By Rusty Paul

Rusty Paul

A significant, but subtle shift occurred in metro Atlanta over the past two decades. It is a shift so subtle that few people realize the transformative nature of the event. It totally changed the complexion of this region, yet went almost without notice or comment while it happened.

“Downtown Atlanta” is no longer “Downtown Atlanta.” Since its start in the 1840s as Marthasville, Downtown was centered on what is popularly known as Five Points where the confluence of Peachtree, Edgewood and Decatur/Marietta streets marked the heart of the city.

Radiating from that point were the city’s primary financial, retail, healthcare and commercial districts. To do business, shop or eat, you went downtown. Even its most prestigious residential neighborhoods were just blocks away.

Yet, over the past two decades, a strong case can be made that the Sandy Springs/Dunwoody business district commonly called “the Central Perimeter” has become the geographic, commercial, communications, medical and retail heart of the region. Thus, “the Perimeter” is now the de facto “Downtown” of metro Atlanta.

Let me make that case. Since Guttenberg invented movable type, a region’s primary daily newspaper has always been situated in the city center to allow reporters to be “close to the action.” Though still called the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the major daily is now based at “the Perimeter.”

Downtown is also a region’s commercial center. Major corporate and regional headquarters locate there for ease of business transactions, commuting and interaction. The last Fortune 500 company to headquarter near Five Points – or even in the corporate limits of Atlanta – was Georgia Pacific in the early 1980s – 30 years ago. Since then, when corporate giants like UPS, Newell Rubbermaid, First Data, Cox Communications and Havertys came to the metro area, they, along with scores of other global, national and regional headquarters settled at “the Perimeter.”

Because of its commercial popularity, “the Perimeter” alone has more total office space than Charlotte, Birmingham, Nashville or any other Southeastern city. While other communities lost jobs over the past five years, “the Perimeter” added good-quality, high-paying jobs. While other community residential values plummeted, neighborhoods around “the Perimeter” largely held their values because people working here prefer to live here.

Downtown is also a region’s retail center. As a child, I rode the downtown bus with my grandmother to shop because that’s where all the department stores, retail outlets, movie theaters and great restaurants were found. Today, the region’s most vibrant retail corridor starts at Lenox/Phipps Malls and moves up Ga. 400 to North Point Mall. In the heart of that retail corridor sits “the Perimeter.”

Downtown is traditionally where you find the best hospitals and healthcare providers. If you are looking for the region’s finest medical care today, you come to “the Perimeter” where Northside Hospital, St. Joseph’s Hospital and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta deliver world-class results on a daily basis.

The reputation of these hospitals are magnets that are now drawing major innovators in bio-tech, bio-med, medical IT and other health technology fields to “the Perimeter,” adding to our renown as an international healthcare center and boosting an already magnificent quality of life.

If the metro area is Georgia’s economic engine, then Perimeter area communities are the pistons powering that engine. Governor Deal recognized that reality when he named the Ga. 400/I-285 interchange as the state’s top transportation priority in his first post-TSPLOST policy statement.

So, welcome to metro Atlanta’s “new downtown.” The only thing missing? The state Capitol. I hear Sandy Springs Mayor Eva Galambos is working on that one, too.

Rusty Paul is chairman of the Sandy Springs/Perimeter Chamber of Commerce.