Urban Living - Construction Junction

Home Base: Raising the roof on the Westside

Scattered rubble, vacant lots and dangling cranes signal the entrance to Atlanta's suddenly trendy Westside. Though the scenery may be unpolished, the neighborhood's extreme makeover speaks to the fact that it's quickly becoming a hot spot for hip shops, restaurants and lofts.

A few years ago, describing the Westside, with its rough reputation and weathered appearance, as trendy and hip would have been laughable. But recently, some keen individuals have harnessed the area's industrial charm. And particularly in the part of town that stretches between Atlantic Station and the outlet stores along Chattahoochee Avenue, they've cultivated a new kind of lifestyle for Atlanta.

"I saw this area as underserved and really ripe for development," says Jennifer Johnson, owner of West Egg, one of a series of popular restaurants along Howell Mill Road and Marietta Street, including Bacchanalia, Spoon and Osterio Del Figo. "I was excited about the chance of hopefully being a part of what I saw as good development."

Octane, a popular Westside coffeehouse, sits just down the street. Owner Tony Riffel found that the Westside's gritty industrial character offers an ambiance not found in other Atlanta neighborhoods.

"It feels like it's still kind of on the edge," Riffel says. "There's some unique and creative things happening here, so people feel like they're kind of finding something new when they come to this area. It's very Brooklyn for Atlanta."

Unlike the city's bungalow-filled, purely residential neighborhoods, lofts dominate the Westside. From the King Plow complex's historic brick lofts to candy-colored loft townhomes at M West, the buildings hint at a future ripe with an urban sensibility and mixed-use developments.

"We are still a bit industrial, which I love," says Allison Mitchell, a 1016 Lofts resident. "And there is still room for growth here, and that's exciting, because this side of town is being developed, but not yet overdeveloped."

Behind its rugged exterior, a strong sense of community is bellowing up from the Westside. Neighboring stores and coffee shops are working together on upcoming art galleries and music shows. Johnson laughed as she explained how she's come as close as she can get to literally borrowing a cup of sugar from Riffel at Octane.

"The Westside for me is the ideal area of Atlanta to live," said Ben Helfen, a local resident who shares a townhouse off Marietta Boulevard with some friends. "It can sometimes have all the warmth of a small town, but also the perks that come from living in a big city."

The Essentials on the Westside

TRANSPORTATION: I-75, right by the new Wal-Mart at Howell Mill Road and Northside Drive, is the closest interstate. MARTA (404-848-5000, www.itsmarta.com) services the Westside with bus route No. 12 to Georgia Tech, Howell Mill shopping centers, and the medical complex off Northside Parkway. Route No. 1 runs along Howell Mill Road and Marietta Street, hitting parts of Chattahoochee Avenue and Georgia State University, too.

HOUSING: Loft developments dominate the Westside landscape. The King Plow Arts Center rents lofts zoned residential and commercial from about $1,700 a month for 1,100 square feet to about $4,600 a month for 3,300 square feet. M Street Apartments' loft-style units go for $949-$1,050 per month for one bedrooms, and $1,350 for two and some three bedrooms. Available one bedroom, one bathrooms at 1016 Lofts start at $1,140, and two bedroom, two bathrooms at $1,445.

NEIGHBORHOOD HIGHLIGHT: The Howell Mill Road-Marietta Street intersection has become the tight locale for some great mom-and-pop retail spots and restaurants. Octane (1009-B Marietta St., 404-815-9886) mimics its industrial surroundings with exposed brick and metal surfaces, and offers great coffee and high-gravity beer selections. Across the street, Luxe (1000 Marietta St., Suite 102, 404-815-7470), and its newest sister store, 1.five.0, offer designer retail at a lower cost. Right next door, Toscano & Sons Italian Market (1000 Marietta St., Suite 106, 404-815-8383) serves up tasty panini and doubles as a deli, filled with imported cheeses, meats and wine.

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