Tishman Speyer, the New York-based development firm recently tapped alongside local construction company H.J. Russell & Co. to overhaul Old Fourth Ward’s long-dormant Atlanta Civic Center site, blindsided Atlanta Housing (AH) officials last week by withdrawing from the project, housing authority CEO Eugene Jones announced on Tuesday.
The decision “comes as a great surprise” to AH officials, Jones said in a press release. It also renews uncertainty surrounding the fate of the more than 50-year-old idle property, which AH purchased from the City of Atlanta for $31 million in 2017 and has since sat on, allowing the roughly 14-acre site to molder.
Jones said Tishman Speyer attorney Michael Benner emailed him on Thursday, saying the firm would be “respectfully withdrawing from the process to be one of the developers of the Atlanta Civic Center,” which kicked off when the AH board of commissioners voted to engage Tishman Speyer and H.J. Russell for the project during its May 25 meeting.
Neither Jones nor H.J. Russell representatives could be reached for comment on Tuesday evening, although Tishman Speyer spokesperson Iva Benson said in a statement that, “while this is clearly a unique development site with great potential, we’ve determined that the project is not right for us at this time.”
Jones added in the release that AH officials were “disheartened” by the decision, as it came “just one day after the AH board of commissioners authorized Atlanta Housing to enter into negotiations” with the developers and, ultimately, execute a master development agreement for a revamp that could bring $1 billion of new life to the historic site.
Atlanta City Councilmember Amir Farokhi, who represents the district where the Civic Center is located, told Atlanta Civic Circle in a text message that this is a “disappointing setback.”
“I hope Atlanta Housing moves at full speed to secure a new development team,” he continued. “Our city and those in need of housing need this redevelopment yesterday.”
Because of the “unforeseen circumstance,” the housing authority is reviewing its procurement requirements to determine how to “proceed expeditiously,” according to the release.
David Mitchell, the head of the Atlanta Preservation Center, said in an email that the Civic Center is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, “and the historic contributing elements of this space should certainly be incorporated into the larger discussion of this redevelopment.”
“Since 1968, this space has been present in the Atlanta experience,” he continued. “We are very hopeful that a positive outcome for its adaptive reuse can be achieved.”
Mayor Andre Dickens’ administration expressed its chagrin with Tishman Speyer’s reversal in a statement to Atlanta Civic Circle Tuesday night.
“While the administration is disappointed with the developer’s sudden withdrawal after an eight-month-long procurement process with Atlanta Housing, we are fully confident that the Atlanta Housing board of commissioners will move expeditiously to select a new development partner that shares our collective vision of a site that brings equity and opportunity to our community, highlighted by a deep commitment to housing affordability,” mayor’s office spokesperson Bryan Thomas said in the statement.
This isn’t the first time Tishman Speyer has ducked out of a local development deal. Just last year, the firm bailed on a contract to buy the Mall West End, stunting plans for a potentially $300 million revitalization of the shopping complex.
The announcement follows months of delays in AH’s developer-selection efforts; Jones had told Atlanta Civic Circle late last year that a development team would be tapped in early 2022.
The news also comes on the heels of criticism from Atlanta residents and urban design experts, who complained that the Civic Center redevelopment plan teased by AH officials before the May 25 vote didn’t seem to include much affordable housing—though details of the plan were not then available to the public.