By John Schaffner

It could be said that The Sembler Company is working to change the face of retail and has set the pace for mixed-use development in the Atlanta market during the past five years.

The Prado in Sandy Springs is an example of its retail redevelopment and the company’s Brookhaven project is an example its new focus on mixed-use development.

The man who has headed up that development in the Atlanta market is 45-year-old Jeff Fuqua, who has been with Sembler for 18 ½ years and takes over as president of the company April 1.

Although the company focus has shifted recently toward mixed-use projects, Fuqua is still into developing and redeveloping retail centers, such as the company’s Prado project, where construction has begun and is expected to be completed in 18 months.

While some Sandy Springs leaders refer to the Prado as a mixed-use project, there is no residential component involved in Sembler’s re-creation of the old office and retail complex. Most of the existing development will disappear and be replaced, but the existing retail building will be retained and all of the retail clients will stay during the 18-month redevelopment period.

What will be added to the retail mix will be a Publix supermarket, Home Depot , Target, Staples, Circuit City and many more. There may well be 40 retailers and restaurants in the Prado when completed.

The three office buildings are going. Sembler has relocated some of the tenants into the retail structure that remains and essentially bought out the rest of them.

“Then we build what is essentially a four-story retail complex,” Fuqua explained, that will be much like the Lenox Marketplace project across Peachtree Road from Phipps Plaza, which Sembler did several years ago. “That was 10 acres and this is 30,” he said.

“This also has a big Main Street effect,” he continued. “We kept the existing Prado, so you drive in off of Roswell Road and drive down Main Street with the retail on the face of the parking deck.” Home Depot is on what he called the bottom level. Showing the project model, Fuqua puts another level of parking deck in place on top of the first and says, “This is what we call our Main Street level with retail on both sides of the street.”

The larger stores are around the perimeter of the property, with Home Depot on the back, Target to the back left looking from Roswell Road, Staples next to Target and Circuit City on the southeast corner of the property. Then there is Publix right along Roswell Road. There also are out parcels with an RBC Bank and Starbucks in what formerly was just parking areas between the existing Prado main retail building and Roswell Road. Target is on the top level.

“This thing goes from 992-foot elevations where Target is located down to 940, a drop of 52 feet,” he said. “Essentially there are four projects centered on the four-level deck at different grades. It is one of the toughest sites we’ve ever worked on topographically.”

Fuqua said that when they started at the Prado they wanted to include residential “but couldn’t get anyone interested. Now, they are all interested.” He said they have planned for high-rise residential in the project and affirmed they own the air rights over the parking deck.

The person at Sembler that is in charge overseeing the development of the Prado and the other projects the company is working on through its offices in Atlanta is Heather Correa Duffy, vice president of development for the Southeast Division. She is in charge of the retail-only projects and the mixed-use projects.

Fuqua states that most of his recent focus has been on urban mixed-use developments, such as Perimeter Center Place near Perimeter Mall, Lindbergh Plaza in south Buckhead and its new 50-acre development at Brookhaven.

“Urban mixed-use development is relatively new. It has only been around about five years,” Fuqua said at the company’s Atlanta headquarters, at 1450 Johnson Ferry Road in Sandy Springs. “We did the Rio shopping center, Midtown Place and 50 shopping centers in the suburbs. But it has been the last five years that we have gotten into mixed-use and into vertical projects more,” he explained.

“We have found a home, I think, first of all in doing vertical urban retail and then working into the mixed-use sector,” Fuqua stated. “We have 10,000 units of residential in the projects we are developing right now.” Sembler usually acts as the master developer and co-develops the residential “with the best-in-class” condo, townhouse developers, he added. “We always do all the retail ourselves.”

He said Sembler’s first major urban mixed-use development in the Atlanta market was the Edgewood Retail District near Little Five Points in Atlanta, which was followed by Park Place across from Perimeter Mall, Perimeter Center Place, Lindbergh Plaza, the Brookhaven project which is now underway and the big 100-acre project they are trying to move forward on Druid Hills at Briarcliff in DeKalb County. Fuqua classified that project as in the neighborhood process.

“It is a large-scale thing,” he explained. “Area-wise, we are looking at 500-acres around that site which would respond to our development. If you talk to people at Emory University, they have a hard time finding places for people to live and there are no amenities near the university. We will have 25 restaurants, high-end shopping and a large 40-acre park.”

Turning his focus back to the Perimeter area, Fuqua said that when Sembler originally took over Park Place, the plan was to put a Target behind that shopping area. “We couldn’t move the tenants,” he explained. “We were actually going to move all the retail to the street and build a Target behind with parking underneath. We could not negotiate the relocation of the tenants and it stopped the whole project.”

So Sembler bought the Bell South corporate campus just down the street, built the big project there, including Target, and then redeveloped Park Place, putting in 110 condos and redoing the center as it was.

Fuqua said he was pleased with what they had done at the Perimeter, both at Park Place and Perimeter Center Place. They are building a second high-rise at Perimeter Center Place and he wishes they had built it a little denser than they did with the residential.

“At the time it was a push to even do high-density residential in the Perimeter area,” he explained. “There wasn’t much of it. Most players didn’t think it would work. We couldn’t find anybody that was interested in doing a high-rise there,” he added. “Now there are several of them going up there. It is interesting how the world changes.”

He said he feels Sembler did the best they could with each one of the developments in the Atlanta market, based on market conditions. “Neighborhood groups are a big part of what you do and don’t do,” he said. “In just about all cases I would say I wish they were denser than they are in every aspect.”

“Brookhaven is one of the most vertically integrated residential developments we have seen in the country,” he said. “The bulk of our retail is under residential, which is extremely stressful to do.” There are 1540 residential units going into the Brookhaven development, 600,000 square feet of retail, which would include things such as natural foods grocery stores, book store, a lot of lifestyle or apparel retail, and 15 restaurants.

“It is a step up from the Perimeter development. In fact we have stepped it up a lot to make it a model for mixed-use development,” he said. “That one is really raising the bar on how things are going to be done regionally and nationally we think. We think Briarcliff and Druid Hills will be even more so,” he added.

Fuqua also said he expects Sembler to announce several big suburban mixed-use projects in the next 90 days. He sees the suburban corridors as a big growth market for the company.