The struggling and ridiculed mixed-use complex called The Shops Buckhead Atlanta likely will be renamed Buckhead Village – matching the old nightclub neighborhood it largely replaced – and will add more affordable and community-friendly options, the CEO of its new owner said.

Matt Bronfman, principal and CEO of Jamestown, the real estate company that bought the complex last year, discussed the plans at the Feb. 6 annual luncheon of the Buckhead Business Association, held at the 103 West event facility. In wide-ranging remarks, he also talked about the international reputations of Buckhead and President Trump.

Matt Bronfman, principle and CEO at Jamestown, speaks at the Feb. 6 Buckhead Business Association annual luncheon. (John Ruch)

“Buckhead Village—and I am calling it Buckhead Village,” Bronfman said to loud applause as he discussed the complex. “People have gone back and forth on [the] name. I think the true name of the project should be Buckhead Village.”

Bronfman said he’d like to “wave a magic wand” and clear out many of the luxury-market tenants of the six-block complex, which runs along Peachtree Road between East Paces Ferry and Pharr roads. He said its future is more “accessible” retail with “more staples,” and will include a bookstore, a coffee shop, more greenspace and use of rooftop spaces.

“There were mistakes made in how it was done…[A] mistake in the past was thinking there was a need for, call it a Rodeo Drive in Buckhead,” Bronfman said. “…It’s not enough of a community center.”

Among the complex’s problems, he said, “is people don’t want to linger. And we want projects where people are comfortable just staying and hanging out.”

Jamestown’s track record with mega-redevelopments of Ponce City Market and the Westside Provisions District are the approaches he said he has in mind. The Buckhead vision won’t be identical, but it will have the themes of attracting foot traffic and the general public.

Now on its third owner-developer and fourth name in 12 years, the complex has had a tortuous development history and branding struggles. The $1.5 billion development in Buckhead Village sprang from a notorious stabbing during the 2000 Super Bowl, which crystalized local concerns about crime and energized a push to gentrify what at the time was one of the city’s biggest nightclub districts.

Part of The Shops Buckhead Atlanta at Peachtree Road and Bolling Way as seen in a Google Maps image.

Originally conceived under the name Buckhead Avenues, which drew a legal challenge over a similarly named retail outlet, the project was renamed The Streets of Buckhead by developer Ben Carter shortly before construction began in 2007. In 2009, the project stalled, leaving a massive construction hole for over a year. Carter was forced out by investors in 2010. In 2011, developer OliverMcMillan took over the project and renamed it again to the widely mocked “Buckhead Atlanta.”

The first stores in the complex opened in 2014. The following year, OliverMcMillan changed the name yet again to The Shops Buckhead Atlanta, to still more ridicule. The retail mix in its roughly 60 storefronts was quickly criticized as too high-end.

Bronfman said Jamestown found that some retailers are doing well, but many were struggling and “close to giving up” at the time of last year’s sale.

In contrast to earlier top-down, from-the-boardroom development decisions, Jamestown last year held a town-hall meeting and conducted an online survey to get community input about the future of the complex.

Bronfman said that, unlike most developers, he likes places with stringent, project-delaying zoning regulations and “supply constraints” in development. He says that ensures community input – and also lets his company charge higher rents. “You’ve got to really work with the neighborhood” in such places, he said.

The local flavor was apparent in some of Bronfman’s comments.

Asked by an audience member about making the complex more family-friendly, he noted that the Buckhead Baseball league plays nearby in Frankie Allen Park. “Buckhead Baseball, they need to be our target shoppers, our target demographic, on a Saturday afternoon,” he said.

Ice cream, children’s clothing or “amusements and games” could be ways to attract families, he suggested.

Bronfman said many current tenants of the complex have favorable and long-term leases, so change will take time. “But the bones, the genes, are so good, we are confident it will be successful… We’re going to fix it, but it is definitely going to take more time than we would like,” he said.

International reputations

Jamestown is Atlanta-based but operates nationally and in Latin America, and raises money around the world. Bronfman said the Buckhead name – boosted by such figures as Buckhead Coalition president and former mayor Sam Massell – is known globally and part of the reason Jamestown is excited about the local project.

“Buckhead has the best name recognition by far worldwide,” Bronfman said. “I can go from Frankfurt to Abu Dhabi to Tokyo and somebody will say to me, ‘Atlanta. Buckhead?’”

Bronfman discussed another American reputation, that of President Trump, in discussing the company’s investors, many of which early on were from Germany.

“I used to say to people, I want to diversify because I always worry that dentists in Dusseldorf, the Germans, will decide that Americans have elected somebody they think is crazy as president, and maybe they won’t want to invest as much … in American real estate. And so here we are, and every time I go to Germany to raise money, I get questions about our president,” said Bronfman.

Asked by an audience member what the most common question about Trump is, Bronfman said to laughter, “They just can’t believe it. They really–you know, he’s not very popular in Europe, whether you like him or not. And so I constantly  worry whether the spigot will be turned off, and people think he’s crazy over there. But you know, the good news is, we’re still raising plenty of money in Europe.”

Last year, Jamestown launched a new way of diversifying some of that investing with a digital platform. It lets anyone in the U.S. invest in the company’s porfolio for a minimum of $2,500. “We see this growing democratization of investing,” Bronfman said of the innovation.

Business awards

Buckhead Business Association president Matt Thiry, left, presents the 2019 Buckhead Business of the Year Award to Dr. Bahar Nia of Buckhead Cosmetic & Family Dentistry. (John Ruch)

The BBA presented its annual business awards at the luncheon, which were given to honorees by new president Matt Thiry.

The winners included:

Buckhead Business of the Year Award: Buckhead Cosmetic & Family Dentistry. (Finalists included BURN Studios, Dance With Me Studios, Flower Child and Little Alley Steak.)

Buckhead Entrepreneur of the Year Award: Ashley Wallace of House of Wallace.

Sam Massell Bullish on Buckhead Award: Marvin Cosgray, CenterState Bank.

Buckhead Beautification Award: Bobby Jones Golf Course and Bitsy Grant Tennis Center.

In addition, the environmental sustainability nonprofit Livable Buckhead gave its business awards at the ceremony. Gables Residential won the “Triple Bottom Line” award for green efforts and Homrich Berg won the “Buckhead Mobility Champion” award for employee commuting options.

The BBA presented a $1,000 check — proceeds from its Taste of Buckhead event — to the Nicholas House, a shelter and support program for people who are homeless.

The Buckhead Reporter is a sponsor of the luncheon. Amy Arno, the Reporter’s director of sales development, presented the Business of the Year Award.

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.