(PHOTOS) From failing to fabulous: The plan to revive Northlake Mall

Construction fencing and signage at the entrance to Northlake Mall. Photo by Dean Hesse.

Tucker, GA — Retrofitting commercial centers is nothing new.

The trend is happening across the U.S. in now-defunct shopping centers and malls where residents lost interest and rents became too expensive for retailers. Research shows that by the end of 2021, more than half of American mall-based department stores will be closed, says Green Street Advisors, a commercial property research firm.

Macy’s at Northlake Mall. Photo by Dean Hesse.

Not every Atlanta mall can be a home to zombies, monsters and famous actors.

Although stranger things may have happened in Tucker, in the span of five years Northlake Mall went from deteriorating stores on seas of asphalt parking lots to a massive, reimagined destination.

ATR Corinth Partners, a commercial property developer out of Dallas, Texas, purchased the failing mall in 2016 from Simon Property Group. Sears left the mall, followed by Kohl’s and J.C. Penney’s.

“We believe each redevelopment has to be looked at with a fresh set of eyes. All too often, mall redevelopers come in and apply the same formula to every project,” said partner Tony Ruggeri of ATR Corinth Partners.

Five years later, 50 acres of Northlake Mall has been annexed by Tucker, Emory Healthcare leased 224,000 square feet of office space and residential developers are flocking.

Empty parking lot on the Northlake Parkway side of Macy’s at Northlake Mall. Photo by Dean Hesse.

The pandemic hit just as ATR Corinth Partners began to roll out a major leasing effort, after securing Emory Healthcare as a tenant. Yet, the project doesn’t show signs of slowing down.

NRP Group is eyeing 2300 Northlake Center Drive as a possible 324-unit residential development. Auto MD is opening at 2101 Northlake Parkway. SDM Partners is building 80 rental units at 2245 Northlake Parkway. Northlake has recently attracted CDC Credit Union and Burlington, and Bambinelli’s is relocating nearby in 2022.

Ruggeri said Northlake Mall is the third “reimagination” of its kind for his company.

The company’s portfolio includes West Manchester Mall in York, Penn., and 100 Acres in Nashville, Tenn. In both locations, a healthcare provider became the anchor business, like Emory.

The exterior of the former JC Penney store at Northlake Mall. Photo by Dean Hesse.

In Nashville, 100 Acres was purchased in 2006 and redeveloped it into a mixed-use property anchored by Vanderbilt University Health, big box retail and restaurants. It was sold in 2012 to LaSalle Investment from Chicago.

West Manchester was purchased in 2012, and turned inside out. Part of the structure was knocked down, and big box retail and restaurants were built. University of Pittsburgh Medical Center is a tenant.

When ATR Corinth Partners saw Northlake Mall, Ruggeri noted the area had “very strong basic demographics.”

“We saw an emerging gentrification. We saw a bifurcated market where you have a lot of people who bought their houses or built their houses many years ago, raised their family, kids moved out, but they’re still living in their house,” he said. “And then the other side of the market is a young, family-oriented market … where homes were being purchased, remodeled, or torn down and built new.”

Northlake Mall was no longer serving the community. Retailers inside the mall were not attractive to the people in the area, but the location was still geographically desirable — accessible by Marta bus and rail, as well as I-285.

In a meeting with Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT), ATC Corinth Partners asked GDOT to consider the mall rejuvenation when making plans for exits and entrances to express lanes on I-285.

Construction fencing and signage at the entrance to Northlake Mall. Photo by Dean Hesse.

“There’s been more interest in suburban office space as people have started evolving back to the to the office. Companies are starting to look at expanding space or moving space. There’s more interest in suburban where you’re not all piling into an elevator going up to the 40th floor,” Ruggeri said.

Major companies see advantages to being in one physical location, like training employees efficiently and effectively and maintaining corporate culture according to Ruggeri.

Northlake is less expensive than Buckhead and Midtown when it comes to commercial office space. Ruggeri said his company is more into a “reduce/reuse/recycle” philosophy than building up flashy commercial space.

“Everything in Buckhead was vertical, hence, expensive real estate, because of the layout of the building. We are big adaptive reuse people. We don’t believe in the short term and knocking the building down and then building new, we believe in adapting the buildings to accommodate other uses,” said Ruggeri.

One reusable space is the mall’s old food court. Plans to attract local office workers include new restaurants, open concept seating and flexible event space.

“Everything we’re talking about is consistent with what the city of Tucker’s vision of what Northlake needs to become. So we feel really good overall about what’s happening there,” said Ruggeri. “We are very optimistic.”

Tucker tried in February to annex 67 acres of residential and commercial property near Northlake Mall to make construction of roads and sidewalks easier, according to Tucker City Engineer Ken Hildebrandt. Annexation was not approved by the State legislature.

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