As intown property values skyrocket, earning both condemnation and praise, one of the catalysts for the city’s rising real estate fortunes says Atlanta needs at least some gentrification to thrive.
“People throw out gentrification like it’s a bad word, and that is an oversimplification,” Jamestown CEO Matt Bronfman said at American Jewish Committee’s ACCESS in the ATL event Thursday, June 22, at the Industrious office space at Ponce City Market. “You want to have some degree of gentrification because you need to improve your tax base and support public services like arts, education and parks. So some degree of gentrification is absolutely necessary if you are going to be part of a successful city.”
Bronfman, whose company’s Ponce City Market development has revitalized the surrounding Old Fourth Ward neighborhood since it opened in 2014 (the official opening party wasn’t until October 2015) and has helped make the BeltLine project even more popular, said he remains committed to diversity and affordability.
The Jamestown CEO told the group of mostly young professionals who attended the ACCESS event, now in its 27th year, that his company has undertaken numerous initiatives to maintain diversity and affordability around Ponce City Market, including offering 20 percent of the apartment rentals at the multiuse project at affordable prices.
“We need to make sure that our prime property along the BeltLine is affordable for a diverse group of people,” he said. “I think it is our obligation to the community, and I’m a real believer that diversity is key to being part of a successful community.”
Jamestown, which was founded in Atlanta in 1983 as a real estate investment and management company, has a large portfolio of commercial properties nationwide, including two in Atlanta and seven in New York.
One of its New York properties, Chelsea Market, bears many similarities to Ponce City Market. The multiuse development, which opened in 1997, features a food hall and office space and connects to the High Line, a 1.45-mile-long aerial greenway built on an out-of-use railroad line.
Since Chelsea Market opened, property values in the surrounding neighborhoods have gone up vastly. The market and High Line are now among New York’s biggest tourist draws.
The biggest difference between the two markets? Parking.
While Ponce City Market has 2,600 parking spaces to account for Atlanta’s car-centric transportation model, Bronfman joked that Chelsea has only two spots — if you count the loading dock. But he said one of the biggest surprises about Ponce City Market is the number of people who aren’t driving to get there.
“After the airport,” he said, “We believe Ponce City Market is the second-most-popular Uber destination in Atlanta. So between Uber and the BeltLine, we are really not using all of our parking, which is not what we expected. We actually had people tell us when we opened that we didn’t have enough parking.”
Another unexpected success for Bronfman has been the demand for office space at Ponce. Jamestown recently signed a lease with a commercial office tenant at the highest rent ever achieved in Atlanta. He attributes that price to the uniqueness of the property compared with the many predictable glass high-rises in Atlanta along Peachtree Street.
Bronfman, who grew up in a Jewish family in Kansas City and is a member of both The Temple and Congregation Shearith Israel, is a strong supporter of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta. He recently lent his expertise to Federation CEO Eric Robbins for the organization’s urban farming initiative on the soon-to-be-completed south-side BeltLine.
“I love the thought process that Judaism teaches on thinking through issues and taking them seriously,” Bronfman said after event moderator Leah Fleming asked how he has been influenced by his religion. “I think the discipline and restrictions it imposes have been incredibly good for me even though I wouldn’t say that I’m particularly religious.”