The village’s era as a party haven is over

Buckhead 2.0

Chances are the first inkling most Atlantans will have of the transformation of Buckhead won’t come from the cranes overhead. Or the sight of a 27-story office tower rising out of the ground at one of the city’s most prominent intersections. Or the signs on West Paces Ferry Road trumpeting the future site of Atlanta’s newest ultra-luxury hotel. Or even tantalizing rumors of towers designed to lure the super- rich with high-rise condos priced $3 million and up.

No, the realization that something big is happening will likely sink in at a more basic level, down where the rubber hits the road - - Peachtree Road, to be exact. It’ll come when the chorus of jackhammers starts to pound away at the asphalt of Atlanta’s most famous street early next year, when orange cones begin to sprout like mushrooms and hard hats become an everyday sight.

Looking down from his office on the 16th floor of Tower Place, Scotty Greene talks about the impending roadwork below him in the kind of upbeat terms that suggests he’s rehearsed for three years’ worth of tense encounters with impatient commuters. “We need to make Peachtree Road live up to its name,” says Greene, executive director of the Buckhead Community Improvement District. “The traffic will be bad for a while, but traffic is emblematic to an area’s success.”

That’s the kind of Chamber of Commerce spin that has justified a lot of dumb decisions when it came to growth and development in Atlanta. This time, Greene insists, they are trying to get it right, with an ambitious mission to transform Buckhead Village from the party central hotspot it used to be to something akin to Rodeo Drive plumped down on Park Avenue.

The cornerstone of the plan is a Peachtree Road you soon won’t recognize.

The CID has been quietly working for more than a decade to-ward the goal of turning Buckhead’s main traffic artery into a grand boulevard, complete with trees, benches and that rarest of commodities, at least in Atlanta: a landscaped median strip where its yellow line now lies.

The CID’s original concept behind the $20 million Peachtree Boulevard project -- beyond easing traffic congestion -- was to prepare Buckhead for future growth, to keep it ahead of the curve.

The curve, however, seems to have caught up with Buckhead. As if you hadn’t noticed, Buckhead is booming with new construction. By the most recent reckoning, at least two dozen major projects -- representing millions of square feet of new office space, condos, apartments, hotel rooms and retail space -- have been announced for Buckhead. The most eye-catching entries include:

• The new St. Regis, a luxury hotel that has a reputation as a refuge for celebrities and millionaires and is certain to keep Buckhead on the radar of the international jet-set.

• The Mansion, a 50-story skyscraper that will house a luxury hotel, two restaurants and 28 floors of condos starting at $3 million.

• The Sovereign, a 50-story office-and-condo tower near the northwest corner of Peachtree Road and Ga. 400 that, at 635 feet, will be Buckhead’s tallest building.

• Cityplace -- easily the most over-the-top proposal yet -- a series of nine 40-story towers containing 3,800 luxury condo units that is proposed on vacant land sandwiched between Lenox Square and Roxboro Road.

For the first time in living memory, there is agreement among business leaders, politicians, planning experts and even homeowners that the growth spurt will make Buckhead not just bigger, but better.

The combined impact of the Peachtree Boulevard project and the new buildings going up -- as well as the increasingly likely prospect of a streetcar system running up the spine of the city -- promises to transform Buckhead into a true urban center where the car is no longer king and workers, residents and shoppers alike will mingle on wide, tree-lined sidewalks.

“What’s happening now in Buckhead is something that’s taking place all over the country as people are moving back to urban centers,” says Jim Durrett, executive director of the Livable Communities Coalition, a quality-growth thinktank based in Atlanta. “In 10 years, Buckhead is likely to feel very different than it does now.”

Perhaps so, but this rosy vision seems a world away from the Buckhead of only a few years back, a place where late-night shootouts and stabbings had, in the popular imagination, turned Atlanta’s ritziest zip code into an upscale version of Dodge City.

In a very real way, the notorious party scene that had come to define the area had to die so Buckhead could be reborn.

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