Perimeter Area: Strong Rebound

Tourism, housing and private investment
Goergia Trend May 2022 OS Perimeter Brownell
Changing Paradigm: Shirlynn Brownell, Brookhaven’s director of economic development, at the Emory Musculoskeletal Institute Photo:

Creating city centers, connecting trails and green spaces and courting corporate headquarters – these are a few of the Perimeter area’s favorite things. Dunwoody, Sandy Springs and Brookhaven are all undergoing a major shift in how suburban areas like those near the I-285 perimeter highway are designed.

As one of Metro Atlanta’s first suburbs, Dunwoody began its transformation with an influx of people looking for an alternative to downtown, according to City Manager Eric Linton. As the region developed, housing options expanded, drawing even more new residents.

“The Perimeter area has always been a prime market,” Linton says. “Dunwoody started really emerging in the ’70s and especially during the ’80s when the market became so hot. The housing stock, especially for people coming from outside the area, was a step up. The size of the houses was much larger and that became the standard.”

Dunwoody was also perfectly positioned for the next shift in suburbia: Residents who wanted to work closer to home. Located just outside I-285 in DeKalb County, the city was able to attract Gold Kist, a poultry company that was one of the area’s first corporate headquarters.

“Gold Kist was one of the first headquarters in this area going back to the ‘70s,” Linton says. “What makes it unique is the fact that [the city] has the combination of the housing and these headquarters.”

Gold Kist was acquired by Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. in 2007, and its former three-story office building sat vacant for more than a decade. Developers now plan to turn it into a multiuse complex with a 145-room hotel, about 400,000 square feet of modern office space and multiple restaurants. The redevelopment plans include expanding the existing building and creating a 12-acre walkable campus. In addition to the hotel, the development is set to include a parking deck, outdoor amenity space, a rooftop “entertainment and conference space,” onsite bike storage and a fitness center. The site is adjacent to the Dunwoody MARTA Station.

The estimated investment for Phase I of the development known as Campus 244 is $236 million, according to Dunwoody Economic Development Director Michael Starling. That’s just one example of the vibrant growth in the Perimeter area.

“There is 30 million square feet of office space in the entire Perimeter, across Dunwoody, Sandy Springs and a little bit of Brookhaven,” Starling says. “We have one of the largest concentrations of office space in the Southeast and the quality of our buildings is prime.”

Which brings us to the latest trend in suburban development: live-work-play communities.

While there are several mixed-use developments under construction in Dunwoody, the largest is High Street, according to Starling. High Street will initially include 150,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, 600 luxury apartments, 90,000 square feet of loft offices and 222,000 square feet of existing office space. The estimated investment for Phase I is $350 million.

“Their total build-out is going to be basically a brand-new neighborhood in the Perimeter market,” Starling says. “They broke ground [in December] and they’re already going vertical. It will probably be another two years before it’s complete. It is a major shift in the type of design for a suburban area like Perimeter.”

Where the Workforce Lives

Not only do live-work-play communities represent a shift in suburban development, they also represent a paradigm shift in how companies choose locations for their corporate headquarters, according to Shirlynn Brownell, Brookhaven’s first director of economic development. That calculus has shifted from a C-suite to an employee focus.

“Companies are really moving where the workforce wants to be,” she says. “Decades ago, companies moved where the CEO and executives wanted to live and that has changed. Now, we’re seeing the opposite. Companies are moving where the workforce is and where the workforce wants to live.”

Back-office talent is a key driver for corporate headquarter operations, Brownell says, noting in addition to its “ideal location,” Brookhaven boasts a talented and “highly educated workforce.”

“None of our companies have had issues with recruiting,” she says. “Lack of workforce is not an issue in Brookhaven.”

Proving Brownell’s point, engineering firm Burns and McDonnell recently consolidated its Atlanta operations into 45,000 square feet of office space in Brookhaven, while Rooms to Go also consolidated its Atlanta headquarters in the city.

“I think that [these relocations] mean Brookhaven is a great place to do business,” she says.

