Newport’s adaptive reuse project promises a ‘sense of place’

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When German real estate company Newport RE bought 222 Mitchell Street four years ago, there were no plans to capitalize on the historic building’s rooftop views. It was simply another strategic purchase for the company’s plans to revitalize dozens of South Downtown properties. 

“I don’t think we understood the actual value of the building,” said Newport RE Senior Vice President April Stammel as she scanned the downtown skyline from 222 Mitchell’s rooftop during a recent tour. “We had not done design plans. We hadn’t studied what it could be.”

What it will be is about 300,000 square feet of office space and 70,000 square feet of retail. Slater Hospitality, the team behind the rooftop dining and entertainment experiences at Ponce City Market in Old Fourth Ward and the Interlock in West Midtown, is set to open two new spots atop 222 Mitchell early next year. And the hulking, dreary building that sat vacant for two decades will soon be the centerpiece of Newport’s $500 million South Dwntn project that could take up to 10 years to complete. 

Newport RE Senior Vice President -Development TP Bullock, Executive Vice-President Kevin Murphy, and Senior Vice-President April Stammel at South Dwntn. (Photo by Isadora Pennington)

A generational opportunity 

Newport opened an office in Atlanta in 2016 because it saw the opportunity to breathe life back into the historic neighborhood located between Alabama Street to the north, I-20 to the south, and flanked by the Georgia State Capitol and Mercedes-Benz Stadium. It was here where Atlanta got its start as a railroad hub in the mid-1800s, where Terminal Station led passengers directly into Hotel Row, where Broad and Peachtree streets were bustling commercial centers lined with storefronts as well as department stores such as Rich’s and Davison’s. 

Construction of the Five Points MARTA station in the 1970s split Broad Street and cleared the streets of pedestrians that shopped in the area. The impact was devastating and South Downtown rapidly declined. Many businesses shut down and some still sit empty. What was once the center of the city became a memory. The brick buildings remained, however, and Newport snapped up 48 of them across eight blocks along Peachtree, Broad and Mitchell streets and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. The real estate firm also bought some parking lots. 

Tearing the buildings down was never in Newport’s plans. Adaptive reuse of historic brick buildings with original floor tiles, wood beams, and vintage signage is in demand. Ponce City Market, a former Sears building, shines as a beacon. 

People want a connection to history, Stammel said. “I think as the world changes, people are starting to become more inherently attached to the spaces that they’re in.” 

Looking down at Mitchell Street from the top of the 222 Mitchell building. (Photo by Isadora Pennington)

“They want spaces, whether it’s to live in or to eat in or to grab a coffee, that give them a sense of place. I think old buildings do that naturally better than new construction,” she said. “New construction can certainly check those boxes, and we are going to have a lot of that. But there’s something you just can’t recreate, and that’s what we have here.”

Kevin Murphy, executive vice president of Newport, said the company considers South Dwntn as more than just a real estate project – it’s a neighborhood development that will provide people a place to come back to where Atlanta began. 

“This is a generational opportunity,” he said. 

The buildings of former “Hotel Row” along Mitchell Street are under renovation. (Photo by Isadora Pennington)

Residential on the horizon

The renovation of Hotel Row is nearly complete with several tenants ready to move in and open shop. 222 Mitchell is slated to open early next year with Slater Hospitality and several other businesses as tenants. 

The first question Mitchell Street tenants asked after they inked their leases was how they were going to survive the nights when there were no sporting or entertainment events. Mercedes-Benz Stadium and State Farm Arena are both within walking distance and their events are expected to bring plenty of foot traffic to South Dwntn’s businesses.

CIM Group’s $5 billion Centennial Yards project on the property once known as The Gulch includes two new apartment complexes with retail. More residential is planned to meet demand of a hot housing market. Underground Atlanta is moving into its master planning stage that could include student housing. 

And now Newport is ready to begin the redevelopment of Broad Street, which was a haven for artists in recent years. The company will focus on adaptive reuse of the buildings it owns, some a century old. It also plans to construct from the ground up two residential buildings on either side of Broad Street, totaling about 300 units. 

“We’re up against the unique challenge and opportunity of how we honor the historic structures while increasing diversity and answering that residential question,” Stammel said. 

Small Newport pins are stuck into the top of the buildings that make up the South Dwntn project in the architect model. (Photo by Isadora Pennington)

“Broad Street will be the first time Atlanta will see what we’ve been able to do, that marriage of old adaptive reuse and new ground-up architecture.”

An announcement of what the new residential construction will look like is expected this summer, she said.

Alena Green is director of economic development for Downtown’s advocacy organization Central Atlanta Progress. She praised Newport’s willingness to work with the city to ensure streetscape improvements that will create safer experiences for those on bikes, on walking, or using wheelchairs. 

The company’s passion to take an “asset-centered” approach to their development will benefit the people new to South Downtown as well as those already living there, she said.

“This is truly an authentic urban experience you get when you come here,” Green said. 

Imperial Fruit Co. is still tiled into the floor in one of the historic buildings destined to become retail or restaurant space. (Photo by Isadora Pennington)

South Dwntn Confirmed Tenants

Ohio River South, a lobbying and advocacy firm, is set to move into the former Sylvan Hotel at 235 Mitchell Street this summer. 

Pizza Clementine, a carryout pizza shop from Slater Hospitality founders Mandy and Kelvin Slater, will open at 219 Mitchell Street later this year. The duo is also opening a bar named Thirteenth Floor in the pizzeria’s basement. 

Slater Hospitality will open a modern diner on the roof of 222 Mitchell Street with views of the Atlanta skyline and Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The company is also opening a nightlife lounge below with more rooftop space with views of the city and the Georgia State Capitol. Both are expected to open in the summer of 2023.

Pins Mechanical Company is building out a 25,000-square-foot entertainment complex at 222 Mitchell. The new social destination will include duckpin bowling, more than 50 pinball machines, and classic arcade games, bocce ball courts, ping pong, and patio pong. Opening is slated for early 2023.

Dyana Bagby

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.