Sandy Springs, Dunwoody, Brookhaven and Buckhead take steps to create gathering places

Sandy Springs is studying how to expand its town center project City Springs. (Amy Wenk)

A team is envisioning how a 200-acre district along Peachtree Road could become Brookhaven’s walkable center. New projects are bringing community gathering spaces around Perimeter Mall and the Dunwoody Village. Sandy Springs is studying how to expand its town center to bring more restaurants and possibly a hotel. And developers are reshaping areas in Buckhead with new tenants and community events.  

It’s all an effort to create more walkability across the communities.

Other suburban cities have led the way, such as Roswell, Alpharetta, Woodstock and Duluth, which each remade their historic downtowns into modern town centers.

What’s motivating the trend? It’s about building a better quality of life, city leaders told Reporter Newspapers.

“These projects build the connective tissue of the community,” said Rusty Paul, mayor of Sandy Springs, which is now looking to expand its town center project City Springs. “It’s really created a sense of unity, cohesion and identity for the whole community.”

Here’s a closer look at the development efforts across Sandy Springs, Dunwoody, Brookhaven and Buckhead:

Sandy Springs

Sandy Springs opened City Springs in 2018. It had no historic downtown to recreate, so city officials had to build their own.

That effort launched shortly after Sandy Springs incorporated in 2005. The city assembled land and partnered on the 14-acre project with Atlanta developers Selig Enterprises and Carter.  

The Select, a restaurant at the town center project City Springs. (Amy Wenk)

Today, City Springs is home to the city’s Performing Arts Center and City Hall. It also has a central greenspace, flanked by restaurants including The Select.

“It’s had a real effect across the whole community,” Mayor Paul said. “It’s created a place where the community comes together.”

Now, planners are studying how to expand City Springs. In October, Sandy Springs selected Goody Clancy and Associates Inc. to update its master plan for the district.

Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul.

The city owns an additional four or five acres just south of the development, between Mount Vernon Highway and Hilderbrand Drive, Paul said. The hope is to expand City Springs by at least a block.

“How do we extend the amazing success we had with City Springs and continue that going south?” Paul said, adding the hope is to bring in more restaurants and possibly a hotel. The city would likely partner again with the private sector on a project.

“It will not quite double the existing City Springs, but it will make it significantly larger,” Paul said. It would probably take 12 to 18 months to get a project started, he said. The master plan has to be finished, along with community input sessions and an RFP process. 

Another project is in the works nearby that could expand the city’s walkable core.

Atlanta developer Jamestown is planning to remake a portion of Parkside Shops, a shopping center off Roswell Road, just a few blocks from City Springs. A sprawling parking lot there could be transformed into a mixed-use environment with a greenspace, new restaurants, loft office, apartments and condos.

A rendering of a planned redevelopment at Parkside Shops in Sandy Springs. 

Dunwoody

Dunwoody officials see the Perimeter Mall and Dunwoody Village areas as two emerging walkable centers. Both have new projects in the works.

The long-planned High Street project would occupy 36 acres to the west of Perimeter Mall. It would feature a signature park, hundreds of apartments and new retail and office space. In September, a new location of minigolf bar Puttshack was announced for the project, which could kick off construction soon. 

A rendering of the High Street project in Dunwoody.

Dunwoody’s Economic Development Director Michael Starling sees the Perimeter Mall area as a regional hub. In recent years, it has lured massive projects including the State Farm campus.

“You have a thousand people a day coming to work there,” he said of the mall area. “Perimeter is certainly changing, becoming much more walkable … moving away from that suburban and car-oriented center.”

Michael Starling.

The Dunwoody Village area would have a different feel, he said, geared to the neighborhood with smaller scale development. The district spans about 165 acres including shopping centers Dunwoody Village and The Shops of Dunwoody.

The city recently approved a new zoning district for the area that sets the stage for more modern development. The city of Dunwoody does not own property there but is working with existing property owners.

“It’s going to be a little step here, a little step there,” Starling said. “But, the good news is we’re beginning that process.”

One project is already underway. Dash Hospitality is building an entertainment complex at the Dunwoody Village shopping center, clustering several restaurants and bars around a central courtyard. The first, a bar called Bar(n), is opening in November.

“I just want this to be ‘Cheers’ for Dunwoody,” said David Abes of Dash Hospitality in a recent interview.

David Abes of Dash Hospitality is about to open Bar(n), a new bar that’s part of an entertainment complex at the Dunwoody Village shopping center. (Amy Wenk)

Brookhaven

Brookhaven is now envisioning what a city center project could look like.

Planners are well underway on a “City Centre” master plan, which spans a 212-acre district along Peachtree Road. It includes areas such as Town Brookhaven, Oglethorpe University, the Brookhaven MARTA station, Dresden Drive and Apple Valley Road.

One of the goals is to find a place for a new City Hall. A potential location could be the sprawling parking lots of the MARTA station. There’s no agreement in place, but MARTA has been active in the planning process, said Patrice Ruffin, assistant city manager for Brookhaven.

Brookhaven is studying how to create a city center project. One idea could be to transform sprawling parking lots at its MARTA station.

The master plan is also looking at new connections across Peachtree Road to make it more inviting to pedestrians and cyclists. “It’s a river that’s hard to cross,” said Meg Robie, a landscape architect with HGOR, the Atlanta-based firm working on the master plan.

The hope is to have a draft plan early next year. After community feedback, the plan would go before city council for adoption, likely in second-quarter 2022, Ruffin said.

There’s no timeline yet for starting any city center projects. 

But the broad hope is to create a new centerpiece for the community. “Brookhaven needs a core place for us to establish an identity,” Robie said.

Buckhead

When asked, Denise Starling, executive director of Livable Buckhead, had a hard time defining the walkable center of Buckhead. 

But there are recent investments in the Buckhead Village and around the Lindbergh MARTA station that are paving a path forward, she said. 

Denise Starling is executive director of Livable Buckhead, a nonprofit organization focused on sustainability efforts, including parks and trails, alternative commuting, long-range planning efforts and community events.

In 2019, Jamestown acquired The Shops Buckhead Atlanta, a collection of upscale stores and restaurants at Peachtree, East Paces and Pharr roads. It renamed the project the Buckhead Village District and has been adjusting the tenant mix (which includes luxury brands such as Dior) to be more approachable. For example, a new location of Fetch Park, a dog park bar, is in the works.

Jamestown also has been revamping its community events, with a whole slate of holiday activities planned.

“It’s not just having the walkability, it’s actually programming,” Starling said, adding Livable Buckhead is focused on creating more community events. “I can’t really stress the importance of programming … that is part of economic development.”

Real estate company Edens has also had a significant impact in Buckhead’s West Village, acquiring and remaking several properties including Andrews Square in recent years. 

Another significant investment was Rubenstein Partners’ acquisition of Lindbergh City Center. It renamed the project Uptown Atlanta and has landed new tenants including an esports gaming hub. 

“I think that’s got a lot of potential down there,” Starling said of the area around the Lindbergh MARTA station. “That’s at the connection of PATH400, Peachtree Creek Greenway and the BeltLine. So that whole area is going to get on the map as soon as the BeltLine gets there.”

Another ambitious project, HUB404, could create a walkable center for Buckhead. The project would cap Ga. 400 in central Buckhead. Fundraising for the project design is said to be gearing back up after hitting a pause during the pandemic.

“That certainly is the key project that would create a walkable heart for the community,” Starling said.

A rendering of the HUB404 project that would cap Ga. 400 in Buckhead.

Amy Wenk

Amy Wenk is Editor of Reporter Newspapers. She can be reached at editor@reporternewspapers.net