Brookhaven, too, was among Metro Atlanta’s first bedroom communities, and it has transitioned over time into what Mayor John Ernst Jr. says is a good mix of urban and suburban. “We’re right next to Buckhead and Dunwoody. Emory and Druid Hills are to the south and we have a large piece of Buford Highway,” he says. “All those places [where] people want to go to, we are literally right in the middle of but we have established our own identity.”

Part of that identity is as a destination for chef-inspired restaurants, before the concept was even coined, Ernst says.

“We’ve just grown and grown and grown,” he says. He cites the many restaurants on and near Dresden Drive, including Arnette’s Chop Shop, which was named the No. 1 new steakhouse in 2019 by Atlanta magazine.

A city center master plan is underway, but in the meantime, Ernst said city leaders have “greatly enhanced our park space.”

“We’re finishing up construction on the Murphey Candler Lake house,” he says. “In the Perimeter area we’re working near Lynwood Park on construction of a very large splash pad with a four-lane pool and new turf field.”

The 4,000-square-foot lake house is part of the city’s $40 million park bond, which passed in 2018. Of that, $8.9 million was set aside for improvements to the 120-acre Murphey Candler Park. The lake house will be situated on the west bank of Murphey Candler Lake and will include multipurpose rooms facing the lake that are available to rent and are equipped with retractable glass walls.

In addition to indoor restrooms, there will also be restrooms that are accessible from outside for trail users and a new boardwalk along the dam, Ernst says. A trail system on the sports side of the park has already been completed.

“We’re using Brookhaven granite [in the construction of the lake house],” he says. “All of our park projects and city buildings use the same quarry as the stone used for Oglethorpe University,” which was founded in 1835 and sits inside the city limits.

Ernst says the city has spent more than $120 million in the last six years on capital improvements, including paving roads, stormwater projects and construction of a new police department building that will open during the second half of this year on the Peachtree Creek Greenway, the multiuse trail project that will eventually connect with the Beltline and Path400. The Greenway currently runs for 1.3 miles from North Druid Hills Road to Briarwood Road, providing a walking, biking and recreation path and park along North Fork Peachtree Creek.

“The Greenway had been talked about by DeKalb County for many years, but with very little action,” Ernst says. “Once I was elected, we formalized a master plan which we completed in 2017, and from that we used hotel-motel [tax] monies to pay for the first phase, which we completed in two years. The Greenway is a very important piece for regional connectivity.”

Full of Firsts

From Atlanta’s first bedroom communities to Georgia’s first new city, Sandy Springs, the Perimeter area is full of firsts.

“Sandy Springs is kind of a unique community,” says Mayor Rusty Paul. “We’re the oldest of the new cities in Georgia. We started that trend in 2005, and since then there have been almost 20 new cities that have been authorized or requested. Everybody has seen the miraculous transformation over the last 15, 16 years that we’ve been a city.”

Paul recounts a laundry list of “best of” accolades the city has received in 2021, including one of the best places to live in the U.S. (as ranked by, one of the safest cities (according to MoneyGeek) and one of the top 10 best cities for Black women to flourish financially (also according to MoneyGeek).

And those shout-outs are for last year alone. Sandy Springs is also home to a number of corporate giants, including Mercedes-Benz, Newell Rubbermaid, UPS, Intercontinental Hotel Group and Cox Enterprises. Inspire Brands, a multibrand restaurant company whose portfolio includes Arby’s, Buffalo Wild Wings and ice cream company Carvel, also has its headquarters in Sandy Springs.

New to town is ServiceMaster Brands, which added its headquarters to the Perimeter skyline last year and 350 jobs to the local workforce. Financial services company Deluxe Corp., although still headquartered in Minnesota, opened its FinTech and Customer Innovation Center in Sandy Springs last year, bringing 709 jobs and a $10.2 million investment. Deluxe supports more than 4.5 million small businesses and 4,000 financial institutions, processing $2.8 trillion in payment volume annually.

