Final talks with developer for 31-acre lot site near Beltline could begin next month

Site could reconnect southwest Atlanta neighborhoods


The nonprofit owner of a 31-acre vacant sea of asphalt along the Atlanta Beltline in southwest Atlanta is close to starting negotiations with a master developer.

Nine years ago, charitable organization Annie E. Casey Foundation purchased the 31-acre site at 352 University Avenue on the southern edge of the Pittsburgh neighborhood. Potential plans for the site, which have included both light-industrial and mixed-use developments, screeched to a halt during the Great Recession. Last year the foundation, which focuses its efforts nationwide on helping families in low-income neighborhoods, said it remained “absolutely committed” to the project. Now with the economy rebounding, foundation reps have worked toward finding a development team to partner with on a site that’s brimming with potential.

Natalie Keiser, interim director of neighborhood transformation at AECF, last night said at a community meeting that the process has narrowed down to two development teams in recent months. She said AECF could start negotiations with one of the two master developers by the end of April. Those talks could take “a few months” to finish but ultimately hinges on the speed of the negotiation process, she said.

According to Keiser, a development team will be chosen based on its financial strengths, track record on similar projects, and ability to turn the site into a job-creation hub. The master developer’s willingness to have an open community process will also play a role in the group’s selection, she says. Keiser declined to say which developers are finalists but added that both finalists have presented plans to community reps.

What will the site look like? 352 University Avenue project consultant Charles Whatley says the ideal development partner would bring high-quality jobs to the area through a healthy mix of industrial and non-industrial companies of different sizes.

Whatley said that not relying on a single corporation to anchor the development is a strategic move. It could buffer the community from business closures and help avoid a situation similar to what happened when General Motors shut down its Doraville plant. The businesses could include light manufacturing, maker spaces, tech and science centers, among other options.

If all goes according to plan, Keiser says, the site can reconnect the surrounding neighborhoods — Peoplestown to the east, Pittsburgh to the north, Adair Park to the west, Capitol View to the southwest, and Capitol View Manor to the South — and provide convenient access to other parts of the city with Beltline trails and eventually the Streetcar.

Once AECF finishes negotiations with a development team, the work shifts toward site planning, finding the right investors, and eventually site construction. Whatley says the 31-acre site could take between 7 and 10 years to fully build out when taking into account various parts of the public process. The project will eventually require some environmental remediation — some “spot cleanups” but less than initially expected, Whatley says — that will take place with the Environmental Protection Agency’s assistance.