Atlanta Developer Takes on Mixed-Use Development Next to Braves’ New Baseball Stadium
Total price tag for recently opened projects tops $700 million; includes ballpark, three luxury apartment buildings, retail, offices, and entertainment venues.
By Jim Croce, Multifamily Executive
After years of discussions with elected officials in and around Atlanta, the city’s Major League Baseball team, the Braves, announced plans to leave the city proper in 2013. The Braves had closed on a new site 12 miles away in Cobb County, Ga. But the team’s lease at its now former home, Turner Field, ended after the 2016 season. So in order for the Braves’ new ballpark to be ready by April 2017, construction had to move quickly.
The Braves didn’t want to build just a ballpark, however; the team had big plans to build a destination: one that included a mixed-use development next door to the stadium featuring residential and commercial development, offices, and entertainment venues.
The Braves put out an RFP asking developers to come up with a plan that encompassed each facet of the mixed-use development. Thirty-six development teams responded from across the country, but ultimately it was the hometown team of Pollack Shores, which would handle the residential side; Pope & Land Enterprises (offices); and Fuqua Development (retail), that won the proposal, in 2015.
From there, it was a sprint to finish the ballpark and nearly all of the mixed-use development by spring 2017. The stadium, SunTrust Park, and the mixed-use development, Home at The Battery, opened this year, although work continues on the mixed-use side. But getting to this point has been no easy feat. Home at The Battery includes three luxury apartment buildings, which together comprise more than 530 units. The total price tag for the entire development, ballpark included, tops $700 million, according to Pollack Shores.
Making the Braves’ vision a reality took a lot of planning and even more collaboration and coordination.
“It was different than a normal project,” says Michael Blair, managing director at Pollack Shores. “You probably don’t have backhoes up and working while you’re doing the civil engineering and the architecture, but it’s just the way it needed to happen for the Braves to be able to open in April [in time for the 2017 baseball season] this year.”
—Brian Oates, director of development, Pollack Shores
Dozens of components that make up the 41-acre mixed-use development were simultaneously under construction from late 2015 through early 2017, not to mention a 41,000-plus-seat baseball stadium next door. Roughly 2.5 million square feet of development went vertical in about 30 months.
“It was a logistics nightmare, but it was handled extremely well by all of us sitting around the table,” says Brian Oates, director of development at Pollack Shores. “Although this was Cobb County, it was almost like building in downtown because we really only had so many ways to get in and out of the site. So we had logistics meetings to figure out how to get concrete trucks in …we’d have seven different contractors who’d need concrete at the same time.”
What helped keep the projects on track, Oates adds, is that the Braves were the joint-venture partner on every aspect. Mike Plant, president of development for the Braves, says there were multiple meetings each week with the project stakeholders to make sure everyone was in sync and to air any grievances.
“We had seven different GCs that all had to play in the same sandbox together,” says Plant.
For Pollack Shores, that meant remaining flexible. There were times, Blair says, when the team was ready to start work on a certain area of the development but the stadium contractors needed the same area for staging.
The company also had to use different subcontractors on each of the three apartment buildings, which was more expensive but necessary in order to move the construction schedule along. Also, the way in which the buildings were constructed was different too.
“Usually, from a multifamily development perspective, you’re looking at getting your units completed first,” Oates says. “Your whole façade might not be done, you have one phase of the building that’s relatively complete, and it’s still a pretty large construction zone as you’re working in the interior units.”
But Plant and the Braves were up front with Pollack Shores and the other project stakeholders. “By the time we play that first game, I don’t want to see a single crane in the air, and I don’t want to see any Georgia Red Clay flowing down the streets,” Plant recalls telling the development team. “Because by the time we play that first game, a small portion of this mixed-use development is going to be open.”
All along, Pollack Shores knew two of the three apartment buildings wouldn’t be complete by Opening Day of the 2017 MLB season, but when the thousands of fans came streaming into SunTrust Park for the first time, its buildings would have to at least appear finished from the outside.
The first completed apartment building, The Residences, comprises 81 units—average size more than 1,000 square feet—and is the highest-end product offered in the development.
The final phase at Parkside, the 211-unit building, was completed this past summer, and the 239-unit building known as The Flats delivered its first units in August. All of the units should be delivered by late fall or early winter, according to Oates.
When Pollack Shores first underwrote the project, Oates adds, the submarket was fetching around the high $1.60s to the low $1.70s per square foot. Home at the Battery was underwritten at $2 per square foot, which at the time was similar to projects in more-developed Atlanta submarkets like Midtown and Buckhead. With the first couple hundred leases signed at the development, current rents are about $2.07 per square foot.
“We all believed in this project from the very beginning, obviously, but there’s been a lot of publicity and a lot of reaction from the general public about how nice this whole development has turned out, and we’ve been pleasantly surprised by that,” says Oates.
When visiting teams come to SunTrust Park, their executives ask Plant about the past few years and the whirlwind construction schedule he oversaw. Plant always responds with the same advice: Don’t do this. “This is not a 30-month project,” he says. “This is not a five- to eight-year project.”
And although Plant says he “wouldn’t do this again,” when he comes to work each day, he’s proud of what’s been accomplished.
“Everything we envisioned about creating that legacy destination … that vision, that dream, has come to fruition,” Plant says. “It’s exceeded our expectations. It’s exceeded our fans’ expectations. And we’re still just opening.”
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