North DeKalb Mall, Metro Atlanta’s ‘deadest mall’, may have new life
Recently, South Carolina-based developer Edens, which bought the property last year, presented an ambitious life/work/play proposal, a three-heavy plan.
The project provides for 1,800 residential units, including 200 townhouses; 320,000 square feet of retail, including budget theater; 180,000 square feet of office space; and a 150-room hotel. The early phases would include retail, to give it a “sense of place”, and the rest would take place over perhaps eight years, depending on demand, recessions, wars and other unforeseen calamities.
Edens bought the nearby Toco Hill Mall several years ago and set about imagining it and introducing new restaurants there to meet the demand of a new generation of affluent residents. However, with this progress, rents have skyrocketed and consternation among existing tenants.
Tony Cade, owner of Challenges Games and Comics and tenant of the North Dekalb Mall for eight years, has the same fears. His company offers an eclectic mix of products and has been a hit in the mall with events such as family-oriented Halloween costume parties and gamer contests. Those who go to the movies often flock to his joint.
“I offer community,” he said. “The community here would love me. But would landlords like what I could afford to pay in rent? »
Edens likes to say that she seeks out local and even unusual tenants — businesses like Cade’s — to lend a vibe to their projects. The company’s website features photos of people frolicking, eating and drinking. It also highlights a mass yoga exercise on one of the company’s properties.
“We are in the business of humanity,” Herbert Ames, an Edens executive, told nearby residents late last month via a Zoom meeting. “We design our locations to do 3.5 trips per week with five hours of downtime.”
I was impressed by their aggressive optimism. I rarely got five hours of quality time a week in my own home until the kids finally left.
I get it, developers sell dreams and a sense of being. Above all, they must appease the locals. During the meeting, Ames and his company’s attorney smiled and accepted just about anything the residents offered. Suitable for pedestrians? Yes. Ecological? You bet! Labor force housing? Sure. What type of office space? Class A, of course. At Trader Joe’s? Hmmm, we’ll see.
The presentation had a picture of Einstein because everyone loves Einstein. It is planned to work with the PATH Foundation to connect with a maze of nearby trails. And the vice-president of Edens noted with joy that 25% of the site is reserved for green spaces. Sounds generous until you realize that about 20 acres of the west side of the parcel is swampy, unbuildable forest. (Hence the asterisk attached to area earlier in the story.)
Still, Ames told neighbors that Edens could have asked for an even higher density with the mixed-use zoning sought, like 3,200 units. In fact, he says, it’s actually a “reduction,” adding, “We’re definitely not maximizing here.”
In 2018, after the Costco was shot down, DeKalb County Commissioner Jeff Rader, who represents the area, called it “clearly a generational redevelopment” and said the county and developer needed to get it right .
The proposal should have more “urban” features, he said, meaning interior streets, pedestrian walkways and a mix of shops, parks and living spaces. Unlike large areas surrounded by an ocean of asphalt.
Rader noted that other large developments have been built nearby in recent years and “it’s taking some time for this development to be absorbed into the market.” But, he added, “Edens appears to be a company that builds and operates projects with long-term funding.” So they will stick around.
Neighbors who blocked the last proposal are more favorable to this one.
“Everyone wants something there; it’s the driving feeling,” said Jim Smith, a resident of the DeKalb Cross-Neighborhoods Council, a consortium of neighboring neighborhood groups. “This (proposal) can only be better.”
Carol Hayes, who lives in the neighborhood across from the mall, is concerned about a creek running under the property and like many others about increased traffic in an area that gets congested on a daily basis.
“The number of cars is going to be crazy – the retailers, the residents, the offices, the hotel,” she said.
The developers say they will carry out a traffic study.
But there are a lot of forces driving this effort to get something built.