Like practically every retail district in the world, West End’s Lee + White underwent a few terrifying months last spring. But by November, its patronage had climbed back to pre-pandemic levels, based on weekly visits.
That’s according to Leo Wiener, president of retail with Ackerman and Co., which alongside MDH Partners acquired the 14-building warehouse row in Southwest Atlanta from Stream Realty for $40.3 million in 2019—six months before COVID-19 locked down society.
As 2021 unfolds, Wiener is bullish on the 500,000-square-foot district's potential, where the booze-centric tenant roster—three breweries (Monday Night Garage, Best End, Wild Heaven), a distillery (ASW), plus Boxcar restaurant/Hop City beer store—has earned Lee + White the nickname “Malt Disney.” His firm is confident enough, in fact, to launch a fully financed, $85-million second phase in coming weeks, adding more adaptive-reuse facets around the 22-acre property and possibly the first new structure, a wavy-roofed food hall.
Much of the new space will be created on spec, or without designated tenants signed.
“When you think about a three-to-five mile radius, and how close we are to Georgia Tech and downtown, there’s just not a lot of [similar] options when you come around the BeltLine,” Wiener tells Urbanize Atlanta. “What everybody’s excited about, especially with retail and restaurants, we have a half-mile of paved BeltLine frontage, and we’re four-tenths of a mile from MARTA. I think it’s hard to find those two characteristics in pretty much any large-scale development within the city.”
Wiener predicts Atlantans will see significant changes at Lee + White in 2021. Here’s a breakdown of those plans, numbered in the aerial above, and shown below in order of where activity is expected to happen first:
2. 1050 building
If you’re standing in the Lee + White parking lot facing Best End Brewing Company, the building to the immediate right is called 1050. That’s where Ackerman is negotiating a 20,000-square-foot lease right now with a creative-office tech tenant.
An adaptive-reuse redo creating new corridors and skylights for office use is permitted and ready to move forward in the first quarter of 2021, Wiener says.
“We were going to do that regardless of whether we had the tenant, as we’re extremely bullish on that type of office,” he says. “Coming out of the pandemic at some point, that type of single-story, BeltLine-oriented creative office with outdoor space will be in strong demand.”
5. 929 building
Wiener expects a conversion of the large brick building closest to MARTA’s railway to commence in the second or third quarter. An office tenant has signed a letter of intent for about 10,000 square feet and several others have been inquiring, he says.
Plans call for removing a section of the roof to open up the interior and bringing parking within the building. “We’re not tearing anything down,” Wiener says of redevelopment plans in general. “We want to pay sort of homage to what was there in the neighborhoods. Plus, frankly, it’s just uneconomical to pay top-dollar to knock stuff down.”
3. 1020 building
Two different buildings in play here, identifiable by the West End mural on the exterior next to Honeysuckle Gelato. Expect about 20,000 square feet fronting the BeltLine, delivered in the fall.
“We’re in final design specs to go get it priced, and we’re negotiating three to four [letters of intent],” says Wiener. “They’re all well-known operators intown. Some of them have a connection to South Atlanta.”
Announcements are expected in coming weeks.
4. Food hall and more
The splashiest Lee + White addition could be a 20,000-square-foot food hall, topped with offices, flanked by a huge covered patio, and situated like a row of barns on an existing parking lot.
Ackerman’s goal is to make this piece feel like the property’s entry point, the center you’d pass through to reach the BeltLine and other businesses.
This component is in value-engineering phases and wouldn’t start construction until the latter half of this year. According to Wiener, demand from potential food hall tenants has been extremely high, as many proprietors still view the area as woefully underserved, despite the pandemic’s economic toll.
1. 1070 building
That’s the rundown on places to work, drink, and eat—but what about living options at Lee + White, where there currently are none?
This hypothetical brick addition to the 1070 building is where a multifamily component could go. As a BeltLine neighbor, it’d be required to meet an affordability threshold, but there’s no timeline for starting to build. It’ll be a couple years, at least, before homes could materialize, Wiener says.
“We’ve gotten a ton of interest from multifamily developers,” he says. “It’s sort of a matter of time and rents; being on the BeltLine, we’re part of that overlay district where an affordable component is part of it, so at this point, it’s really a math exercise.”
Wiener’s goal, a year from now, is to have filled much of what’s discussed above with tenants, making what he suspects is a pandemic silver-lining a reality.
“It’s aggressive, but that’s the only way to keep everybody focused,” he says. “The pandemic certainly put a pause on stuff, but in some ways, it was maybe okay, as it gave us time to really think through a post-COVID design plan, and allowed us to get financing after the debt markets were frozen. So everything is kind of coming together.”
• West End (Urbanize Atlanta)