Atlantic Station, the 138-acre former steel mill site-turned-mini-city, seems to have everything going for it. There's a gym, a grocery store, a movie theater, a wide variety of restaurants and shops. (Starting in November, when CL moves its offices from next-door to Coke over to the private development, it'll even have an alt-weekly.) Despite all these charms, there's always been something, well, missing.
In January, North American Properties and CB Richard Ellis, Atlantic Station's new owners, launched an ambitious campaign to overhaul the property's retail district. In addition to efforts to boost public safety, lure local businesses and end select "nightclub"-oriented restaurants' leases, the two firms made changes aimed to improve the overall visitor experience. Among them: investing $2.5 million in new lighting and wayfinding signals to help visitors navigate its cavernous parking deck; starting Food Truck Fridays; and adding pop-up, European-style storefronts for small businesses. All good starts, with more to come.
But they missed something: The "state-of-the-art Bose ambient music system with 112 speakers" that projects the soothing voice of Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee and others as you stroll along the brick sidewalks.
We don't have anything against Ol' Blue Eyes. But having music playing — we would say in the background, but it's too loud to qualify as that — while people are walking around outside only serves to reinforce the feeling that you're in an open-air mall, the exact thing that Atlantic Station's new owners say it's trying not to be.
Part of the appeal of urban life is its authenticity. The sounds you encounter — sirens, car subwoofers, buskers — add to the realness of being in a big city. But much of Atlantic Station still feels very micromanaged and orchestrated — the antithesis of such organic neighborhoods as Little Five Points, East Atlanta Village, even Buckhead.
And, frankly, the piped-in music is a little creepy, like you just wandered onto the set of The Truman Show.
So our advice to our new landlords, whom we applaud for asking for the public's help in enhancing a vital part of the city: Let go. Let Atlantic Station breathe and become a neighborhood. Keep watch, approve the things you must, but do so at arm's length. Let the property form an identity.
That must be frightening, especially when you consider the liability issues with which the firms must contend. But as a group who will spend lots of time there — and money — we want it to be a place that's enjoyable. And we want it to succeed. Should Atlantic Station fail, the city's urban core and surrounding areas will be worse off.