Atlantic Station, prepare for your spellbinding transformation into the ‘anti-mall!’

Will this “smart-growth” development ever find its identity?


  • EPA Smart Growth/Flickr

Ah, Atlantic Station. You transformed yourself after decades as a polluted steel mill into one of the smart-growth movement’s success stories. But you never quite found your identity — you’ve been described to me as lacking soul and feeling “like a movie set.” And the new owners of your retail district say it’s time for a makeover.

North American Properties, one of the new owners of Atlantic Station’s 534,000-square-foot retail area known as “Town Center,” says it’s going to re-imagine the site as the “anti-mall” — a move we’re sure will ruffle the feathers of downtown Decatur and Little Five Points, two walkable neighborhoods that brand themselves as “mall-ternatives.” So sayeth the Atlanta Business Chronicle (Sub. req’d.):

The knock against Atlantic Station in recent years is that it tried to be all things to all people — a regional shopping center, a thriving bar scene, and a tourist attraction. But it failed to tap the demographic that defines Midtown: dense (155,000 people within three miles of Atlantic Station, 355,232 within five miles), affluent ($92,500 average household income) and young (average age, 35).

North American Properties Managing Partner Mark Toro, a Midtown resident and member of the Midtown Alliance, is convinced that those shoppers are under-served. His team believes they can make Atlantic Station a mecca for all the intown neighborhoods, from West Midtown to Virginia and Poncey Highland to Old Fourth Ward.

“We want a plan that resonates with all of them,” Toro said.

That plan, the Chronicle says, could include bringing in new retail options and ushering out nightclubs over the next several years. Among other fixes under consideration, via a January NAP press release:

“The strategic plan includes a new retail mix, enhanced security and improved parking experience, an emphasis on local restaurants and alliances with the center’s Midtown neighbors — from groups such as Midtown Alliance and Piedmont Park Conservancy to employers like Turner Broadcasting System and Coca-Cola to universities such as Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) and Georgia Tech.”

The new owners are reaching out to “the youngz” via social networks and blogs to learn what their target market desires. (What Now Atlanta? has already solicited readers’ opinions about what the new owners should — and shouldn’t — do.)

And since we’re obviously young, uber-rich and... uh... dense, we politely offer our own suggestions. Please stop playing music over loudspeakers. Bring in local retailers. And even though Atlantic Station is private property, please don’t make it feel so much like private property. Loosen things up a wee bit. Don’t try to foster a sense of community from the top like so many overnight developments have done. Let the area do that for you. Or else it’ll feel like a Potemkin Village. And that grass in the park — is that real?