Birth of a Neighborhood
Charles Brewer's gamble raises the bar for intown development
Ever since Glenwood Park's groundbreaking in January 2003, the 28-acre, mixed-use development between I-20 and north Ormewood Park has been showered with accolades.
It's won national and international awards from environmental and development groups, including the Congress for the New Urbanism, the Greater Atlanta Home Builders Association, and the Georgia Conservancy.
Southern Living magazine picked Glenwood Park as the permanent home for its 2005 Idea House, built with environmentally friendly materials and energy-efficient appliances. At the neighborhood's opening ceremony June 18, Mayor Shirley Franklin undoubtedly will shower Glenwood Park with more praise.
A lot of the buzz about Glenwood Park centers on its builder, Charles Brewer, the self-made millionaire who founded Internet service provider MindSpring out of his Ansley Park home in 1994.
Brewer proved he had a knack for making money with MindSpring, which he grew into the nation's second largest Internet provider in just six years. He was known for instilling a rare sense of loyalty among MindSpring customers and employees, with a set of core beliefs that valued people as much as profits. He resigned in August 2000, after his company merged with California-based EarthLink.
He was a maverick CEO, and he's not your typical developer, either. Building a neighborhood from scratch takes a lot of money - and carries a lot of risk.
When completed in late 2006, Glenwood Park will have 50,000 square feet of shops and restaurants, 20,000 square feet of offices, and a park with a small pond and playground. Its 350 condos, townhouses, and single-family homes will create, Brewer hopes, what will feel like the center of a small, Southern town.
Most of Glenwood Park's shops are underneath apartments. The streets are narrow, the sidewalks wide, and the houses close together. There's also a town center plaza with a fountain, called Brassfield Square.
About 20 percent of Glenwood Park's construction is complete. The rest will take another year-and-a-half to finish. All of the 23 single-family homes that have been finished either are sold or under contract. The same goes for the nine completed townhouses and 15 of the 18 apartments. Another round of townhouses and single-family homes will hit the market over the next two weeks. What's more, 14 of the 17 office spaces have been leased.
"When you come out your door, you're somewhere. You don't have to go get into your car and drive off every single time," Brewer says. "There are things to do, whether it's walk to the park, go to the coffee shop down there, or just mix with your neighbors."
That's what makes Glenwood Park different from other mixed-use developments being built in Atlanta. But that's also what could hurt it.
The Sembler Co.'s project on Moreland Avenue is a big project with a lot of retail space and little residential. Highland Walk on Highland Avenue is a big residential project with a little retail thrown in. Atlantic Station has a retail-residential mix comparable to Glenwood Park, but its scale is far larger. Atlantic Station is a mixed-use city; Glenwood Park is a mixed-used neighborhood.
"It's quite unusual," says David Goldberg, a spokesman for Smart Growth America. "I'd say it's the first new development in metro Atlanta that really lives up to the aspirations of new urbanism and smart growth."
Josh Chamberlain, a computer programmer with Scientific-Atlanta, and his wife, Jenny, moved from Mableton into a 2,100-square-foot townhouse in Glenwood Park last month. "Sometimes in the suburbs you tend to get the same mix of people you are always hanging around, and we enjoy the diversity of the different people and their different ideas," Chamberlain says.
Sounds nice. But it's also a radical departure from traditional development in Atlanta. And there's no precedent that says Brewer will be able to pull it off.
Developments like Glenwood Park have been successful in other places, such as the village of Seaside, Fla., the City of Villages in Concord, N.H., and Harbor Point in Boston. But Atlanta is strictly a car town. And creating a development where the car is demoted to second-class citizen is a substantial wager - especially when the developer isn't a real developer.
Nor is Brewer an environmentalist. His brainchild, Green Street Properties, is a development company, after all. He's an entrepreneur, walking the thin line between capitalism and environmentalism. Rarely do those two "isms" mix successfully.
Brewer spent a minimum of $11 million of his own money on Glenwood Park. And even though early sales have been brisk, Brewer still faces some significant challenges. "I'm the biggest investor, so there's some ongoing financial exposure there," he says.
One major challenge is filling the development's retail space. Only two retail tenants - a Latin restaurant called Babalu, and Perk, a coffee shop - have signed leases. Brewer says discussions with several retailers and restaurateurs are underway. But none of the spaces in Glenwood Park are big enough for a grocery store such as Publix or Kroger. Brewer purposefully designed the neighborhood that way, but the plan could come back to haunt him. The Sembler Co.'s development on Moreland Avenue, with a Target, Kroger, Lowe's and Best Buy, will likely lure the bulk of shoppers - and other retailers - attracted to the area.
But Goldberg says, "I think it is going to be a success in terms of its design, and I'm pretty sure it's going to be a market success. It's kind of a new way of putting all the pieces together, and the retail may take longer to establish itself."
Goldberg says he thinks other developers will look to Glenwood Park and - if it's a success - will follow suit.
"The intown and inner suburban markets are pretty hot now for urban style development," he says. "I think the early projects like Glenwood Park that do a good job will be emulated."
Glenwood Park's grand opening will be held June 18 from 2-5 p.m. The neighborhood is located at the intersection of Glenwood Avenue and Bill Kennedy Way (formerly the Glenwood-Memorial Connector). For more info, visit www.glenwoodpark.com.??