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Sembler finds a treasure island in Atlanta

The Buckhead neighborhood in Atlanta was under-served in terms of retail. The prestigious urban area on Peachtree - household income in some sections is in the six-figure range - was ripe for development. But no one seemed to be able to cobble together the necessary real estate.

The site had been examined by several companies. It was afflicted by urban blight, then bisected by a road and battered by an economic downturn in the late 1980s. A German investment company later purchased most of the land.

It was the Sembler team that was able to acquire a hold-out piece of property in the middle of the desired tract - the land that "prevented the full potential of the site from being met," says Roman Stankus, AIA, Ozell Stankus Associates, an Atlanta architectural firm.

Stankus's company, working hand-in-glove with Sembler, drew up plans and helped implement the construction of a unique urban center. Lenox MarketPlace features buildings on four corners of land with a user-friendly parking structure in the middle.

The tenant mix in this urban power center was an interesting process, Stankus says. Next-door neighbors in the center include Target, Publix, Galyan's and Staples. They tend to be big boxes in smaller packages.

"We wanted to make the exterior of the complex as attractive as possible," Stankus says. The architects specified a warm palette of brick and synthetic stone accented with steel details for highly articulated facades. Wherever possible, their plans stipulated tall, floor-to-floor glass windows to provide the retailers with high visibility to pedestrians and to bring natural light and a sense of airiness into the frequently windowless, big-box retail.

The seven-level parking structure, serving as the hole in this angular doughnut, links the four retail buildings. Entrance ramps to the structure are easily visible from the street.

"We learned a tremendous amount doing this project," Stankus says. "It represents a trend for suburban retailers trying to find urban locations. The vertical circulation here is unique."

"This is much more than a vertical center," says Heather Correa, director of development for Sembler's Atlanta division. "The design of the parking structure and its relationship to the retail stores is a unique design in retail development."

Correa, a registered architect, says the challenges presented by this tightly-bound parcel were "highly complex."

"Ozell Stankus was very creative in the way it put the pieces together," she says.

"People think residents in an upper-income neighborhood might not be Target customers, but they absolutely are," Correa says. "And everyone enjoys shopping at Publix."

Correa says that since she joined The Sembler Company's Atlanta office three-and-a-half years ago, development through the company has grown four- or five-fold.

This is a company that likes to do it all, from complex urban infill retail projects to Target-anchored power centers in suburban markets, she notes.

"Wherever there are opportunities, we like to jump in," Correa says. "This company is flexible. Diversity is important to us."

The Sembler drawing boards contain designs for a proposed new super power center anchored by a SuperTarget in Henry County. Robson Crossing, with a spacious 51,000 sq. ft. Publix Supermarket, plus Hollywood Video, Hallmark Cards and Buffalo's Cafe, is being completed in Oakwood to serve new residential growth. A Woodstock development, anchored by a 177,000 sq. ft. SuperTarget and a half-dozen other main tenants, is targeted for an early 2001 opening.

In Atlanta, the 52,437 sq. ft. Publix at Piedmont shopping center will rise from the ashes of the former outdoor in-town mall, Rio. Walgreen's and local stores will join Publix at Piedmont.

"This is a market retailers want to serve," Correa says.

The same is true for the neighborhood surrounding Midtown Place: Its residents need retail. A 256,000 sq. ft. infill project, Midtown Place brings Home Depot, PETsMART, Staples, Borders and Harris Teeter grocery store to the site once occupied by Ponce de Leon (Poncey) Park, home to the old minor league Atlanta Crackers baseball team.

"The Midtown market is exploding," Correa says. Residents and students from campuses including Georgia Tech have had to travel up to Buckhead to shop. All major tenants of Midtown Place except Harris Teeter will be up and running by early autumn, she says.

The Sembler team worked closely with the neighborhood to determine its needs. Some potential shoppers said they intended to walk to the stores, so buildings were designed to accommodate pedestrian traffic.

New urban infill projects are an important component of the Sembler portfolio. Many cities represent an "untapped frontier for big-box retailers," says Jeff Fuqua, president-development for the company and based in the Atlanta office. "Taking a 10-acre site and putting major anchors plus parking on it as with Lenox MarketPlace is unique," Fuqua says.

While new urban centers don't have to be vertical, they may tend in that direction for both space and cost reasons. Fuqua says it may run from two to 10 times as much to purchase downtown land.

"Land costs are high, and there may also be demolition expenses," he says. Other caveats: Older sites may require infrastructure repairs or replacement, the developer must be aware of tax exemptions to help balance heavier costs and entitlements may be complicated.

"It takes years to do some projects," Fuqua says.

Shopping centers * BayWalk, St. Petersburg, Fla.

* Centro Ybor, Ybor City (Tampa), Fla.

* Midtown Place, Atlanta

* Woodstock Square, Woodstock, Ga.

* Powder Springs (Phase II), Powder Springs (metro Atlanta), Ga.

* Publix at Piedmont, Atlanta

* Kmart @ Juncos Plaza (Phase II), Juncos, Puerto Rico

* Juncos Plaza (Phase III), Juncos, Puerto Rico

* Manati Plaza Centro, Manati, Puerto Rico

Eckerd stores * U.S. 1 & Flomich, Holly Hill, Fla.

* Missouri Avenue & Belleair, Clearwater, Fla.

* S.R. 46 & Rhinehart, Sanford, Fla.

* U.S. 41 & Bayshore Gardens Parkway, Bradenton, Fla.

* Alexander & Thonotosassa Road, Plant City, Fla.

* Manatee Avenue & 59th Street, Bradenton, Fla.

* Tamiami Trail & Midway Blvd., Port Charlotte, Fla.

* Broadway Avenue & 50th Street, Tampa, Fla.

* U.S. 301 & State Road 48, Bushnell, Fla.

* U.S. 41 & Cypress Lakes, Ft. Myers, Fla.

* Route 92 & Trickum Road, Woodstock, Ga.

* Hwy. 70 & Hwy. 17N, Arcadia, Fla.

* U.S. 19 & CR 320, Chiefland, Fla.

* U.S. 90 & S. R. 89, Milton Fla.

* Founded: 1962

* Number of employees: 86

* Total number of shopping centers developed: 71

* Total shopping center GLA: 11,474,639 sq. ft.

* Number of freestanding Eckerd stores developed: 96

* Total Eckerd stores GLA: 926,248 sq. ft.

* Total GLA owned: 3,123,565 sq. ft.

* Total GLA currently managed: 4,318,115 sq. ft.

* Total GLA in development: 3,569,597 sq. ft.

* Company locations: Three

Corporate Headquarters 5858 Central Avenue

St. Petersburg, FL 33707-1728

(727) 384-6000

(800) 940-6000

Fax: (727) 343-4272

Southeast Regional Headquarters Eleven Piedmont Center

3495 Piedmont Road,

Suite 918

Atlanta, GA 30305

(404) 816-2219

Fax: (404) 816-1835

Puerto Rico Division Consolidated Medical Plaza

Suite 300 - Box 028

201 Gautier Benitez Avenue

Caguas, PR 00725

(787) 745-4805

Fax: (787) 745-4740


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