When I left Atlanta in 2018 to lead Greater Seattle Partners–after eight years of being at the helm of the Atlanta BeltLine, the Metro Atlanta Chamber, and Invest Atlanta–I always knew I would be back one day. I just figured I would wait until the right opportunity made itself available.
I also believed the right opportunity at this point my life would be in the private sector but doing something that had community impact and would leave a place better than I found it–two principles that had driven my career.
Then I got a call from a friend who was consulting for Centennial Yards in Downtown Atlanta, and he suggested the perfect opportunity for me to come back home.
Missing Link in Atlanta’s Downtown
When CIM Group announced it was developing Centennial Yards in what had long been known as the Gulch, some may have thought, “we’ve heard that before.” Past plans for the site by other developers had fallen through, and it seemed like every year was proclaimed as the year for Downtown, and every year came and went without meaningful progress.
But every great city has a great Downtown, and Centennial Yards is the missing link for Atlanta’s next step into greatness.
Centennial Yards is a $5 billion transformation of parking lots and former railyards into an experiential sports- and entertainment-anchored destination–one of the largest in the country–set in the middle of the Southeast’s biggest and most influential market. Atlanta’s original name was Terminus because all the rail lines in the southeastern United States came together on the site where Centennial Yards is located.
This 50-acre (20.23 ha) development will include up to 12 million square feet (1,114,836 sq m) of residential, office, hospitality, and retail. Of the 12 to 15 parcels that make up Centennial Yards, approximately one-third are in development, readying the site to accommodate a 2024 commercial and residential occupancy. The first phase, Centennial Yards South, consists of two buildings with residential, retail, and creative office and is already home to residents. The Lofts at Centennial Yards South features 162 studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments, with 15 percent being affordable and 38 offering furnished short-term stays. The second building of Centennial Yards South, 99 Ted Turner, features creative office space and the Canyon–a 740-foot-long experiential retail, dining, and event destination that extends the length of both buildings. Our first tenant, craft brewer Wild Leap, was announced earlier this year and is preparing its space to become the new third place for not only the residents of The Lofts, but also for the surrounding neighborhoods.
This is just the beginning.
Local Approach with a Global Team
A world-class team has been assembled, including Foster + Partners and Perkins+Will, who developed plans for a greener, more human-scale Downtown Atlanta. Having a team with global expertise, as well as local experience, was important to not only capture the Atlanta culture, but also make an impact for Atlanta’s future on a global stage.
Centennial Yards’ design principles speak to the intentionality our team has for the project. Connectivity, authenticity, flexibility, and well-being are at the core of many decisions regarding the project.
Atlanta is not a place where you can fake it. Atlanta’s culture is unrivaled and, as Atlanta’s own Andre 3000 said, “The South got something to say,” and right now, the world is paying attention. Centennial Yards strives to be an authentic representation of what makes Atlanta’s culture great. We’re not looking to create a new Atlanta, but rather create a platform for amplifying business, entrepreneurship, diversity and inclusion that is already pulsing through the city.
We’re also designing the project to adapt quickly to new users and prosper for the long-term. Flexibility has been more important than ever in the last two years, and we are embracing this concept in our design in many ways. The team has studied the city grid of the neighboring districts to create a unified and walkable environment that celebrates the outdoor lifestyle of Atlanta. Streets can be adapted to pedestrian thoroughfares at night or for special events. Each piece of the development is being built with a broad range of textures, experiences and opportunities.
Centennial Yards will also facilitate the growth of nearby neighborhoods. The connected street grid makes for better access and greater walkability to and from the area. This means we’ve also put the wellbeing of people who live, work, visit and explore here in the forefront of our design. With wide sidewalks and plentiful, open outdoor spaces throughout–through dedicated squares, parks and plazas–along with pedestrian and bike lanes, we are creating a greener Downtown than ever before.
The Next Phase for Atlanta
Any development comes with challenges and turning the Gulch into Centennial Yards is no exception. The differentiator for us is our commitment to creating this place for current and future Atlantans to be proud of. Atlanta has the talent, the diversity, affordable living, the energy and most importantly the grit to be a Superstar City. We already know Atlanta Influences Everything–and this development will share this mantra with the world. A place where Atlanta can welcome the world.
We are not doing this alone. We are doing this with Atlanta. We are committed to the community benefits from which the city is immediately seeing the impact. With our 38 percent participation goal for minority and female business enterprises and small businesses in design, development, construction and property management, we are ensuring that all Atlantans not only get to experience the project, but also can be a part of bringing it to life. Centennial Yards is also contributing $2 million toward vocational training and $28 million for an affordable housing trust fund for the families around the metro region; on top of delivering affordable housing units at the project itself. Finally, a $12 million contribution toward an Economic Development Fund managed by Invest Atlanta has been put into place.
The Atlanta I came back to has changed, but the change Centennial Yards is making now–one that is truly with Atlanta and for Atlanta–will be unlike anything the country has seen before.
BRIAN MCGOWAN is President of Centennial Yards Company, owner and master developer of Centennial Yards in Downtown Atlanta, and a ULI full member.
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