Georgia Tech Reconnects, Renews Section of Atlanta Business District with Technology Square

When Georgia Tech needed one million square feet of new space, President G. Wayne Clough looked across the Interstate that had divided the university from Midtown Atlanta 50 years earlier and saw an opportunity to reconnect the city to his alma mater. With the Midtown business district experiencing a comeback and Tech needing new space for its management school, research centers and business incubators, the Fifth Street corridor was the perfect location to realize Clough's vision of a new kind of campus. It's a vision that erases the traditional boundaries between town and gown by blending academic and research space into a mixed-use office, residential and retail neighborhood. Now that the project is nearing completion, Georgia Tech's $256 million investment in Technology Square is beginning to transform the once empty section of Midtown into an energetic and vibrant community.

Occupying one-and-a-half million square feet on 13.3 acres along Fifth Street in Midtown, Georgia Tech's Technology Square is the new home of the DuPree College of Management, the Georgia Tech Hotel and Conference Center, the Economic Development Building and the Global Learning Center, a professional education and technology communications center. Also included is 17,676 square feet of ground-level retail, plus a 55,000 square feet Barnes and Noble at Georgia Tech. The construction of the complex was overseen by development manager Jones Lang LaSalle, which provided initial market feasibility studies, highest and best-use analyses, design consultation, budgets and schedules for the entire Technology Square project.

The privately owned Centergy at Technology Square occupies the north side of Fifth Street. Developed in coordination with Georgia Tech's buildings, Centergy is host to Georgia Tech's Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC) along with three other Georgia Tech research centers and a host of retail and office tenants. With two upscale apartment and condominium complexes only a block away, Technology Square provides residents in the neighborhood with a wide range of entertainment and retail options.

"Technology Square reintegrates Georgia Tech into the physical and intellectual life of the city, making it a place where students, business people and faculty all meet on the streets. We're familiar with the saying that innovation occurs at the water cooler. This is a model where innovation occurs at the sidewalk," said Ellen Dunham-Jones, director of the architecture program at Tech's College of Architecture.

There was a time when blurring the line between campus and city would have been unheard of. Fueled by fears of crime and urban decay during the 1960s and 1970s, new universities were choosing to locate in the suburbs, while urban universities like Georgia Tech, Yale and the University of Pennsylvania actively sought to insulate their campuses from the city. But now, as downtowns across America are experiencing a rebirth, universities like Tech are opening themselves up to become an active part of the communities they once feared.

In the 1980s, universities started to get more involved in controlling their environments, said Dunham-Jones. Princeton bought the adjacent Palmer Square and made it into an even more upscale retail area. Stanford created Silicon Valley as a business incubator in an office park setting. And, in the late 1990s, Penn turned a barren and crime-ridden section in the center of campus into a lively street with retail. Now, Georgia Tech is blending those approaches by creating a brand new neighborhood, moving its research centers and incubators from the office parks and weaving them into the community with ground-level retail, restaurants and academic space.

"Every single university started looking at what Stanford did with incubators in Silicon Valley. Now, more people want to be in the city. Start-up businesses that want to attract the new knowledge workers have to be in the city to attract young employees like new Georgia Tech grads," said Dunham-Jones.

The benefits Tech Square brings to the university are many, said Clough. "First, it reclaims an area adjacent to our campus that was deteriorating in such a way to pose a threat to us. It links us to Midtown and bridges the gap created by the construction of the freeway. It provides much-needed new facilities for our academic programs and visitors to our campus. The retail outlets represent an important step in creating a 'college-town' feel to our campus. And, finally, it creates a highly visible signature development stating that the heart of the technology community is here," he said.

Tech's move into Midtown gives the DuPree College of Management neighbors that include BellSouth, Bank of America, the Federal Reserve and a host of businesses in the renovated Biltmore Hotel. The school hopes to use its geographical connection to boost relationships with those companies through educational partnerships and internships. Employees at area businesses will be able to use the resources at Tech Square, from the executive education classes at the College of Management and the guest suites and meeting space at the hotel to the distance learning technology at the Global Learning Center.

"We're delighted that Technology Square is in place. Georgia Tech's integration into Midtown will provide the impetus for growth and development that leads to jobs and new economic development initiatives that will benefit not just the city, but the region and the state," said Kim King, president of Kim King Associates, developer of Centergy at Technology Square.

A Public Space
In 1997, Midtown Atlanta was undergoing tremendous change. Once a busy business district, the neighborhood fell on hard times in the 1960s. Fueled by the efforts of the Midtown Alliance and the Midtown Improvement District, parts of Midtown were experiencing a resurgence, but the section that was to become Tech Square was on the fringes of this redevelopment. A collection of parking lots and warehouses with a few isolated businesses here and there, the area was ripe for improvement. "Live, work and play" was becoming the mantra of developers intent on increasing their projects' profitability by creating pedestrian-friendly mixed-use developments that combined residential space with office and retail. Clough and the Georgia Tech Foundation realized the university could meet its demand for new space while taking advantage of this new environmental trend in order to reunite Georgia Tech with its neighbors.

"We pride ourselves on having one of the world's most advanced curricula and research programs in sustainable technology. It is only right that we walk the walk as well as talk the talk," explained Clough.

At the same time, private developers like Jim Borders and Kim King, both Tech alumni, were eyeing space in Midtown. The relatively inexpensive land and a commitment from a major university to develop the south side of Fifth Street made their decisions easier.

"Georgia Tech's decision to cross the interstate definitely had an influence on my decision to buy the Biltmore," said Borders. "What it has done for us is that the Biltmore is no longer on the fringe. It's now in the middle of all that is happening in Midtown."

"The vision that a number of us had was to utilize a significant portion of land to try to create a new environment that could tap into the energy that exists in Midtown. It was really Wayne Clough's vision to jump the divide of the Interstate," said King.

King agreed to develop the north side of Fifth Street, while Tech developed the south side. Coordinating the architecture and streetscape design of both projects would go a long way toward achieving the neighborhood feel both wanted. Wide, tree-lined sidewalks with benches and bike racks along with bike lanes, ground-level retail and proximity to MARTA would make the area a draw for the public. A new alternative-fueled trolley would help ferry students from the main campus and provide free transportation to the public to the Midtown MARTA station.

"The attention to streetscapes, walkable tree-lined streets, all of that is extremely important to the value of the neighborhood, especially in a city like Atlanta, where that is rare," said the College of Architecture's Dunham-Jones. "It conveys a very important sense of this development as a community. This is a model that's about getting people out into the public space."

Providing the opportunity for students, business executives, researchers and the public to mingle is part of what made the partnership so attractive, said King. "In the modern era, human contact is very limited. People go from the car to their house, and they don't see their neighbors. This was an opportunity to allow people to do something they enjoy, which is to interact with others. It was crucial for us to capture that," he said.

Key to this plan is the DuPree College of Management building, which features a large, glass-fronted courtyard that is open to the public. The building design provides pedestrians a view inside the college. From the interior, views of the surrounding streets connect students and faculty with the outside world. Because the building's entrance is set back from West Peachtree, the streetscape is open to natural light, preventing the street from feeling like an alley. Similar features that emphasize pedestrian activities are incorporated into the other buildings in the development. A planned park on top of the Interstate will help complete the area's transformation from urban blight to bustling and attractive mixed-use neighborhood.

Borders predicts Technology Square will help spur development up and down the Spring and West Peachtree corridor for years to come. "Georgia Tech has shown this is a great corridor," he said. "Instead of walking east when you leave the Biltmore, now you want to walk west. In my mind, it's the best view in Midtown Atlanta," he said.