MARTA dev

Look back just a few years, and it seemed MARTA was rarely part of the conversation in Atlanta’s commercial real estate community. We all knew it was there; it just wasn’t on the radar of developers or business owners looking for the best strategic location for their business.

In the past 24 months, though, it’s gradually become not just a factor, but one of the most vital requirements of many companies scouting new locations around Atlanta. A great current example is Pattillo Industrial Real Estate, who our team has been working with to identify a new headquarters location. As we looked at their options, they were drawn to having an intown location. And, if they were going to be intown, then being within a 5- to 7-minute walk of a MARTA station became a real attraction for them.

MARTA is not only a great solution for intown commuters, but it is becoming a recruitment tool for the younger workforce. For Pattillo, and for so many other businesses in today’s economy, it’s about the perpetual war for talent. With Millennials and other young people becoming very comfortable with using public transit for their daily commutes, it’s become imperative in many business owners’ minds to be in a position where their employees can have that option. They know that, if they don’t, their competition likely will, and they’ll lose out on many of the best and brightest graduating from local universities and moving here from around the Southeast.

Largely because of that, Pattillo will soon be settling into an amazing new facility across the street from the Chamblee MARTA station, and we’ve been getting great help from the folks at MARTA to make sure everything goes smoothly. Recently, Cushman & Wakefield talked to Amanda Rhein, MARTA’s Senior Director of Transit-Oriented Development and Real Estate, for a Q&A to discuss MARTA’s development boom, and some of what the future holds for the neighborhoods around the transit stations.

Cushman & Wakefield: What prompted the MARTA team to embark on this plan to begin developing commercial land around certain stations?

Rhein: “MARTA owns over 25,000 parking spaces, of which less than half are used on a regular basis. Through our Transit Oriented Development (TOD) program, we are endeavoring to redevelop this well-located, underutilized parking into vibrant mixed-use communities. For MARTA, TOD is a way to increase ridership, generate revenue and support local community development. TOD will also help the region to be more competitive. Companies are now recognizing the importance of transit proximity in attracting and retaining employees, particularly Millennials. TODs are the places that these employees and employers are seeking.”

Cushman & Wakefield: What are some of the characteristics you’ve looked for when identifying stations at which to build?

Rhein: “We take a number of factors into consideration when determining which properties we will release for TOD, including available land, parking utilization, real estate market conditions, zoning and developer interest. Ideally, we have a large parking lot which is not heavily used in a strong market with appropriate zoning in place. No sites match all criteria. We are also focused on taking an equitable approach to our TOD program so as to ensure we have projects throughout the system. Developing along our south and west lines is more of a challenge, but we are excited to have released an RFP for our Oakland City Station. We worked with the City of Atlanta, the Atlanta Regional Commission and the TransFormation Alliance to host a community planning process to identify a redevelopment strategy for our property. We determined that this station represented a near-term development opportunity based on its proximity to several catalytic redevelopment projects, including: 1) Fort McPherson, located directly south of the station, which Tyler Perry Studios has acquired for a film studio, 2) Atlanta BeltLine Inc.’s purchase of the 16-acre Murphy Crossing site, 0.6 miles to the north for redevelopment and 3) the 3-mile, $43 million Westside Trail project, which is currently under construction and will cross at Lee Street.”

Cushman & Wakefield: Which other cities’ transit systems did you look at as examples of what you’re doing with commercial development?

Rhein: “We often look to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA). Metro was built around the same time as MARTA, so it has many of the same characteristics, including large park-and-ride lots. They have been implementing TOD at their stations for a long time, so they have learned many lessons which they have generously shared with us. We look to many cities across the country for best practices, including Dallas, San Francisco and Denver.”

Cushman & Wakefield: What is the timeline for development and completion look like for the commercial projects you’re working on?

Rhein: “When MARTA’s General Manager, Keith Parker, announced the launch of our TOD initiative in the spring of 2013, he established a goal to have five projects underway within two years. This spring, at our annual Development Day, we announced that we had exceeded that goal with seven stations in process. We have been navigating the pre-development process with our development partners at the King Memorial, Edgewood/Candler Park and Avondale Stations, and anticipate that we’ll break ground on all three in 2016. We recently announced the selection of development partners for our Brookhaven/Oglethorpe University and Chamblee Stations. Chamblee should break ground 2Q 2016 and Brookhaven/Oglethorpe University will probably be in 2017. We are evaluating responses to our Arts Center Station RFP and released an RFP for Oakland City Station on August 31.”

Cushman & Wakefield: Once completed, what sort of impact do you expect these MARTA-centered commercial developments to have on the transit system and the surrounding neighborhoods?

Rhein: “The concentration of new uses at these stations should have a very positive impact on ridership. This increase in ridership coupled with revenue generated through the sale and lease of our land will result in increasing funding to MARTA which can be used to support our operations and improve service. Once developed, these projects will also have a positive impact on the surrounding community. We will be introducing new amenities, including greenspace and retail, and creating jobs. More broadly, TOD benefits the region by strengthening our transit system, which is a critical economic development tool, and meeting the demand for walkable urban places. By providing an alternative to car-centric suburban development, we are also facilitating a more efficient use of our public infrastructure and reducing congestion, thereby improving air quality.”

Cushman & Wakefield: What other projects does MARTA have coming down the line that might interest people in Atlanta?

Rhein: “The most significant project we are working on is the expansion of our system. In November 2014, Clayton County voted to join MARTA. This was the first expansion of our system since its inception. We have begun bus service there and are in the process of evaluating our high-capacity transit options. We have also been working for several years on three other expansion projects: GA 400 Corridor, I-20 East Corridor and Clifton Corridor. GA 400 Corridor will extend MARTA’s Red Line 12 miles north to Windward Parkway in Alpharetta. The I-20 East Corridor is a 12-mile extension of heavy rail transit from the Indian Creek Station to Stonecrest Mall, plus bus rapid transit from downtown to Wesley Chapel Road. The Clifton Corridor is an 8.8-mile light rail that will run from Lindbergh Center Station to Avondale Station and provide connectivity to Emory University and the Centers for Disease Control.”

Chad Koenig is a Senior Director in Cushman & Wakefield’s Office Tenant Advisory group. He can be reached at chad.koenig@cushwake.com.