ATLANTA — The skyline and neighborhood of Buckhead Village are in the throes of change, thanks to a locally grown boy who wants to lift the area from a rowdy club scene to a fashion and community destination comparable to other high-end urban shopping districts.
Ben Carter, founder and chairman of Ben Carter Properties, is spearheading a $1.5 billion, mixed-use project that has already signed luxury retailers Loro Piana, Vilebrequin, Bottega Veneta, Borrelli, Etro, Hermès, AG Jeans, Domenico Vacca and Oscar de la Renta. The project, which spans seven city blocks over eight acres, will feature more than 600,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, three world-class hotels, up to 1,000 luxury residential units and 300,000 square feet of top office space. Phase one of the venture, which is along Peachtree Street, East Paces Ferry, Pharr Road and North Fulton Drive, is scheduled to open in fall 2009.
“It’s a great project because it brings to Atlanta something that [doesn’t exist],” said Thierry Prissert, president of Vilebrequin in the U.S., which will open a 750-square-foot shop. “Today you go to two malls [for luxury shopping in Atlanta]. It’s not that I don’t like malls, but when you have a choice between a mall and streets, where you have restaurants, shops and hotels, [the latter] is very appealing.”
Not so long ago, Buckhead Village was a tough scene. In the 1980s, bars and nightclubs began moving into the small area, which is the nucleus for several posh neighborhoods and wealthy Atlantans, and is just down the street from those two high-end malls: Lenox Square and Phipps Plaza. The change forced men’s retailers like the Buckhead Men’s Shop to move to a quieter and safer location close by. Nearby homeowners complained about the noise that went on into the wee hours. Then, on Super Bowl Sunday in 2000, two men died of knife wounds from a fight with friends of Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis.
The Buckhead Coalition and the Buckhead Alliance started making changes that included installing street lamps and security cameras, and even purchased properties and refused to rent them to nightclubs. After getting rid of the raucous clubs, the groups’ vision was for an area of high-end boutiques and restaurants, luxury hotels and high-rise condos. Carter, who was born and raised in Atlanta and who used to shop at the Buckhead Men’s Shop for his prep school uniforms, is helping considerably with the transformation.
“Buckhead became a club scene like Bourbon Street, and people wanted to eliminate the crime scene,” Carter said. “A lot of properties were left empty.”
He bought up nine acres, or seven city blocks, in the heart of Buckhead beginning in 2005, to help raise the rundown village to be in sync with its well-heeled surroundings.
Hermès, the first retailer to commit to the project, is in Lenox Square and will open a 4,000-square-foot store at the project. Hermès will close its 1,500-square foot Lenox location in 2009. John Lobb, the luxury men’s leather goods boutique, is the latest to sign up, and it will occupy 902 square feet next door to Hermès.
“A lot of retailers had looked at Atlanta and wondered why there wasn’t a luxury area and [as a result] didn’t want to be in Atlanta,” Carter said. “We felt Atlanta had the potential to have an environment like New York [Madison Avenue], Newbury Street [in Boston], Michigan Avenue, and Rodeo and Melrose. Today, we’re about 30 percent committed on the [retail] real estate square footage and they’re the leaders in the luxury world,” Carter said. “We’ve been very selective in our luxury mix.”
His company is in negotiations for 100 percent of the 375,000 square feet of phase one, and is also talking to theaters and music clubs. “It will be a destination for a lot of reasons,” Carter said. Phase two of the project, which has 220,000 square feet, will resemble New York’s Meatpacking District and will offer trendy and fashion-forward retailers. It is scheduled to open in 2010.
“The thing that’s interesting in the world of luxury retailing is it’s a very small world,” Carter said. “They’re very good at telling me about other retailers because they want the area to be good.” He said he’s interested in adding three or four more men’s designer single-brand stores. “Men’s wear has seen a great resurgence in the last few years, in my opinion,” he said. “And men particularly don’t like shopping at malls.”
Twenty percent of the retail space will be men’s wear and 50 percent will be women’s wear, with restaurants taking the rest.
The Streets of Buckhead area will have all parking underground with six valet stations, as well as self-parking. It will include outdoor sculptures, as well as works of art that will be placed on permanent exhibition throughout the new community. And the project will seek silver status in the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification program.