When Mehmet Ozelci’s family first opened a restaurant in Buckhead’s Village about 15 years ago, it was a different kind of place than it is now.
“Back then, if we had 40 people enter the restaurant in an entire day, it was an OK day,” he said. “We didn’t have too much of what you’d call a real clientele.”
But the place has changed. Things are bigger, brighter, busier. The nighttime party scene has moved on and pricey shops have moved in. The 24-year-old Ozelci has watched the village at the heart of Buckhead grow and grow up: High-rise offices, high-rent apartments, fancy restaurants and international shops now tower above the village’s streets.
As the neighborhood changed, the Ozelci family’s restaurant, Cafe Agora, outgrew its space. The family moved the restaurant a couple of blocks down East Paces Ferry Road about 18 months ago. It now occupies a building Ozelci estimates is five or six times larger than the one it started out in.
But Ozelci, who now helps manage the cafe, believes the growth in his business comes from the neighborhoods around the village, not the towers rising around him. He says he doesn’t expect the new buildings will translate directly to big changes in his business’ bottom line. “A little bit, but not as much as people say,” he said.
Still, he welcomes the changes. “The more restaurants, the better,” he said. “We’ve been around so long that people who are going to come to Cafe Agora are going to come to Cafe Agora.”
In 2016, he’ll see more newcomers in the neighborhood. Redevelopment of Buckhead Village is expected to continue. New office buildings are planned along East Paces Ferry and hundreds of new apartments are rising on Pharr Road and next to the Buckhead Theatre on Roswell Road.
Developer Robin Loudermilk credits the burst of new development to the arrival of Buckhead Atlanta and the work done by and before that multi-block, mixed-use project, now called The Shops Buckhead Atlanta.
Loudermilk, who grew up in Buckhead, said that by the late 1990s, the village had deteriorated and needed new investment. “The Buckhead Village had outlived its useful life,” he said. “All the buildings were out of code. There was no infrastructure. Nobody wanted to pay any money in it. It had just outlived its useful life.”
In 2011, California-based developer OliverMcMillan took over the property that originally had been put together by another developer for a project to be called The Streets of Atlanta. OliverMcMillan renamed the project and started building. The Shops include a variety of restaurants and high-end boutiques, and a spokeswoman for the company says others, including Dior, are coming. The project includes about 125,000 square feet of offices, OliverMcMillan said.
“We’re kind of surrounding OliverMcMillan,” Loudermilk said. “That’s what it needed. It needed a master developer.”
Loudermilk says his company now plans to develop two office buildings on East Paces Ferry, in the shadow of The Shops Buckhead Atlanta. One will be a medical office building and the other a general office building. At the same time, Hanover, an apartment developer, is building about 375 apartments in a six-story building between Buckhead Avenue and Pharr Road, and another 300-plus apartments in a building on Roswell Road next to the Buckhead Theatre.
“My strategy was to surround Buckhead Atlanta, to complement it,” Loudermilk said. “I’m certainly not trying to compete with them.”
OliverMcMillan welcomes the development springing up around its project. “We recognize that just as our development has a positive impact on the adjacent developments, their projects will benefit others, bringing even more opportunities, synergies and life to the neighborhood,” the company said in a statement.
Loudermilk says that despite the new towers, he doesn’t feel like Buckhead Village
is changing all that much. It’s still the neighborhood where he grew up. “The physical structure and traffic, all that’s changed. But the people and the community and the bars, they’re still here. … It’s changed physically, but culturally, I don’t think it’s changed all that much. It’s just caught up with the times.”
He predicts Buckhead Village will become the next Midtown, an area where people live and walk to local shops and restaurants.
For Cafe Agora, that could mean more customers strolling in.
Ozelci says it’s simple: “The more people walking around, the better,” he said.