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Aquarium swims away from Atlantic Station

In the end, The Home Depot's founder Bernie Marcus saw a deal he couldn't refuse. In August, Atlanta hometown hero Coca-Cola offered his Marcus Foundation nine free acres of land it owns next to downtown Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park to locate Marcus' dream donation to the city and state — the shiny new $200 million Georgia Aquarium.

The deal ended months of speculation about the aquarium's final home. In fact, Marcus had signed a preliminary deal with developer Jim Jacoby for a site next to his Atlantic Station project, a huge urban infill development just north of downtown (see “Can an aquarium float Atlantic Station?” June 2002 SCW, p. 40). That deal had been brokered by Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes, but drawn-out negotiations with local land owners threatened to delay a final deal. That's when Coke stepped up.

While the new deal has won praise from most quarters, it puts another black eye on Jacoby's 10-year-old dream to develop the 140-acre former steel mill site into a 12 million sq. ft. mix of retail, office, residential and hotel space. Not only has he invested millions to clean up the site and years working with local neighborhoods, the city and state, but now he'll also be missing out on an estimated 1.2 million visitors.

It remains to be seen how losing the aquarium will impact his retail leasing program, but all is not lost for Jacoby as work on Atlantic Station proceeds. A bridge across the adjacent I-75/85 highway is scheduled for completion this fall, and United Artists is building a 4,000-seat 16-theater facility.

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