Twenty years ago, young Atlantans saw West Midtown as an escape from post-Olympic development and rise of the dot-com era to the way the city used to be.
It was just an old meatpacking district with industrial buildings built along a railroad line running northwest from Underground Atlanta.
“It was not the new Atlanta,” Michael Phillips, president of the real estate company Jamestown, said of the neighborhood. “It was almost rural, a place that made us feel connected to a southern town before it became a metropolis.”
The area became known for King Plow and The Goat Farm, centers for art on the city’s west side. It also had blues bar The Northside Tavern, for some just a dive bar, for others a “cultural asset.” Now, both the Goat Farm and Northside Tavern, vestiges of the old West Midtown, are surrounded by signs of the new city — hundreds of millions of dollars in planned projects, with more on the way.
West Midtown is growing so fast it’s now difficult to agree on where it ends.
“I’m not sure there is a true boundary anymore,” said Chris Faussemagne, a West Midtown pioneer who assembled sites at Howell Mill and 14th that later became the thriving mixed-use development Westside Provisions.
“It’s like going to Williamsburg,” said Phillips, one of Westside Provisions’ original developers, referring to the hipster Brooklyn neighborhood that underwent rapid gentrification.
“What amazes me about West Midtown,” Faussemagne said, “is that other parts of the city that have tons of growth are fueled by the Atlanta Beltline, or a new project, or a big employer that came into a neighborhood. All of this, it happened organically. Now, as the boundaries get pushed, you see it changing even more.”
New projects are stacking up along West Midtown’s familiar core, such as Howell Mill Road.
The Interlock is a planned $140 million development on a nearly 9-acre industrial site at Howell Mill Road and 14th street across from Westside Provisions. The project recently completed its rezoning process, said Jeff Garrison, partner with the developer S.J. Collins.
Interlock already has a lease with an affiliate of Georgia Tech, which wanted to offer startups office space as they grew out of the Georgia Advanced Technology Ventures incubators.
Star Metals, which is the redevelopment of West Midtown’s landmark Star Iron and Metal Co. site, is moving forward. Last month, developer Allen Morris Co. paid $8.5 million for the 1.7-acre scrap yard at 1041 Howell Mill Road.
It’s in advanced discussions with co-working company Spaces, which could lease up to 50,000 square feet in the mixed-use project.
Site work, including demolition of the scrap yard’s existing building, could begin sometime later this year.
Both projects reflect the recent evolution of West Midtown from culinary oasis to jobs magnet.
“It’s been a foodie and design district, with authentic buildings and a lot of culture, but it has not always a place where you could live and work,” Garrison said. “So, the biggest change is the addition of creative and loft office space.”
West Midtown’s history as an industrial area has helped create the type of alternative office space that companies, especially those in media, advertising and technology, prefer.
Rather than work in one of the new glass towers, they want a building that reminds them of the historic fabric of the city.
West Midtown can offer that.
“We all see what the new workforce is looking for,” Garrison said. “West Midtown, because of its history, has the opportunity to bring this to bear.”
Besides new offices, the area is also seeing a flurry of new housing projects.
For example, home building giant Toll Brothers Inc. is working on a more than 300-unit apartment project at Howell Mill Road and 10th Street. It would also include 17,000-square-feet of retail.
Other projects in the pipeline include the planned redevelopment of the nearly 80-year-old Atlanta Humane Society center at 981 Howell Mill Road, where it once operated out of a farmhouse. The 2.2-acre site went on the market last year, but its sale has been delayed as the Humane Society mulls the property’s future.
Farther south, a 55-acre packaging plant on West Marietta Street at Joseph E. Lowery Boulevard just hit the market.
It stands next to several smaller, existing adaptive reuse projects such as Puritan Mill and King Plow, which includes music venue Terminal West.
Known as Elsas West, the property is also near popular restaurants that make West Midtown a dining destination for many Atlantans, such as Steven Satterfield’s Miller Union.
The sale of the paper plant may generate bids in the range of $50 million to $60 million.
How far west development expands from the West Midtown core is up for debate.
For example, it could extend past the historical western boundary, which has been the railroad and Inman Yard and areas around the Bellwood Quarry. The quarry is being converted into a park that will become an even larger urban greenspace than Piedmont Park.
It’s now spurring new investment.
Last month, developers unveiled renderings of the first phase of Quarry Yards, a transit-oriented project led by former Atlanta Braves and Georgia Tech star Mark Teixeira, who is teaming with Urban Creek Partners’ Jimmy Barry and Joel Bowman.
Teixeira said investment is ready to pour into areas on the far western edge of the city that have been neglected, including neighborhoods around and west of the Bellwood Quarry, the Bankhead Marta Station and Proctor Creek. Teixeria said West Midtown has been his favorite part of the city for years, and his new project Quarry Yards is “going to form the western edge of this area’s densest development.”
Teixeria may be right.
“When you look at the amount of land west of the Bellwood Quarry, there are going to be a lot more projects, probably residential,” Faussemagne said.
“I think it will continue expanding westward,” Garrison said of West Midtown. “Once the Quarry is converted to a park, you will see new housing over the next decade or two, and it will create a lot of energy.”