Mayor John Ernst said the city of Brookhaven is not seeking to bring the new Amazon headquarters to Buford Highway after initial talks were in play to submit Northeast Plaza as a potential site.
“There really is not much there anymore,” he said. “It was a great exercise with the Economic Development Department to come up with a plan in such a short amount of time. We knew it was an extreme long shot of getting it.”
After Amazon announced Sept. 7 it was seeking a site for its second headquarters, dubbed HQ2, cities across the state and Georgia scrambled to make pitches for the $5 billion development that promised 50,000 jobs.
City officials reached out to the owners of Northeast Plaza, a strip shopping center on a 41.5-acre piece of property on Buford Highway, to seek a partnership to make the bid. The owners declined, however.
Gentrification and redevelopment are threatening Buford Highway’s regional attraction as a multicultural corridor well-known for its restaurants, including the displacement of the many immigrants who work and live there. Ongoing debates have led to numerous studies about how to ensure the cultural diversity of Buford Highway is maintained as new development comes in.
“That was one of our selling points,” Ernst said. “The diversity and the fact it is international … we were celebrating the corridor as a selling point for that.”
Trying to come up with a bid offer to submit to the state was an exercise, Ernst repeated, for the city to determine if it could think in such big terms as attracting a mega-project such as Amazon.
He did the state from what he understood the state was going to pick three to five areas to Amazon by its deadline today, Oct. 19, but was not at liberty to say what those properties are until after the state makes its own announcement.
On the question of transparency and not seeking community input for trying to bring such a massive headquarters to Brookhaven, Ernst stated simply, “No economic development has much transparency.”
“Because real estate deals can’t be talked about,” he said.
While city officials have stated they want to be sensitive to gentrification coming to Buford Highway, Ernst said he and the council are facing an “extremely difficult scenario.”
“Gentrification is already occurring,” he said. “We’re trying to come up with a solution. We formed the Affordable Housing Task Force, we will probably do some kind of [zoning] overlay there. But the goal I have is how do we replace buildings and keep the people? It’s an extremely difficult scenario.”
Ernst said developers approach him “all the time” about wanting to build on Buford Highway. He said “massive turnover and ownership” of its apartment complexes mean that at some point owners are going to make a decision based solely on money.