Grand development schemes for downtown Atlanta over the years would fill a large book.
Now, Richard Ressler, the brother of Hawks owner Tony Ressler, has plans for a massive "mixed use" project for the railroad gulch that cuts across downtown like an ugly scar.
Long controlled by Norfolk Southern Railroad, the desolate tangle of railroad tracks and concrete below the downtown viaducts was once used for parking by AJC employees, who fearing mugging or worse hurried uphill to the newspaper's Marietta Street pillbox each morning, reversing the frightening walk in the afternoon.
Now Richard Ressler's Los Angeles-based CIM Group, apparently hoping to attract Amazon's second headquarters, wants to invest $1 billion to build 1,000 apartments, 1,500 hotel rooms, 1 million square feet of retail space and 9.35 million square feet of office space at the spot, which lies between two MARTA stations, according to a state filing, as reported Wednesday in The AJC.
Following the standard practice of corporate barons, Ressler undoubtedly will seek state and local money for the plan. His brother has already hit the public trough for redeveloping Philips Arena, the nearby mausoleum for the dismal Hawks and the dubious anchor for the gulch plan.
The newspaper, which fled the area for the suburbs years ago, didn't report whether the railroad has given up its control of the urban waste area. Nor did it point out that Underground Atlanta is being redeveloped along similar lines a few yards away. Perhaps the 20,000 new Amazon workers will want to live in downtown Atlanta, but Midtown, Buckhead, Virginia-Highland and revitalized Beltline communities seem more likely.
Although the office space envisioned by CIM would meet Amazon's needs, I'm skeptical that the Seattle-based online giant would want to place its second headquarters in the gulch. The viaduct blocks a lot of sunlight. The CIM plan is the latest for the area. A few years ago, the rage was a new Amtrak train station, only steps away from the two downtown rail stations torn down years ago.
Even if Amazon chooses Atlanta for its HQ2, which is doubtful, other sites around the metro area surely would be more appealing. Downtown is more palatable than it was years ago, with the College Football Hall of Fame, Centennial Olympic Park and the Coca-Cola and civil rights museums, but it still lacks the hip appeal that Amazon seeks.
Why would a company that sells stuff online want to co-exist besides so much traditional retail space? The old brick and mortar retail business appears as much of a doomed model as print newspapers. Without residents in the apartment complex, which would follow those popping up like poisonous mushrooms around the city, the stores would have no customer base.
Why would there be a market for 1,500 hotel rooms in that part of downtown Atlanta? Plans were recently announced for a significant hotel development at Phipps Plaza up in Buckhead. More hotel space is also planned for near the airport, which would be more convenient for fast business meetings for those flying in for the day. Since Atlanta has few attractions for travelers, who do they believe will use all of those hotel rooms? Perhaps one day the hotels will be converted into "affordable housing."
Atlanta is not the convention location it once was. The World Congress Center is no longer competitive for big national conventions, and the Georgia Dome was torn down instead of being converted into convention space. No plans exist to boost downtown's convention facilities. The need for more hotel rooms anywhere in the city is dubious, when teleconferencing is a growing business model.
The Hawks recently renovated Philips Arena with a generous financial boost from outgoing Mayor Kasim Reed, but Tony Ressler's team looks barely equipped to compete with a developmental league opponent. The wrecking of a once good NBA team is an outrage, especially the loss of all-star center and outstanding citizen Al Horford to the Celtics. Outside of transplanted fans of other teams, who wants to go downtown to see the Hawks? Or stay in a hotel there?
Arthur Blank's glowing new Mercedes Benz Stadium is nearby, but the Falcons only play eight home games a year. The Atlanta United soccer team proved more popular than the collapsing Braves, who also decamped to the suburbs, but I doubt there's enough soccer fans to keep 1,500 hotel rooms filled.
CIM called its state filing a "conceptual plan," the AJC said. A delusional pipe dream is more like it.