David Cochran learned many lessons from his father, Felix. The elder Cochran, who died in 1996, was one of the vanguards of metro Atlanta's go-go boom times, a larger-than-life character who made larger-than-life deals buying huge swaths of land in the northern suburbs. In the 1970s and '80s, the Paces Properties CEO plotted those purchases by locating land surrounding golf courses on a massive aerial map focused on the area north of Roswell and stretching to Lake Lanier. Felix bet big on intowners leaving the city for the 'burbs and, despite some misses, had lots of hits.
That map still hangs in the conference room of Paces Properties' Vinings headquarters, which is now overseen by David. It keeps him grounded, the 39-year-old CEO says. Unlike his father, nearly everything David has developed is deeper in the heart Atlanta.
"I'm an intown guy and I see intown as the future," Cochran says. "I've been a huge proponent of that for many years and am still a firm believer."
In early November, Cochran started work on two key projects along the Atlanta Beltline's booming Eastside Trail in Inman Park. Both could help spur intown Atlanta's renaissance and add an additional jolt to an already vibrant and bustling corner of town.
First up is transforming the inside of Tyler Perry's massive former Krog Street studio into Krog Street Market, a 12,000-square-foot foodie's paradise similar to San Francisco's Ferry Building Marketplace. Local chefs, bakers, florists, and cheese makers would sell their wares inside the adapted sawtooth-brick building under 20-foot ceilings and clerestory windows. Restaurant patios would line the street and allow diners to gaze upon people jogging and biking along the Beltline.
In the parking lot of the nearby Stove Works development, which Paces also purchased in late October, approximately 200 apartments would rise and stretch all the way to Edgewood Avenue, helping create the dense communities along the Beltline depicted in countless project renderings. Cochran says the firm isn't considering Olympic-sized swimming pools, jam-packed exercise rooms, or other incentives aimed at wooing tenants as part of the complex.
"As long as you build apartments in a way that they're desirable places to live, then the amenity package is the area," he says.
Demolition is already underway on the old film studio's interior. David expects a quick turnaround: He hopes to wrap up in the summer, preferably sooner, so the restaurants can move into the space. Development of the Stove Works apartments will come later.
If successful, the two projects could become a prime destination that people could reach by foot, bike, and — once the Beltline builds transit — a streetcar. Not to mention draw people who crave an experience that's different from what they normally find in big-box retailers or stand-alone "lifestyle centers" that fall short of meshing with the surrounding area.
There will be challenges. That pocket of Inman Park is already grappling with traffic congestion, which could worsen with a destination like KSM. Working with old buildings brings its own set of surprises. There's also the debate over whether Inman Park, just down the Beltline from Ponce City Market, the mammoth mixed-use redevelopment of the old City Hall East, could become oversaturated with restaurants and retail. And then there's the concept of the market itself.
"Anything foreign is always met with apprehension," Cochran says. "If we do our jobs right it shouldn't be a challenge. But I think that's always the game you play when you're innovating in real estate."