An awakening in Chamblee
by Amy Wenk
In Chamblee, a light-pink mural with industrial images is now being painted on a retaining wall where Peachtree Road splits from Peachtree Boulevard, helping mark the gateway into the rapidly changing city.
Hopstix, a new brewpub that serves Asian fusion dishes on Pierce Drive, is brewing up its first batch of beer.
New restaurants are soon to open.
Artists are gearing up for a brand new festival on Chamblee’s Rail Trail, its version of the Atlanta Beltline.
Workers are now building out the interior of a new Whole Foods Market.
And hundreds of new apartments will begin to welcome their first residents.
A development renaissance is underway in Chamblee — an industrial area long shaped by planes, trains and automobiles — that’s transforming the once blue-collar town into a walkable community with a blossoming cultural identity.
More than $360 million worth of new projects are now in the works. That includes about 1,200 apartments, townhomes, senior housing, and office, retail and restaurant space.
Chamblee officials, too, are gearing up to pursue a big Town Center project that could give the city a central gathering space. And, engineers are busy plotting the future course of the Rail Trail, which would weave through the new projects.
“The mothership has landed in Chamblee,” Amy Spanier said with excitement Feb. 9, sitting among brightly colored paintings at the city’s first art gallery, I.D.E.A. Chamblee, which she opened last May with Peter Dyer.
Rents are already on the rise, perhaps signaling the city’s increased appeal.
In 2016, Chamblee was metro Atlanta’s fastest-growing rental market, according to a new study from apartment service RENTCafé. Last year, rents went up 13.7 percent to average $1,207 a month.
“There’s a lot of activity — just drive down any major street around here,” said Chamblee Mayor Eric Clarkson.
“But it didn’t just happen,” he added. “A lot, a lot, a lot of years of planning — of sticking to your plan — have really taken place.”
Clarkson was referring to a Livable Centers Initiative (LCI) study completed in 2001 and updated in 2014 that set the tone for all the urban, mixed-use development now coming to the city.
As more people and jobs move back intown, Chamblee has benefited from a prime location along the Peachtree spine, just north of pricey Buckhead and Brookhaven, and near the bustling Perimeter Center. It’s also home to the state’s second-busiest airport, DeKalb-Peachtree (PDK) Airport.
Yet, in Chamblee, land prices are far less expensive than Buckhead, where an acre of land can cost up to $17 million along Peachtree Road.
One of Chamblee’s greatest assets has become its transit stop along MARTA’s Gold Line, where several projects are now underway. More developers are building near transit lines as an alternative to Atlanta’s traffic-choked streets.
Chamblee also has an existing downtown area filled with authentic buildings, which retailers and restaurateurs crave. And the city is still dotted with affordable single-family homes, a rarity inside the Atlanta Perimeter.
“It doesn’t want to be Buckhead,” said Kyle Jenks, founding principal of Atlanta-based commercial real estate development and acquisition firm Parkside Partners. “It’s a different and more eclectic vibe. It’s extremely diverse, and it has a small-town feel.”
Parkside Partners has long believed in Chamblee. Since 2008, the company has planned or completed seven projects that total 310,000 square feet and more than $80 million.
In fact, in a 2008 interview with Atlanta Business Chronicle, Jenks had said: “We think Buckhead is coming up Peachtree, and we’re on the forefront of that trend. Chamblee is becoming a great intown area. Five years from now, it won’t look the same.”
Jenks, in a recent interview, equated Chamblee’s transformation to the revitalization of Inman Park, one of Atlanta’s hottest intown neighborhoods.
Parkside now has several projects in the works. Trackside will add 80,000 square feet of class A office space adjacent to Chamblee’s MARTA station, including the new headquarters of Patillo Industrial Real Estate.
Its other projects include Parkside Chamblee, which will bring 55,000 square feet of loft office space. And, the company is also developing Mercy Care for Saint Joseph’s Hospital, which will include 60,000 square feet of medical office space.
Another catalytic project currently underway in Chamblee is the $50 million Peachtree Station. The 11-acre development is bringing a 45,000-square-foot Whole Foods Market, along with several restaurants including Taqueria del Sol, YEAH! Burger, Starbucks and Chipotle. Tenants should begin in open in March.
“It’ll be 100 percent leased when we open, which is virtually unheard of,” said Jeff Garrison, partner at S.J. Collins Enterprises LLC, which is developing Peachtree Station. “It speaks to how rapidly this market is changing … What a hidden gem that’s not so hidden anymore.”
Another large project, Parkview on Peachtree, will begin welcoming its first residents later this year. The first phase will include 303 luxury apartments from multifamily developer Terwilliger Pappas, 45,000 square feet of street-front retail and 10,000 square feet of loft office space.
“You really have a density developing there that can support a pedestrian walking environment,” said J.R. Connolly, president and CEO of Connolly Investment & Development, the developer of Parkview on Peachtree. “It’s going to be completely different. My only surprise is why it took so long.”
Chamblee officials are also kicking off an effort to create a true Town Center. Late last year, the city’s downtown development authority paid $5.5 million to buy almost five acres along Peachtree Road, Broad Street, Irvingdale Way and Ingersoll Rand Drive.
And this month, a request for qualifications was sent out to a select group of developers.
The hope is bring a mixed-use development with a central green space. New municipal buildings could be part of the project, along with a parking deck.
What will help weave all the new projects together is Chamblee’s Rail Trail, the city’s version of the Beltline. Already, the trail spans about 0.75 miles, including a tunnel under Peachtree Boulevard. City officials are now working to engineer more segments of the Rail Trail.
“We have a plan that this Rail Trail will continue up through the center of our old industrial area,” said Adam Causey, the city’s economic development manager. “It will do so on old railroad spurs.”
He added, “All these developments are engaging it, which is kicking our development up a notch … If you are living next to that, you have a reason to get out of your apartment and go interact with the rest of the world.”
Smaller, rehab projects of historic buildings are also bringing new restaurants and shops to the city.
A recent example is a project from Terminus Rusted LLC, a partnership between Taylor Smith and Andy Lasky. The team has converted the former Rust N’ Dust Antiques store at 5486 Peachtree Road into new retail and restaurant space. It’s so far landed three tenants: Gus’s Fried Chicken, a restaurant out of Memphis, Tenn.; furniture store Dutchman’s Casual Living; and Paper Daisies Stationary.
Other restaurants and breweries are in the works or just opened. That includes Hopstix. There’s also Locomotion Brewery Co. And, BlueTop Restaurant will serve gourmet sandwiches in a backyard party atmosphere.
A new artistic spirit, too, seems to be bubbling up in Chamblee. This spring, the Chamblee Rail Trail Makers Festival will launch, set for April 22 and 23. It’s a family-friendly event along the Rail Trail that will feature makers and artisans.
“It’s a gritty community,” Dyer with I.D.E.A. Chamblee said of the city. “Downtown’s connection to its industrial heart will help keep it unique.”