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Attorney: Plan to redevelop North DeKalb Mall and build a Costco is ‘dead’

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Attorney: Plan to redevelop North DeKalb Mall and build a Costco is ‘dead’

The vacant Macy's store at North Dekalb Mall. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

This story has been updated. 

The owner of North DeKalb Mall has withdrawn a zoning application that was part of a plan to tear down the mall and redevelop it into a mixed-use project anchored by a Costco.

Kathryn Zickert, an attorney for Sterling Organization which owns the mall, said the Costco project is “dead,” but DeKalb County Commissioner Jeff Rader said the county is open to considering a different plan than the one Sterling originally presented.

Zickert suggested that changing the plan is a major roadblock to the redevelopment moving forward.

“We have to pull the application,” Zickert said. “We can’t do everything they want us to do, the neighborhood, the commissioners, the staff. There are so many people with their hands out at this point that it is absolutely financially impossible to move forward. And we can’t satisfy Costco. It’s dead.”

Zickert said there were numerous requests by county officials and residents that included completing a PATH trail with a bridge, completing a secondary PATH trail, redoing the streetscape and more.

“The staff wanted us to pull the big boxes up to the internal street, which means we’d have no place to unload,” she said. “It was out of hand. Staff wanted us to move the gas pumps. Costco said, ‘Absolutely not.'”

Zickert said she was frustrated that the project can’t move forward.

“I’m really sorry, because I think this needs to happen,” she said. “Having it sit the way it is does nothing for nobody. It’s very disappointing.”

Is there any way the project could be revived?

“Not unless everybody gets real,” she said. “I have not been bluffing. I’m not saying we don’t have the money and we do. We don’t. We don’t have the leverage in the budget.”

The Dekalb Cross Neighborhoods Council was also told of the decision. According to an email obtained by Decaturish, “The Dekalb Cross Neighborhoods Council has been notified that Sterling Enterprises is withdrawing their rezoning application for the proposed redevelopment of North Dekalb Mall. Their lawyer, Kathryn Zickert, informed us that the project has become too expensive to proceed. At this point the owner/developer has not shared their future plans for the property. We will share more information as it becomes available.”

Commissioner Rader said the county is interested in seeing the mall redeveloped.

“I pledge to you that we continue to be committed to a redevelopment of the site that’s in everybody’s interests,” Rader said.

He said the county’s concerns had to do with loading docks being placed too close to neighborhoods and the inability of Sterling to configure the site in a way that satisfied residents.

“We understand Sterling has legacy leases for some of the larger big boxes on the site that gave those tenants a lot of power dictating the lease rates and configuration of sites for them,” Rader said. “It made it harder for Sterling to urbanize the site in a way the community was supportive of. When those leases burn off, there’ll be an opportunity to look at this as a clean sheet of paper.”

Rader suggested Sterling would have an easier time getting a big box retailer approved as an individual project instead of tying it to a larger mixed-use redevelopment.

“I don’t necessarily think this is going to be stagnant,” he said. “I think they’ll come back and decide what they may want to propose in the future. They had considerable constraints. The county wasn’t trying to burden them. We did have some expectations in terms of the urbanization of the site. This is clearly a generational redevelopment, and this is a very important part of the county. We want to make sure we get any development that goes there right and best serves the public interest going forward.”

Rader said he doesn’t think Sterling withdrawing the application is the final word on redeveloping the mall.

“We expect they are going to continue to work on this,” he said. “They’re just withdrawing this particular proposal. It’s an asset that can be optimized in a lot of different ways. We expect to continue to work on this. We were working on their evolving proposal.”

Rader noted county officials are meeting with Sterling in January to discuss the mall’s future.

“It’s not like it’s the end of things,” he said. “We haven’t denied a zoning so that they can’t come back to us for two years. If we did that, yes, that would freeze it for two years. But that’s not what we did.”

Discussions about putting a Costco at North DeKalb Mall have been going on for years, but gained new life in April when Zickert confirmed that the mixed-use development was finally moving forward. Or so everyone thought.

If the redevelopment plan were to move forward, the mall – which opened in 1965 – would be torn down and replaced with a mixed-use development that includes 500 multi-family residential units (450 apartments and 50 town homes) a 150-room hotel, 300,000 square feet of retail (including Costco), 46,000 square feet of restaurant space, a 14,500 square foot food hall and 50,000 square feet of office space.

The exact number of residences for the proposed project varied.

Records obtained via the Atlanta Regional Commission say the project say the project would have 360 apartments and 45 town homes.

The project was reviewed by ARC and the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority. Both organizations provided recommendations to improve pedestrian, transit and traffic access in and around the project.

To learn more about those recommendations, click here.