By Kathy Dean and Collin Kelley
The revitalization of Memorial Drive began more than 20 years ago, but it’s been the last five years that has seen an influx of development that has made this former stretch of crumbling industrial sites and empty lots into Atlanta’s next hot location. The stretch of Memorial between Boulevard and Moreland is nearly unrecognizable as a host of projects are in various stages of construction. And the extension of the Atlanta BeltLine’s transformative Eastside Trail connecting Midtown to Memorial Drive is nearing completion.
Memorial Drive’s renaissance can be traced back to the 1996 Summer Olympics, when the city demolished the Capitol Homes housing project and a long-simmering plan to create a linear park to connect Oakland Cemetery to the State Capitol got more traction. The stretch of Memorial from Downtown to Boulevard saw a quick turnaround with new condos (Oakland Park) and apartments (The George, The Leonard) and disintegrating warehouse transformed into chic retail and restaurant spots (Larkin on Memorial).
There were some early signs that development would eventually make its way east: the Metalworks Lofts, A&P Lofts and Triumph Lofts (now known as the Lofts at Reynoldstown Crossing) brought new residents.
Then in 2003, the mixed-use Glenwood Park community – full of townhomes, apartments, shops, restaurants and now a giant Kroger – sprang up on a former brownfield site along I-20 with one of its main points of entry being Bill Kennedy Way, which intersects at Memorial and the BeltLine. The success of Glenwood Park, the arrival of the BeltLine and the gentrification of Reynoldstown all primed the pump for more development along the mile of Memorial that borders Grant Park, Cabbagetown and Reynoldstown.
After the economic downturn slowed Memorial’s roll, the last four years have brought a dizzying array of projects to the corridor, including the 841 Memorial apartments, the under-construction Atlanta Dairies and Madison Yards mixed-use developments, as well as Modera Reynoldstown apartments and 764 Memorial townhomes. Restaurants such as mainstay Home Grown, Grindhouse Killer Burgers and Golden Eagle/Muchacho, located inside the historic A&W train depot, have brought foodies to Memorial.
Paces Properties, the company behind the successful Krog Street Market, announcement that it would turn the circa-1945 Atlanta Dairies plant into a mixed-use development full of shops, restaurants, apartments and a music venue gave Memorial an extra sense of urgency as the “next big thing.” Alta Dairies is already leasing luxury studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments at the site.
Just down the street at the BeltLine, Fuqua Development’s Madison Yards – formerly the Leggett & Platt manufacturing plant – will be anchored by an AMC Theatre and Publix supermarket along with thousands of square feet of retail and office space as well as apartments and townhomes.
When it comes to the question of why Memorial Drive is attracting all this new development and homebuyers, there’s no disagreement that the location is key.
Jim LaVallee, Director of Development and Strategic Planning, EpiCity/Epic Development, said that he had a realization while studying a local map a few years ago. The Memorial Drive corridor was surrounded on all sides by thriving neighborhoods — Inman Park, Old Fourth Ward, Cabbagetown and Reynoldstown to the north; Edgewood and Kirkwood to the east; and East Atlanta and Grant Park to the south.
“The older and outdated buildings made the Memorial Drive corridor an obvious choice for new development and the repurposing of existing buildings,” LaVallee said. “The ability to walk to grocery stores, movie theaters and restaurants from so many existing households fueled the demand for commercial space. At that time, the BeltLine was just a few years away — and that was like icing on the cake.”
He added that the great mix of entertainment, restaurant, office, private schools and housing are creating a diverse neighborhood in an area that was long neglected. “Plus, BeltLine access is allowing local residents to minimize their reliance on the automobile and travel by foot or bike to other neighborhoods and amenities, such as Piedmont Park, Ponce City Market and Krog Street Market. This is leading to re-investment in the older structures in the neighborhood.”
