By David Pendered
Three acquaintances sat on a sunny patio on a recent weekend and talked about how much they enjoy spending time at Village Place Brookhaven.
They also wondered how well the mixed-use development on Dresden Drive will weather the dour economy.
An agent of the developer, Dan Woodley Communities, said in an interview that all indications point to the project being on solid financial ground. Woodley did not return a telephone call or an e-mail seeking comment.
But the three folks sitting at a coffee shop couldn’t miss the “for rent” and “for sale” signs that festoon the community of condos and commercial space for shops and restaurants. Some buildings are under construction, and three more phases are planned.
“I’m worried about the shops that are open now until things get better and they get more traffic,” said Maureen Foley, who bought a brownstone in Village Place 18 months ago. “We need more people coming here during the day to shop.”
Kristin Ray, who bought a loft in Village Place 6½ years ago, said business is holding up at the restaurants and day spa. She said weekends at the Natural Body Spa are so busy that she’s still trying to get an appointment.
Larry Bushwick, who commutes regularly to Village Place from his home in the Lindbergh area, said the recent opening of Library Coffee Co. is a good sign. He said he prefers it to Starbucks, partly because staffers don’t rush to throw discarded newspapers into the trash and he can read them free.
Patricia Queen, a sales manager for the homes at Village Place, said the overall project is standing up to the economy in part because of its location in a stable neighborhood. Still, condo prices have been reduced to start under $200,000, and Queen said all offers will be considered.
Queen said retailers at Village Place benefit from the area being different from some mixed-use developments in metro Atlanta. The commercial tenants are not dependent on people who bought homes in the development, she said, as is the case at developments in blighted or exurban communities.
“The demographics in Brookhaven are so strong, with an average household net worth of $743,000 a year,” Queen said. “Everything is cooking but home sales, and we really do think the market is turning. At one site we had 64 pieces of traffic, which was double the week before.”
Asking prices for homes in the surrounding area show little evidence of the downturn in the housing market. Prices appear to remain at the level they achieved during the past eight years, when buyers flocked to neighborhoods inside I-285.
Developers responded to that demand by building along thoroughfares in north Buckhead, where land prices were relatively affordable. Woodley is building Village Place, the Sembler Co. is developing Town/Brookhaven, and Beazer homes developed a large tract east of MARTA’s Brookhaven/Oglethorpe Station.
A town house in the Fernwood Park neighborhood, east of the Brookhaven station, is on the market for $485,000. A newer house in Ashford Park, north of Village Place, is priced at $599,000. A ranch house built in 1951 in Ashford Park just listed at $270,000, which is $45,700 more than its value as appraised by DeKalb County’s Board of Assessors.
Queen said leases have been signed for new shops and restaurants, including J. Christopher, Verde Taqueria and an upscale tavern being developed by Taco Mac. Prices for meals likely will be lower than at two mainstays in the development, Haven and Valenza.
Lower prices will be welcome, Foley said.
“Haven is worth what it’s priced, but it’s $50 or $60 till you get out of there,” Foley said, adding that she’s a regular customer. “You can’t go there every night.”
Those levels of retail prices are the major challenge facing mixed-use developments such as Village Place, said Carl Meinhardt, an urban planner and developer who has overseen similar concepts, including M West along Marietta Boulevard and Meeting Park in Marietta. Those developments did not attract the diversity of tenants Meinhardt said is necessary to support the homes.
“New retail space at places like this goes for such high rates that it’s difficult to get the mom-and-pops,” he said. “The basic tenancy ends up being restaurants, and more expensive restaurants, because in theory they can pay the rent.
“The question becomes how many restaurants you can have in a place where you really want a shoe repair and newspaper place and a dentist, a place to get a sandwich or piece of pizza, and a place to buy eggs and a loaf of bread.”
Foley and Ray said they wish Village Place had a more diverse array of shops. But both hastened to add they are a short drive to any number of quick casual restaurants along Peachtree Road and to the full-size Kroger grocery store.
Foley also stepped up to commend a store in Village Place for its range of prices.
“The gift shop, Davonshire, has a very unique mix,” she said. “They have serving pieces for $18 next to serving pieces for $80, and you can’t tell the difference. They do a great job.”