“Uptown Atlanta” Aims to Transform the Lindbergh Center District into an Art and Food Attraction
Twenty years ago, MARTA embarked on a visionary plan for a mixed-use and transit-oriented “downtown” around Lindbergh Center station in Buckhead. It’s not a failure but far from an inspiring success, the result has been a mostly car-focused convenience spot rather than a major attraction atop the busy red and gold lines.
Now a new developer, Rubenstein Partners, is renaming the 47-acre mega-complex formerly known as Lindbergh City Center in “Atlanta’s Upper Town” and redo the office, commercial and green spaces with an emphasis on the unique. (The new name is simply intended to localize the place in relation to Buckhead and Midtown.)
“Everyone who reads your article will want to know what is the benefit to the community? Said Taylor Smith, regional manager for Southeast Rubenstein, in a recent interview. “And I think we’re trying to keep a promise made a long time ago that this will be a place for them.”
These changes will be more evident as new tenants emerge over the next 12 months, but many are already planting roots. The office towers that once housed AT&T will soon host an esports company’s video game competitions. A North Georgia art program operating pop-up exhibits will become a long-term tenant. A lawn on Lindbergh Drive will become a park and already hosts yoga and artist markets. A closed Chili’s will become Uptown Test Kitchen, a restaurant whose “unique” concept, according to Smith, is still under wraps for now.
Eclectic, arts-oriented businesses are the theme. It’s no surprise when Smith unleashes some of the inspirations: Ponce City Market, Krog Street Market, Alpharetta’s Avalon Complex, and most importantly Colony Square, the mixed-use center in Midtown that part of Rubenstein’s team has also been working on renovating in recent years.
MARTA, who continues to own all of the land, says he is “excited” to partner with Rubenstein for “ongoing renovations, activations and programming”.
“Rubenstein and his rental and marketing teams bring much needed energy and ideas to this TOD. [transit-oriented development]MARTA spokesperson Stephany Fisher said.
Another partner is StationFootball, a program co-sponsored by MARTA, the City, the Atlanta United Foundation and a nonprofit called Soccer in the Streets. The program consists of building soccer fields at MARTA stations with the idea of forming community leagues. Lindbergh has one of the first fields, along with Five Points and West End.
Redo the old town center of Lindbergh
Lindbergh’s old town center was never fully developed and never really shone with what was there, with the single-tenant office building dominating the scene. “You had AT&T there and very few retail businesses were successful. So it never reached the critical mass you needed for people to get there, ”says Smith. But, he says, MARTA’s vision for transit was still something special and a solid foothold for the future.
Uptown Atlanta includes the blocks west of Piedmont Road between Morosgo Drive and Lindbergh Drive, as well as MARTA’s headquarters and station garage along Sidney Marcus Boulevard. The Rubenstein acquisition did not include the two apartment complexes there: Eon in Lindbergh and Avana on Main.
Besides the existing station, there are other major transportation plans to Uptown. The Northeast Trail and the Atlanta BeltLine Light Rail Transit, still in the planning stages, will one day connect to it. And MARTA is planning the Clifton Corridor light rail line, which would run between Lindbergh and the Blue Line’s Avondale station through the Emory University area. All of this activity has led the City to launch a “Lindbergh-Armor master plan” to develop a vision for the larger neighborhood, but that effort was delayed earlier this year. The City did not respond to a request for an update, and MARTA and Rubenstein said they also had no updates on this process.
Rubenstein is not building new structures, although Smith says the hope is that the developers follow suit with surrounding properties and expand the use of the Uptown Atlanta name. MARTA has never finished developing all the properties it owns around the station as part of the initial plan. He could team up with other developers to build elsewhere on the site and has already tried.
The most recent effort was a 2018 plan for a hotel, apartments, and retail space in Morosgo and Piedmont, but that deal with a developer fell through. Fisher, the spokesperson for MARTA, said the executives of the transport agency “were eagerly awaiting to start the future phases of development of our operations”, but said there were no details for the moment. MARTA also does not intend to rename Station Uptown at this point.
