By John Schaffner
editor@reporternewspapers.net

Sandy Springs native Joel Griffin’s development company, The Griffin Company, plans to build MainStreet Sandy Springs, the first major mixed-use residential/retail/office project on Roswell Road, in the heart of the area city officials have designated as the city’s Town Centre.

The $75 million project, on a 5.24 –acre site in the 6000 block of Roswell Road that includes the Bank of America building, will include 75,000 square feet of professional office space, 50,000 square feet of retail shop space and 280 luxury residences. Griffin said the plaza along the drive in from Roswell Road will be a focal point of the development.

There will be five levels of residential above the retail. None of the buildings will be over six stories total and because they fall within the 90-foot height limit, no rezoning is required.

The company will be offering the office building as potential space for a city hall for Sandy Springs as part of the city’s request for information due from developers by June 6.

Construction will begin the third quarter of 2009. According to Kirk S. Demetrops, president of The Griffin Company, it will be “a rolling development” that will deliver finished space in phases over the time period from third quarter of 2010 to fourth quarter of 2011.

The Griffin Company is partnering on the project with Wood Partners, which will develop the residences, and Sandy Springs-based Forum Development Group, an industry leader in delivering upscale specialty retailers in mixed-use developments.

“We hope it encourages the whole transition of Sandy Springs,” Griffin said. “We have a formidable task to convert three or four miles of strip shopping centers into a city. We never really had a city. We have to start somewhere and we feel this is the right way to start — in the center and let it grow out. Do it right. Do it with quality and to have city hall there would be great,” he added.

“Rather than just dream about what we would like to do, we now have an actual plan and a workbook and we are moving down the road,” Griffin stated.

“This is kind of a pinnacle for Joel on the tail-end of his career,” Demetrops said. Griffin is 62.

“The last several years has been about us moving to a mixed-use developer from primarily an office developer,” the young company president explained. “This is a really integrated town center deal that we want to do in the heart of Sandy Springs.”

The Griffin Company made an offer for the site in November of 2004 and purchased it in January 2006. The site is bordered by Northside Tower to the south, Hilderbrand Court to the north and Boylston Drive to the east.

Existing on the site is a 1960s-era six-story office building, with the Bank of America branch on the first floor, a parking structure in the rear, a United States Postal Service sorting facility and a KFC/Pizza Hut. Griffin plans to remove all of the buildings, except the KFC/Pizza Hut. A former Checkers fast-food drive-thru has already been removed.

Griffin said he has a special fondness for the building with the bank branch in it. “My oldest brother was with C&S Bank and was sent there to work about 1966 or ’67. I went by to see him a couple of times and he said you need to meet this young girl over here that just got out of college. I met her, and I married her when I got out of the service. We’ve been married 37 years.”

The site really doesn’t abut any neighborhoods, but it is close enough for people to walk here. Within easy walking distance are a Trader Joe’s, Target, CityWalk, Whole Foods and Parkside shopping center.

“We are going to tracking upscale retail shops. They certainly can be convinced that this is an active retail trade area,” Demetrops said.

“We want to set the standard for redevelopment in downtown Sandy Springs,” he stated. “In all of Sandy Springs, up and down Roswell Road, there has been very little new development in the past 10 to 15 years. We wanted to promote connectivity. We want to have people crossing through our site.” If things get bigger, we can connect to the north or south.

He also said they want to create a “sense of place. We want people to pull in here and know that they are in our development and interact with other people (and) have a pedestrian feel, a true mix of uses.”

Demetrops explained, “For years, from a retail perspective, Perimeter Mall took care of the area. But in the last five years, the whole mall interest for people has changed. People want a different experience. Perimeter Place is right across the street from Perimeter Mall. It is Sembler’s deal that has been very successful. It creates a main street.”

Demetrops added that The Griffin Company, “consciously years ago made the decision that Perimeter Mall is more Dunwoody-based and more regional and that Sandy Springs really needed a high-end, mixed-use deal. We think true Sandy Springs is on Roswell Road. And, we think it is north of I-285 and south of Abernathy,” he continued. “We think that is the heart of Sandy Springs.”

He said the company tried to center in on the best geography and infrastructure “and settled here, right between Hammond Drive and Mount Vernon. Boylston Drive is sort of a hidden secret. It is sort of a back alley that goes to Hammond and Mount Vernon.”

The development will be set up to connect to the shopping center to the north and set up to be a grid street format for the city of Sandy Springs.

The parking deck will be in the back where there is a severe grade change which drops over 40 feet. No one will see the deck from Roswell Road. It is completely hidden by the retail and residential up front.

“We have had some conversations concerning a performing arts theater in one of the buildings,” Griffin said. “This is a now deal. We are actually going to break ground. I don’t know that they are going to have time to do their fundraising and get their long-range vision in place.” But he said he certainly invited them to come back to talk at a later date.

Griffin was asked about an option the company had on the Hilderbrand Court center to the north of his site. The Griffin Company apparently recently dropped that option believing there was enough critical development mass available on the site the company owns.

“When we first bought this property, we did some preliminary sketches and made sure we had the critical mass we needed,” Griffin explained.

“I think it is going to be one of the first opportunities really for people to live in the city part of Sandy Springs and have a true pedestrian experience,” he said. “We are going to have that great feel of nice residences and shops and people eating on the sidewalks, but you are going to be able to walk to Whole Foods, walk to Trader Joe’s, it’s two blocks. We have got to start doing that. Maybe at some point there is an adjacent property that gets one of these great movie venues, where you can have a glass of wine, dinner and a big screen.”

He said he knows they will have a lot of eateries in the development. He does not see it having any big chain type retailers. “There is not room for it and it is not the feel we are looking for. We see shops that have a lot of frequency—a gathering type of place such as a bookstore—strong local tenants.”

Griffin said Sandy Springs has “a lot of great little tenants. But they are not all together. They are all spread out. It is going to be an opportunity to have those shops that people are just lured into. It’s let’s go to lunch at MainStreet, and then there will be some shopping that takes place.”

Griffin said the market will tell them whether the residential will be condos or apartments. “Wood Partners has done the best of both.”

Jimmy Gaugnon, director with Wood Partners, said, “Wood Partners and The Griffin Company have been major players in the market for years. We have admired their work and can’t think of a better opportunity to joint venture on this incredible project in the heart of Sandy Springs. I am sure that the synergies of our two companies will make this a truly signature development.”