Sunday, March 19, 2017

Can Stonecrest Become the Next Dunwoody?

Photo credit: High Street

After living in various parts of midtown Atlanta and Buckhead for about a decade, I moved back to south DeKalb in the summer of 2013. I’ve loved the area since buying my first home in the early 90’s and knew if I had to move to a suburban, more family-friendly area, I wanted it to be south DeKalb.

In November 2016, I celebrated that voters decided overwhelmingly to form the city of Stonecrest. I found the idea of Stonecrest compelling, viable and representative of something that I’ve known for a while: many of the people in this area are smart, well-cultured and will make things happen if given an opportunity.

Soon after the 'new city' ink was dry, the $200 million Atlanta Sports City development was announced for the areas around the Mall at Stonecrest. This nearly 200-acre sports and entertainment destination will feature indoor and outdoor sports facilities (including a 15,000-seat professional stadium) that will host soccer, football, flag football, futsal, lacrosse, basketball, baseball, field hockey, tennis, volleyball, wrestling, cheerleading, fitness training, group events, and year-round camps. The mall will get a new grand entrance featuring Stonecrest Landing, a 340,000 square foot retail and restaurant complex with a SeaQuest Aquarium.

I see Stonecrest and Dunwoody as being very similar. Sure, Dunwoody has an abundance of office towers, big hotels, much shopping and a ton of upscale housing. It hasn’t always been this way. Forty years ago, Dunwoody was an unincorporated part of DeKalb County featuring the newly-built Perimeter Mall and a scattering of low-rise office buildings. The business leaders of the area marketed it as an alternative to downtown and midtown for business.

Stonecrest must borrow from this playbook. There are many that may look at this idea as preposterous. After all, what and why would companies want to locate 25 miles outside of downtown Atlanta? I’m sure when the developers of Perimeter Mall and Perimeter Center office park pitched their proposals, they were probably met with the same questions. Much of the Perimeter Center area pre-development was farmland and forest and not close to the center of Atlanta’s business communities.

Imagine the people who grew up in Dunwoody in the 40’s and 50’s and how they may view the changes in the area. Many of them probably couldn’t imagine that pristine farmland eventually becoming one of metro Atlanta’s largest commercial centers. Things change. Imagine a technology company looking to locate in metro Atlanta and deciding on Stonecrest because of its proximity to the airport and downtown, low crime rate, highly skilled workforce, a diversity of housing choices and a bet that a MARTA rail line will come out that way in the near future. Now imagine them building a 6-story class-A office building in Stonecrest. A few years afterward, more companies show interest in coming to the area. It’s a snowball effect. It becomes a millennial hotspot: relatively inexpensive housing, close to the airport, as more workers come in, more businesses are attracted to the area. Just as what made the Perimeter Center area popular, companies and people like to be in a ‘hot’ area. Then more housing comes, more choices in entertainment, which in turn, attracts even more businesses. This is the simplified version of what happens. 

All it takes is a serious marketing/ branding of the area, improving/ maintaining the quality of life and Stonecrest can thrive. Stonecrest is no different than any other upstart area: no one knows what an area will be like years down the road. If the Atlanta Sports City complex is a harbinger of what’s in store for this young city, just imagine what might happen within a decade.

I see good things happening with Stonecrest. I see it becoming the next Dunwoody. I see MARTA rail going to the area, I see office towers and more high-density housing being built. I see telling my grandchildren about how I remember when it was just a mall, some restaurants, and retail scattered around the mall back in the day. They’ll look at me in disbelief.

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