What Rubenstein does consists of renovating interiors, exteriors and public spaces, and bringing them to life with a program. A large elevator is the nearly one million square foot two-tower office building, which is completely vacant now that AT&T is gone. Skillshot Media, the Alpharetta-based esports company, will occupy the atrium and other areas, but the office will be a major fixture in the future in a building whose amenities will include an 8,000-square-foot conference center, similar sized fitness facility and on-site cafe and wine bar. Telecommuting from the pandemic has caused office occupancy rates to jump, but Smith says it’s still a good investment and a mixed-use environment is a big anchor. “As for the future of the office, I have no doubts that it is not dead, it is not going to go away,” he said.
Another part of the job is to get rid of some older commercial tenants. Smith said that “we intended to … force [tenants] to move out and kick out some former tenants, and the goal is to replace them with more hyper-local specialty restaurants and retailers, run by chefs and farm-to-table. We need to clean up the slate a bit before we can rebuild.
Shortly after the interview, a Taco Mac sports bar that was a longtime tenant at 573 Main Street closed, telling patrons in an email that the crime and loss of nearby restaurants was to blame. . In a written statement, Smith did not directly respond to these allegations, but referred to the overall intention to open new restaurants.
Another longtime tenant is Pike Nurseries at Camellia Lane and Lindbergh Drive. Smith said he expected Pike to stay for the duration of his lease, which he would not specify, and that a longer-term future could then be considered. “It’s a neighborhood asset,” he said of the business.
Art and entertainment tenants
Some of the incoming tenants are optimistic about Uptown’s future.
Skillshot CEO Todd Harris said it was perfect for his company, which hosts video game events and competitions for audiences in person and live on the internet.
“Esports is all about competition, but even more about community,” Harris said in an email. “At Skillshot, we have a hybrid approach where some competitions are played online and others in person. For the greatest experiential impact, we have people coming together in person to play and watch others play. World events attract tens of thousands of people, but there are also more frequent regional events that can attract hundreds or a few thousand. When selecting a site, we took into account public transportation – how convenient is the access location and community – how well is the site mixed-use and conducive to- does the community. “
Skillshot aims to open a production studio in September and already a smooth opening for a training room where students from universities such as Georgia State take credit courses in the area of e-sports production. Skillshot hopes to start hosting live events in the atrium later this year.
The Hambidge Center for the Creative Arts and Sciences has been hosting pop-up art exhibitions and fashion events in Uptown since 2020 and hopes to settle there in the long term.
“They definitely have all the elements,” including great neighborhoods, parking and “being able to get there via MARTA is fantastic,” says Dayna Thacker, Hambidge Center director of programs and marketing. “We intend to grow with Uptown. We intend to have a long term space there.
Located in tiny Rabun Gap in northeast Georgia near the North Carolina Line, the Hambidge Center is a residency program for virtually all types of artists, as well as occasional conductors, arts administrators and scientists. With Atlanta as the state’s artistic epicenter, the center has frequently collaborated on projects here, including the Goat Farm Arts Center in the Westside and Colony Square during the same period of renovation.
In Uptown, the Hambidge Center organized the Cross-Pollination Art Lab, so named for the interdisciplinary work of a group of artists and performers. The Art Lab opened in four storefronts in Piedmont in 2020 and ended in June after drawing crowds that Thacker said were large depending on the state of the pandemic. Now the project is moving to Lindbergh Lane, opposite the station.
“We’re going to have at least a studio residency and definitely a small gallery that we’ll organize,” Thacker said, along with short-term project spaces for installations or other experimental work. This new version of the Art Lab will begin this fall and will run until at least the summer of 2022. The Hambidge Center also plans to hold its annual auction and art sale in the atrium of the office building on October 23.
Smith says the Uptown concept “leans heavily on the arts” with programming and murals, and the Hambidge Center is a big part of that. “So we hope they can find a permanent home in Uptown,” he said.