A performing arts center, high-end condominiums and finding ways to include workforce and affordable housing in new developments are things Brookhaven City Councilmember Joe Gebbia would like to see on Buford Highway.
The city can also use its leverage, likely through the Brookhaven Development Authority, to assemble and purchase property along the rapidly changing corridor to ensure certain kinds of development are included, he said.
Gebbia, whose district includes Buford Highway, made a presentation he titled “Controlling Our Destiny” to the City Council and city administrators at the council’s Feb. 3 retreat at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta Perimeter at Villa Christina. The presentation laid out some specific ideas he’d like the city to take an initiative on this year as developers continue to eye ways to build along the corridor.
“We’ve been talking about development here for years … and I’ve continued to be disappointed with products developers have brought to Brookhaven,” he said.
Gebbia said he would like to see a performing arts center built at North Druid Hills Road and Buford Highway, in the quadrant where a Chevron gas station is currently located.
There are five parcels of land in this area owned by three different property owners, he said, and an assemblage of the property by the city in some way — perhaps through the Brookhaven Development Authority — could help make the performing arts center a reality.
“On this plot … a developer has asked me about putting up townhomes here,” he said. “But does that make the best use of the land? No. What do we do with Buford Highway? You set the tone for what you want. If you do townhomes, you set the bar low. Let’s put the bar high, put the message out … and that’s why I suggest a performing arts center.”
He has estimated in the past that a performing arts center could cost between $300 million and $400 million.
Gebbia also wants to establish an arts commission to determine what kind of performing arts center is viable for Brookhaven and Buford Highway, should the City Council agree they want to move in that direction.
Funding for an arts commission could come from the city’s recent sale of 6.27 acres of right-of-way to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta for $10 million. The right-of-way for Tullie Road and Tullie Circle are to be used by CHOA as part of its massive hospital campus expansion at North Druid Hills Road and I-85.
City Manager Christian Sigman is recommending to the council that of that $10 million, the city put $6 million into the city’s general fund balance to earn points toward a AAA bond rating. Of that $6 million, a restriction would be put on $2 million to serve as a something akin to a trust where an estimated $20,000 a year in interest could be used to fund an arts commission to see if a performing arts center is viable for Brookhaven, he said. The remaining $4 million would be used for the construction of the Peachtree Creek Greenway that runs along Buford Highway.
Gebbia said the North Druid Hills Road and Buford Highway intersection is also a great place for high-end condos “with a phenomenal view of downtown.”
He also said he’d like to see the city find a way to assemble the property, perhaps also through the Brookhaven Development Authority, from the North Druid Hills intersection along Buford Highway up to where the Lips nightclub is located, and decide what to put on the property.
“My recommendation is we handle this property as MARTA attempted to handle its property [at the Brookhaven-Oglethorpe MARTA station]. We put out a request for proposal and get control of our destiny,” Gebbia said.
“This area is defining for our city. This is ground zero [for redevelopment],” he said.
Many of the apartment complexes along and near Buford Highway are 40 and 50 years old, Gebbia noted, and will likely be sold to developers in the coming years. He said the Park Towne North apartments on North Cliff Valley Way just north of Buford Highway is for sale for about $50 million, for example. The complex, built in 1964, has 492 units and is in dilapidated condition.
“It’s gonna go,” Gebbia said. And with it, the many people living there.
The city can use its leverage to request developers include work force and affordable housing in any new development on this site, he said. And the city should also require developers to give residents a standard 120-day notice to move out.
“The downside of a project is relocation. When you give short notice, [the residents] end up moving into worse conditions … and that impacts education and poverty,” Gebbia said.
“We owe it to [the city] to try to take steps to protect the people staying there and also to make it possible for the owner to sell,” he said.
Gebbia estimates Buford Highway will see up to $3 billion in investments in the next decade. CHOA’s construction of its Center for Advanced Pediatrics and recently approved plans to build a $1.3 billion hospital at its North Druid Hills campus will bring investments and redevelopment along Buford Highway, he said.
More development will also come with the future development of Executive Park, he said. In 2016, Emory University purchased 60 acres of Executive Park but has not revealed to the public what it plans to do with the property. Emory Healthcare and the Atlanta Hawks teamed up to build a new 90,000-square-foot sports medicine and practice facility in Executive Park that opened in February.
Corporate Square will also see new development, he predicted, and with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention planning a massive expansion on its Chamblee campus on Buford Highway, more development will come.
“What is setting this whole thing ablaze … is the Peachtree Creek Greenway,” he said. Plans are to break ground perhaps as soon as April on the first mile of the Greenway between the Salvation Army headquarters property at Corporate Boulevard to the REI at Briarwood Road.