By John Schaffner
editor@reporternewspapers.net

Ben Carter was “about halfway ready to retire and go around the world…cut back and have a good time” when he met with Buckhead Alliance President Robin Loudermilk in December of 2005 and heard a vision for a renewal of the Buckhead Village.

That brought an end to his retirement plans he recently told those attending the quarterly breakfast meeting of the Buckhead Alliance, as he disclosed many details of his $600 million plan for renewal of six blocks of the rundown, mostly closed down, Village into a mixed-use development of upscale retail, luxury residential units and high-end hotels.

Specifically, what Carter plans for his portion of the Village, which he has renamed “Buckhead Avenues”, is 500,000 square feet of retail and restaurants, three hotels—a 6-star 100 room hotel with 24 condominium units, a 4-star 300-room hotel with 70 condo units, and a trendy boutique hotel with 200 rooms—and two multi-family residential developments with 600 units for sale and/or for rentals. He envisions it sort of becoming Atlanta’s and Buckhead’s answer to Rodeo Drive in Hollywood, California.

Although he did not disclose many of the retailers or restaurants his firm is courting for the project, Carter did tell the group it might include a Dean & DeLuca grocery store and that he is in discussions to possibly have the very first Elton John Piano Bar there. He said the restaurants would be of the caliber of the very finest you would find in Manhattan and the retailers would include the high-class fashion houses of Fifth Avenue, Rodeo Drive, etc.

Carter said there are only 20 places in the world that would compare to what he envisions for Buckhead Avenues.

He said he began working with Loudermilk and developers and land owners such as Steve Selig, David Oliver, the Fisher family and others and said that “without their investment in security and holding buildings vacant, buying property, there is no way we could have been here today.”

Carter has assembled 21 properties, over seven city blocks since January of 2006, “over $200 million in land,” he said. “It has been absolutely the most complicated thing I have ever done in my life.” He said the most complicated aspect was convincing property owners that they wanted to participate.

Carter said his firm presently is in the process of helping a number of the retailers relocate. He said “unfortunately our plans call for demolition of everything and putting parking underground,” and that demolition will begin this summer. There is no way to work around the existing retailers that are there he added. “A lot of them have been very cooperative. Some are disappointed they cannot remain in the project. But almost all realize this is a great opportunity for the city.”

Carter said construction will begin in October and he envisions a grand opening for much of the competed project two years later in October 2009.

Atlanta City Councilmember Howard Shook, who represents much of Buckhead, described Carter’s plan as a “very sweeping proposal to reinvent several blocks of the Buckhead Village.” He explained to a recent meeting of the Buckhead Business Association that the project is retail mostly retail that will front the street and provide a welcome, refreshing, much-needed change to a pedestrian-oriented shopping experience, with nice sidewalks, street trees and street furniture. He said the plan calls for “parking underground and parking decks that we have been asking for for years.

“We will be plowing under business establishments that, frankly, have created agony for years,” Shook stated. “It is looking good so far and I am very excited about it. This will remake the Buckhead Village into an image that I think we have been asking for.”

Jeff Shell, chairperson for Neighborhood Planning Unit-B which represents the neighborhoods surrounding Buckhead Village, told the Buckhead Reporter it is amazing that such a dramatic change can be proposed for the redevelopment of Buckhead Village and not require any zoning changes to increase densities. He pointed out that the amount of retail proposed for the new Carter development is actually less than was allowed and present in the Village’s former life.

Shell said there are those in the surrounding neighborhoods who liked the “quaint charm” of what was the Village, although they were not pleased with some of the crime and roudy behavior that was prevalent in its recent history. However, he said most residents realized change is inevitable and the village would take on a new character.

The NPU-B chair said one concern he is hearing from the residential neighborhoods is whether or not Buckhead and Atlanta can support the type of high-end retail that Carter is seeking to place in the new development. “There is concern that if there is not enough business for these retailers to make it, that we will simply have empty storefronts again, although nicer storefronts,” added Shell, who works for the Hardin Company in its retail development division.

Shell told the Buckhead Reporter he believed the Carter group would be coming before NPU-B in March to discuss the scope of the planned development. However, there were three separate items on the February 6 NPU-B agenda, each of which seeking a special use permit for the development of a hotel, which listed Buckhead Avenues Development Co., LLC as the applicant.

Carter described the development in parcels, with the Parcel A being between Pharr Road and Buckhead Avenue and fronting on Peachtree. He said there is about a 30-foot grade level difference between Pharr Road and Buckhead Avenue, which provides the opportunity for a parking deck. That would come up to a plaza at the elevation of Buckhead Avenue. He said there would be two-level retail fronting the streets and there are plans for a hotel there.

Parcel B would include about 50,000 square-feet of ground level retail and a 100-room 6-star luxury hotel on top and about 24-32 condominiums

Parcel C includes the Capitol Grille building, which stays where it is, and is planned for the third hotel.

“This is a labor of love,” Carter told the audience at the Buckhead Alliance breakfast.

Ben Carter Properties is responsible for over $1.1 billion of retail and office projects since 1993, when the company began.