By John Schaffner
Developer Ben Carter may be tweaking some plans for The Streets of Buckhead project, but he remains very optimistic about the success for the Buckhead Village redo. Touting 45 percent of the project’s retail being leased, Carter is confident of a November 1, 2009 opening.
The Buckhead Reporter directly asked Carter about rumors floating around that Ben Carter Properties might pull back from plans for the former Three-Dollar Café site at Pharr and Peachtree Roads and hold off on presenting plans to Neighborhood Planning Unit-B (NPU-B) for two major parcels in the project.
“We actually spent a lot of time evaluating the Three-Dollar Café property,” Carter explained. “It is a great site. Our development plan was to do about 300,000 feet of office there. But the office market in Buckhead has gotten a lot weaker in the past six months.”
He pointed out that the largest component of the plans for the site was office space, with only 80,000 square feet of retail. He added there presently is 1.7 million square feet of vacant space in Buckhead.
“I just wasn’t comfortable with the risk of building a spec office building in today’s office market in Buckhead. So we elected not to go forward with that,” he said.
Carter indicated he still would like to do an A-plus office project on the Three-Dollar Café site when the market turns around if it is still available.
“I hope one of these days we can build a nice office building on that site,” he said, “It is a great site and it would be one of the only office buildings in Atlanta that is right next to a neighborhood, has three hotels within walking distance and 20 restaurants within walking distance.”
Carter said he thinks such a development would be ideal for boutique office tenants, “like ones that are in the project I did on Northside Parkway called The Forum and the one Mack Taylor did called Buckhead Plaza. Both of those have filled up with 5,000 and 10,000 foot privately held companies,” he added.
“I think there will be a great demand for an A-plus office build on the Three-Dollar site. I just think the market conditions now are not the best to be building a new office building in Buckhead,” Carter said. “We will readdress it as soon as the market improves a little bit from a vacancy standpoint.”
Carter said the high-end movie theater with full restaurant originally planned as part of the Three-Dollar Café site will be relocated within the development.
“We are now laying the theater out in one of our parcels along Buckhead Avenue. The theater is not out of the picture,” he said. “I just signed a deal with a really high-end bowling alley. So we are going to have a bowling alley and a five-star theater.”
Both, presumably will be in the center core of The Streets development.
Rebuking the rumors that Ben Carter Properties may be pulling back on its plans, Carter stated, “we are about 45 percent committed in our leasing right now and every thing is going super.”
Explaining further the decision to abandon the Three-Dollar Café site, Carter said the involved theater and retailers prefer to be in the heart of the development.
“That site is actually cattycorner to what we are doing and not on the same side of the street,” he said. “(They) haven’t lost any retail interest.”
Carter said he does not have an option on the property but that the Bradshaw family, which owns the site, “were very cooperative with us.” Carter actually developed The Peach shopping center for the Bradshaw family several years ago. “We maintain a great relationship. I hope that if somebody else doesn’t buy it, we will have an opportunity to in the future.”
Carter also responded to questions regarding requested deferrals before NPU-B related to two other major parcels — Parcel F on the north side of East Paces Ferry Road and Parcel D, which stretches along North Fulton Drive between Pharr Road and Buckhead Avenue.
“We own parcel F in entirety,” he explained. “We have looked at expanding that parcel. The reason we have deferred going to planning is to see if we can work out a way to logically add some acreage to that.”
“On D, the NPU leadership would like for us to come in at one time on D and F,” he said. “So, until we figure out whether we want to add property to F or not, we have put off the entitlement process for both of those properties.”
He also explained that Ben Carter Properties own half of D; the other half of D is under contract.
“We own all of F and are negotiating to expand F,” he stated. “Once we get that finalized then we will go back in front of the NPU. We are looking at probably mid-summer to do that.”
Asked about the land prices for The Streets of Buckhead properties, Carter said he doesn’t need to pay the high prices for land anymore, suggesting the present economy has helped in that respect.
Carter said the economy has not had a major impact on leasing activities for The Streets of Buckhead. He said the retailers he is dealing with have wanted to be in Atlanta for some time. “We don’t open until 2009. People are more cautious, but I think most business people think that by 2009 we will be back to good times.
“Luxury retailers don’t do but about one deal every three to five years,” Carter explained. “It is not like they are a national retailer with 1,000 stores and have to turn on and off the spigot.”
Asked if any of tweaking now taking place in The Streets of Buckhead development might result in any delay of the announced opening, Carter emphatically stated, “My scheduled opening date is November 1, 2009.”
Once completed, the plans for The Streets of Buckhead call for an 800,000 square foot mixed-use development with nearly a half-million square feet of retail and restaurant space, hotels and luxury residential units. Construction began in 2007 and presently is progressing on Parcels A, B. and C.