“I love to tell my friend, the former mayor of New York, that Sandy Springs is the headquarters of the New York Stock Exchange,” Paul jokes, referring to the market’s 2013 acquisition by locally headquartered Intercontinental Exchange. “We have all the things corporate headquarters are looking for including a great talent pool and a highly educated workforce.”

In addition to its robust roster of corporate headquarters, Sandy Springs offers a great quality of life, Paul says, noting the community has a new performing arts center that has four venues, two inside and two outside. It’s part of the City Springs arts-and-government complex in downtown that also includes city hall.

“We now have an entertainment district and a walkable downtown that we’re continuing to grow,” he says. “We’ve issued an RFP to expand the current campus a block south, so we’re creating this great live-work-play environment that is the epitome of what corporations are looking for right now.”

At 38.5 square miles, Sandy Springs is pretty well built out, according to City Manager Eden Freeman. Old buildings have to be torn down so new ones can be erected. That gives the city the ability to preserve its greenspace, Freeman says.

“We have one of the largest urban forests in the metro area,” she says. “Trees add value and vitality to a community.”

Estimating that 57% to 60% of Sandy Springs is tree-covered, Eden points out you can’t see the Atlanta skyline from the mayor’s office on the fifth floor of city hall because of all the trees.

“People don’t just buy a house, they buy a community, and we are very focused on protecting the area around them,” she says. “We say we’re a community with an urban vibe, but a small-town feel. We are an in-town community, but by protecting our neighborhoods from excessive development, we’re able to keep that homey small-town feel.”

In 1970, Joni Mitchell penned the song Big Yellow Taxi, in which she laments, “They paved paradise, put up a parking lot.” From the historic suburban landscape as a collection of strip malls covered with abundant asphalt and concrete, the Perimeter area is reimagining those lyrics through today’s thriving live-work-play environments.

Local Flavor

Dunwoody’s Heart

While most kids think they know the career they would like to have one day, David Abes knew from a young age the career he didn’t want.

“My dad was a dentist and I worked in his office for one summer, and I said, ‘This isn’t for me,’” Abes recalls. “I’ve always loved the restaurant business, so I dove in.”

Abes dove in headfirst, in fact, beginning his career as a teenager at G.D. Ritzy’s in Atlanta, slinging hamburgers and hot dogs. Fast forward 32 years, and Abes earned his “master’s degree in restaurants” working for Morrison Casual Dining at L&N Seafood, he says. Over the course of his career, he has also served as COO of the well-known Buckhead Life Restaurant Group and today he is owner of Dash Hospitality Concepts.

In November, Dash Hospitality Concepts opened the first of what will be three new restaurants in Dunwoody Village. The first, Bar{n} is a wine, craft beer and whiskey bar that serves up charcuterie boards, five different kinds of flat breads and other upscale bar foods. The wine list rotates and there are 100 whiskeyson the menu.

“This is a project I’ve been working on for three-plus years,” Abes says. “Everybody has their place: Roswell, Woodstock, Alpharetta … and Dunwoody didn’t have that [community center].”

What Dunwoody did have was an outdoor mall with a center courtyard that was built in the ’70s, according to Abes, who compared the aesthetic of the area to Colonial Williamsburg.

“The center courtyard had some retail in it, but not much else,” he says. “It had great bones, but no heart. We wanted to make it look cool and hip.”

Armed with a “grand vision” of what Dunwoody’s city center could become and a $150,000 city-approved grant from the development authority, Abes set about building part of it. “The Village: The Heart of Dunwoody” features outdoor seating, a stage and a large movie screen. There’s also a pop-up food truck that alternates between Morty’s Meat & Supply, a barbecue restaurant, and Cuco’s Mexican Cantina, which serves tacos and Mexican street food. A brick-and-mortar Morty’s restaurant will open in August.

“This whole experience has been amazing,” Abes says. “I love this business. Every day it’s something different, and everybody has a story and I love talking to them about their stories.”

Categories: Metro Atlanta, Our State