I want to state upfront that this is an opinion piece. It does not reflect the views of my brokerage. It does reflect upon what I experienced last Saturday when I participated in the Invest Atlanta and Atlanta Beltline Westside Trail Open House Walking Tour, which showcased affordable housing options in Adair Park, Capitol View, Capitol View Manor, Pittsburgh and Sylvan Hills. (Also known as Southwest Atlanta – aka SWATL.) On the tour I learned that the area’s 30310 zip code was the hardest hit in the US by foreclosure and fraud during the real estate downturn, and there are currently 1,000 vacant houses available. So 1,000+ new residents could move in without displacing any of the current residents.
I am a licensed real estate agent, but I’m also a potential homebuyer. I will likely be purchasing a new home and moving sometime in the next 24 months, so right now I’m on a personal fact-finding mission, and I’m focusing on narrowing my search to neighborhoods that I can envision myself living in.
I currently own and live on the other side of the Beltline – the Eastside Trail – and I’ve seen that stretch go from weeds and dirt, to being the hottest real estate strip in Atlanta. But the Beltline itself is not what makes that stretch so desirable, it’s the restaurants, shops, grocery stores and green spaces that line each side, and that the Beltline connects. It’s the ability to walk or bike from Old 4th Ward to Piedmont Park (over 2 miles) without ever crossing a street. And on your walk you can stop for coffee or frozen yogurt or a beer. Get lunch at a dozen different restaurants. Or shop for unique antiques in a Parisian-inspired warehouse. Again, this is the Eastside Trail. Now let’s talk about what’s happening on the Westside Trail…
One of my best friends owned a house in Capitol View about 15 years ago when the neighborhood was pretty sketchy (IMO) and she would give directions to her house by cracking jokes like, “Then you take a left at the hooker on crutches, and that’s my street!” Back then, I visited her often, but she no longer owns that house, and it’s been a few years since I’ve been that way. Even though there was a possibility I’d be hit on by a hooker on crutches, I still liked the area, and I loved my friend’s house. I always thought the architecture of the neighborhood was a huge asset, because the houses each had a unique charm, and most are brick (my personal preference).
At the time that my friend was living in Capitol View, I was living in Ormewood Park – the neighborhood in between Grant Park and East Atlanta. This is the pre-grocery store incarnation of Ormewood Park, Grant Park, and East Atlanta. I think the Kroger on Ponce was our nearest grocery store (it’s about 4 miles and 25 minutes away). But we had the shops and bars in the village area of East Atlanta, a couple of neighborhood restaurants on Cherokee and on Memorial, and pockets of development sprouting up. It was enough to make the neighborhood interesting, but not enough to make it super-desirable, so I was able to buy a move-in ready 2/2 bungalow with a loft for $203k. Even a dozen year ago, this was really reasonable for a 1450 square foot home.
I’m giving you this backstory to help illustrate that I seek out areas that are a little on the fringe. (After Ormewood I lived on Memorial Drive and then Old 4th Ward – and when I bought each of those places they were practically giving properties away. No one wanted to be in either area. Except me, it seems.)
So, back to SWATL, I had this area on my personal radar because I’m currently in a loft, and I’m ready to move back into a single-family home, and I kind of want to be a little out of the way of the hustle and bustle. The Invest Atlanta and Atlanta Beltline Westside Trail Open House Walking Tour was a very nice event, and I enjoyed the shuttle bus tour and walking through the open houses. The houses presented still needed work, but were mostly in the $99k to $179k range. (I thought some were overpriced, but you gotta go out of the gate big, so I understand some agents reaching.)
Here are some photos of houses that I was wild about, (not for sale, just cute houses!) I’m telling you there are gems in this area because they haven’t been “updated”:
But that may be where the love fest ends, because when I got home I read the literature that was given to me by the rep from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a non-profit who owns a 31-acre site directly on the Westside Trail. It’s an amazing location, south of Pittsburgh and north of Capitol View Manor. I knew about the tract of land and that developers were currently courting the foundation with proposals, but I incorrectly assumed they would build something INTERESTING there because of the high-profile, walkable, bike-friendly location. And by interesting I mean something that will catch the neighbors’ attention, and the attention of other developers, like a grocery store to service the insane food desert that surrounds that area, maybe with a coffee shop next door, or mixed use for restaurants and retail, and general services for this under-served area. But nope, that’s not what they’re putting there. This is directly lifted from the handouts I received:
The Foundation plans to select a master developer to create a plan for the site that incorporates one or a combination of potential uses identified through the market study. Some possibilities include:
- a distribution hub and sorting facility
- an integrated service center that includes supply warehouses, laundry, storage and other offsite functions for regional hospitals and medical centers
- facilities for activities such as for payroll and billing, packaging and record keeping
- industrial, commercial or electronic equipment repair
- incubator space, workshops and labs
- consulting for design and manufacturing
With a lack of stores in the surrounding area, residents have expressed interest in seeing retail on the site, and the market indicates this is economically feasible, though not recommended as a primary use. The Foundation hopes new workers and customers connected with the site’s commercial development will generate enough demand to encourage retail development in the surrounding neighborhoods.
So residents want one thing, but it sounds like the Foundation is giving them something else – more industrial and warehouse space – in an area littered with abandoned industrial and warehouse space. I understand the desire to create jobs (the Foundation is focused on economic development for the site) but wouldn’t a large grocery store create jobs? The Beltline is there to promote walkable and bikeable communities, but does anyone really want to bike to a “distribution hub and sorting facility”? In short: No.
On the positive side, the Beltline anticipates that stretch being paved and fully developed within 5 to 8 years. But will anyone use the Westside Trail if all it does is connect green spaces? I mean, it’s nice for a walk, but in addition to exercise, the Eastside Trail is used for commutes, and for entertainment.
And there’s also the debacle (IMO) of handing nearby Fort McPherson to Tyler Perry for use as a movie studio, but that’s a whole other post. For now, I’m left saddened and shaking my head at the missed opportunities for the area. So, I’ve still got SWATL on my personal radar, but it’s been moved down the list a bit.