Atlanta’s South Downtown neighborhood, nestled a few blocks from the Five Points Marta Station and in the shadows of Mercedes Benz Stadium, is far from a hub for commerce today. Street-level parking lots sit largely vacant. Most buildings are abandoned; faded awnings are the only signs of once thriving businesses that have long since shuttered their doors.
In the middle of the work day, you’d be hard pressed to find much car or foot traffic.
But it wasn’t always that way. The area was once the economic heartbeat of the city, hosting a flood of visitors from around the region after the famous Terminus Station opened in 1905.
It was an entrepreneurial hub at the turn of the last century, with Coca-Cola, furniture giant Havertys, and the once-prominent national retail chain Rich’s growing roots in the neighborhood.
Now, Atlanta entrepreneurs are looking to transform South Downtown into a thriving live-work-play neighborhood once again. And startups are set to lead that building-by-building transformation.
BEHIND THE DEAL
Late last year Atlanta Ventures, the team behind the nationally-recognized startup hub Atlanta Tech Village, announced it has purchased the neighborhood properties previously owned by German real estate developer Newport.
Revitalization efforts started back in 2016 when Newport purchased 53 buildings encompassing the 10 city blocks in South Downtown. Aggressive plans were laid out to bring business opportunities back to the area. But the pandemic and other macroeconomic factors halted the progress, and Newport faced foreclosure on its properties earlier in 2023.
Atlanta Ventures’ Jon Birdsong, now CEO at SoDo Atlanta, said he and his team had been keeping tabs on the project over the years, mostly as engaged Atlanta citizens interested in the future of the city.
But the process of buying the Newport real estate holdings started with a single text message sent by David Cummings on October 23. The deal was closed by December 19.
STARTUPS DRIVING CHANGE
It’s been less than 80 days since Cummings sent that initial message, but you can already see Atlanta Ventures’ vision starting to come to life.
April Stammel, marketing and Community Engagement for South Downtown, was part of the Newport chapter of the neighborhood. She’s now joined the Atlanta Ventures team to keep the revitalization efforts moving forward. She, along with other members of the Atlanta Tech Village team, have been working around the clock over the last few weeks to ensure the startup community is ready to come down and see the vision.
Atlanta Tech Village (ATV) plans to have two locations in the neighborhood. The Masons building (170 Mitchell St SW) just launched its pop-up phase, with startup founders already making their way down to check out the co-working space. The second location, inside the historic Sylvan Hotel (227 Mitchell St), will provide larger office and team gathering spaces to businesses later this year.
Just a few days after ATV announced its waitlist, new membership inquiries spiked. And dozens of current ATV tenants, all early-stage startups, have expressive interest in working out of both Buckhead and South Downtown office spaces.
The interest makes sense on two fronts. Startups are looking for more office space flexibility to accommodate remote and hybrid workforces, after all. But the city’s technology ‘center of gravity’ has also been shifting further south over the years. While Buckhead, Sandy Springs, and Dunwoody have historically been Atlanta’s primary business areas, more and more startups have set up shop in Midtown, Old Fourth Ward, and other Beltline-adjacent neighborhoods to be closer and more attractive to young talent. South Downtown could just be the next “hot spot” to capture the shifting momentum in the metro area.
Birdsong envisions “Startup Storefronts” popping up around the neighborhood to accommodate businesses that outgrow the co-working phase and need more space.
But it won’t just be startup founders moving into South Downtown. The buildings that comprise South Downtown’s gridded layout will also be turned into retail shops, apartments, and other commerical storefronts – all necessary components of a full and lively neighborhood.
It is all about adding optionality around where people live, work, and spend their leisure time, said Birdsong.
Retail is slowly moving in. Spiller Park coffee is set to open its South Downtown location soon on Mitchell Street, and Tyde Tate Kitchen has already started serving lunch, dinner, and quick bites next door.
The Atlanta Ventures’ team knows that most Atlantans have not spent much time in South Downtown in recent years. But they are ready to reintroduce business leaders and city dwellers to what was once the heart of Atlanta.
“South Downtown is Atlanta’s downtown. If you call Atlanta your home, this is your downtown,” Birdsong added.