Atlanta's Midtown is hardly recognizable from 20 years ago. It's truly astonishing how much development has occurred in this most urbane of intown neighborhoods, with signature buildings like Metropolis, Viewpoint, Spire, 1010 Midtown, and the Mayfair Towers dramtically defining the airspace between Downtown and Buckhead. What's even more fascinating is what didn't get built. Consider the curious case of GLG Park Plaza.
In the early 1990s, the Atlanta real estate community was enthralled with the dramatic saga of a Swedish developer, G. Lars Gullstedt. As this was pre-IKEA and Atlanta had little prior contact with big time Scandinavians, the media referred to him simply as "The Swede." Gellstedt rode into town and assembled 11 blocks in the heart of Midtown for a project he christened GLG Park Plaza. As you can see, it would have dominated the area roughly bounded by Juniper, West Peachtree, 7th, and 4th Streets. At the time of the development's unveiling in 1991, Mayor Maynard Jackson referred to it as one of the nation's most significant urban investments. These days, we say the same thing about the Beltline. Obviously, Atlanta's never had a taste for humble pie.
Snazzy renderings revealed plans for a tidy mixed use mini-city (Atlantic Station, anyone?), with a park extending from Peachtree Street down to a restored Biltmore Hotel and surrounded by towering offices, apartments, and condos. A shopping mall was also included, this being the age before "mall" was a four letter word in urban planning circles. Wait, mall is a four letter word. You know what I mean.
The twin 65 story buildings on Peachtree would have surpassed Bank of America Plaza (55 stories) as Atlanta's tallest buildings. GLG Park Plaza was seen as the new Rockefeller Center; it would legitimize Midtown as a world class urban environment. Build out was estimated at 15 years, and the total cost would be in the billions of dollars. In what could be considered a stroke of luck, Gullstedt never secured major financing.
As we now know, the early 1990s weren't a good time to be announcing mega real estate projects. GLG Park Plaza got as far as zoning approval before 1993 when Swedish banks started calling back the loans Gullstedt had used to secure the 50 acres of land. Not surprisingly he declared bankruptcy; the amount of $470,000,000 was one of the largest defaults in Swedish history. Within no time GLG Park Plaza was dead, but Gullstedt was able to leave one notable mark on the Midtown skyline before his demise. What's now the Four Seasons on 14th Street was opened in 1992 as the GLG Grand, housing offices, a hotel, and the South's most expensive condominiums, with units starting at $375,000*.
The story of the Plaza inspires plenty of deja vu these days, with the grave dirt still freshly turned on Midtown real estate projects like One Museum Place, the Premier at Fox Plaza, and the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. The developments change, but one thing remains the same: real estate is never boring.
*Side note: 2008 saw the opening of the St. Regis Residences in Buckhead, with units priced from $2.5 million.