Sear’s warehouse before becoming Atlanta City Hall East for a time. It was converted to office, retail and restaurant space and today is filled with tech companies who love the “food hall” concept and the fact that the Atlanta Beltline runs literally right through it.
The Rock-Tenn property currently exists as several four-plus-story brick buildings scattered throughout a large parking lot. It sits just less than a half mile from downtown Norcross heading south and behind several new high-end residential developments.