Decatur sets its sights on new office development
By Cathi Harris, contributor
While it has a great reputation as a place to live and raise a family – as well as a prime spot for a night on the town – Decatur doesn’t rank as high among corporate executives looking to launch or expand their business. City development leaders hope a new branding campaign can change that.
“When you look at the qualitative factors that they are looking for, we check all the boxes. But, in terms of perception, we are not really on their radar,” said Shannon Powell, president and principal of City3Sixty, the consulting firm working with the city on the project. Powell presented an update on the campaign to Decatur’s Downtown Development Authority board at its regular meeting on Friday.
The city currently has around 2 million square feet of commercial office space, with a 10 percent vacancy rate. The campaign’s immediate goal is to support the existing businesses and to attract new medium-size office tenants in the 10,000-30,000 square-foot range to fill the existing supply, Powell said. A longer range goal is to attract larger companies that would want to develop new office space inside the city.
“I think that would be somewhere around 200,000 to 250,000 square feet of new space over the longer term,” she said. “That would be around five new buildings maybe over a 15-year period.”
As part of the campaign, the steering committee is mapping out areas of potential commercial redevelopment in the city, as well as highlighting supportive infrastructure, like transit corridors, MARTA stations, bike lanes, and other amenities that make these areas attractive.
“We focused on areas that would be beneficial from the city’s perspective, where would we like to see new development,” she said. “And then we highlighted what areas are available. And we tried to answer a question that we often get, ‘Where is the investment?’ What has the city invested in, in terms of transportation improvements, bike lanes, etc. that companies would want to see there.”
Over the past decade, the “center of gravity” of commercial real estate has shifted more to the east side of Atlanta, Powell said, with Decatur primed to take advantage of the trend.
The city has three MARTA stations, all within walking distance of its commercial areas. It has a very educated and skilled available workforce in and around the city. These are key factors that will drive office development in the coming years.
While driving from Midtown to Buckhead, or Decatur to downtown Atlanta – or farther – might have been seen as a reasonable commute 20 years ago, this is increasingly no longer the case. As the city has grown, gotten more dense, a 20-minute commute now means that you don’t go as far. Companies need to continue to attract workers, many of whom want to live closer to their job.
To attract more office development, the city doesn’t need to change who we are, Powell said, we need to be “more of who we are” and communicate that to companies with values that align with that of the city.
To that end, the committee and Center3Sixty are working on a logo for Decatur commercial development, and a marketing campaign. They plan to present the draft logo to the City Commission at its next work session, aiming for a campaign “soft launch” by the end of the month.
The full campaign should be ready to go in September, Powell said.
The new effort will help Decatur’s commercial districts be more sustainable, with more office workers supporting the restaurants and retail businesses there and providing employment opportunities for city residents, Linda Harris, chief of education, civic engagement and communication in the Decatur Office of Community and Economic Development, said after the meeting.
“When I first started working for the city, offices were all there were [downtown],” she says. “Now, Decatur is seen more as a great place to live, to go out to eat or to go to a festival, but not so much as a place to work. This will help change that.”