According to Lori Combs, VP of Sales and Marketing, The JW Collection by John Wieland, she’s seeing the same intense interest in the area. “I think the combination of the BeltLine and Madison Yards, both huge destination draws, and all they encompass — restaurants, movies and shopping — creates a total urban way of living. Not to mention the location itself and its proximity to Atlanta,” she said.
Combs noted that much of the interest and excitement she’s seeing for the Memorial Drive corridor comes from residents being able to walk to the amenities that the BeltLine, Atlanta Dairies and Madison Yards will offer. “There’s no reason to get in your car since entertainment, restaurants, fitness — you name it — will be right there,” she said.
For David J. Tufts, managing partner, Ansley Developer Services, the Memorial Drive corridor development has been a long time coming. He’s excited to see it happening, especially because “…the community is finally getting its sense of place, with its walkability and access to the BeltLine,” he said.
“This development was meant to happen before the economic downturn,” he explained, “but it stalled when the economy slowed. Now it’s happening all at once, and that’s making it high vitality.”
That vitality is apparent with developments like 764 Memorial. Located in Cabbagetown, the community features 24 city condos and five city townhomes. “The condo flats at 764 Memorial are sold out,” reported Tufts, “which is what happens when you bring an affordable product with high-end finishes into the area.”
He said that there are still three townhouses available, starting at $369,900. The 3-bedroom, 3.5-bath homes offer with rooftop terraces. “Some great attributes at 764 Memorial include street-level retail and a fitness center,” Tufts said. “The full rooftop overlooks the skyline, and all residents can take advantage of the common outdoor rooftop space.” Interested homebuyers should get in touch with LaCressa Morrow for further information, he said.
Tufts predicted that two new townhome developments by JackBilt are going to be getting a lot of attention. Warren and Eleanor are set diagonally across the street from one another at Kirkwood and Memorial. Starting in the low $500s, both communities offer 3- and 4-bedroom homes with rooftop decks and full 2-car garages. “They’re modern in design with high style —and they’ll be very special additions to Kirkwood,” Tufts said.
“Warren and Eleanor are new news,” he noted, “and it’s great to get in on the ground floor, as many residents have with 764 Memorial. There’s a lot of truth to the saying ‘the early bird catches the worm’.”
Combs pointed to another hot development in the corridor. “The Heritage on Memorial’s location is ideal, being adjacent to Madison Yards,” she said. “It’s an intimate gated community of just 20 brand new luxury townhomes. We’re offering a convenient lock-and-go lifestyle that’s designed for people who want quality and tradition in a really cool location.”
The two floorplans at Heritage on Memorial have 3 bedrooms and 3.5 baths with sky terrace views. Every home has a 2-car garage, so parking won’t ever be an issue, Combs said.
“We’ve sold five of the nine released sites, with prices ranging from the low to mid $800s,” she reported. “We’re expecting to release and finish all homes by the year end, which aligns with the completion date of Madison Yards.”
LaVallee said that here are many choices for housing in the area. “Much of the older housing stock in the closest proximity to Memorial is smaller bungalows and shot-gun homes. With redevelopment, there are many new rental choices, but there are also smaller units, and even micro-units,” he explained. “A few of the new developments that have been constructed, including R.Town Stacks, have been developed to capture buyers who want larger homes that can accommodate families.”
Each of R.Town Stacks’ four modern luxury homes boast an outdoor patio and private fenced yard, a rooftop terrace with outdoor fireplace and some winter views of the Atlanta skyline. Other features in the 2,700 square foot homes include a large open kitchen with Bosch appliances, owner’s suite with double vanity and large shower and a spacious 2 car garage, as well as high-end finishes, such as hardwoods used throughout.
“Two of our four units are under contract,” LaVallee said. “We currently have one front unit and one rear unit available. The floor plans are fantastic and the development is nearing completion. Anyone considering the neighborhoods around the Memorial Drive corridor should come by and take a look at our model unit.” He recommended that anyone interested in finding out more contact Sara Joseph with the Compass Brightstar Team, as she is marketing the property.