New York-based developer Tishman Speyer’s unexpected withdrawal from the Atlanta Civic Center’s redevelopment was “devastating” for its joint-venture partner, H.J. Russell & Co., said the Atlanta construction company’s chief operating officer, Yasmine Murray, on Friday.
Atlanta Housing (AH), which owns the Boisfeuillet Jones Atlanta Civic Center, on May 25 tapped the duo to overhaul the historic and long-dormant Old Fourth Ward property, after months of delays in selecting a master developer team.
But when Tishman Speyer pulled out of the deal less than a week later, blindsiding the housing authority and even its own development partner, it jeopardized H.J. Russell’s chance to play a role in what could be one of the most monumental projects in recent city history. Over the past 70 years, H.J. Russell has built much of Atlanta’s skyline, and it’s one of the largest Black-owned commercial real estate development and construction firms in the nation.
“It was devastating,” Murray said, referring to the time and resources her company spent crafting the joint-venture proposal, only to have it fall apart after seemingly crossing the finish line. Tishman Speyer did not respond to a request for comment.
AH’s CEO, Eugene Jones, told Atlanta Civic Circle this week that, instead of rebooting the already prolonged procurement process, the agency’s board of commissioners will reassess the pitches from the two other development teams that submitted bids. “We are working on the best and final offer,” he said. “We hope to go back to the board for approval no later than August 2022.”
Affordable housing is supposed to be a major component of the Civic Center redevelopment, and Tishman Speyer’s joint-venture proposal had received criticism for allocating only 430 units deemed affordable for those making less than 100% of the area median income.
Jones, citing the active procurement process, declined to say whether H.J. Russell, which has an extensive track record building and managing affordable housing, could join either of the teams bidding for the contract or come in as a subcontractor after the board selects another master developer.
H.J. Russell still hopes to participate in the Civic Center’s revival, although, “with our primary partner pulling out, we don’t really have a legitimate team,” said Murray, adding that the firm is awaiting guidance from AH on how to proceed.
Renowned for building Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the Center for Civil and Human Rights, the Georgia-Pacific headquarters, the Georgia Dome, and a lengthy list of residential projects, H.J. Russell is regarded as an Atlanta institution—the kind expected to tackle landscape-altering projects, such as the Civic Center overhaul.
But over two weeks after Tishman Speyer withdrew from the potentially $1 billion project, H.J. Russell executives are no closer to understanding their former joint-venture partner’s logic.
“We’re hopeful that in the near future we can sit down together and figure out what changed, what went wrong, and what we could have done better within the partnership so that we didn’t end up here,” Murray said.