A Development Hopes to Bring 24-Hour Energy to Atlanta

Located in Atlanta’s West Midtown neighborhood, Star Metals offers mixed use with an emphasis on cultivating offbeat tenants.

Atlanta has been booming forever, so much so that this upbeat, business-friendly city is often referred to as “Capital City of the Empire State of the South.” But even as its downtown has sprouted endless towers by well-known architects, the growth has been largely suburban—traditionally downtown was a nine-to-five neighborhood with little happening after hours.

But ever since the mayoralty of Andrew Young in the early 1980s, Atlanta’s leaders have sought to give the city an urban dimension. Luxury high-rise residential towers have risen just north of downtown and along the iconic Peachtree Street corridor. And a district called the Westside has evolved into sort of a “SoHo along the Chattahoochee,” a former meat-packing district now sporting lofts, galleries, hip restaurants, and trendy retail.

Interior lobby
Interiors at the Star Metals Residences are richly appointed with comfortable and stylish furnishings. COURTESY JEREMIAH COWAN

“You can’t grow horizontally forever,” says Spencer Morris, chief investment officer and executive vice president of Allen Morris, a development company founded by his grandfather. “At some point you have to grow vertically.” Morris is putting his company’s money where his mouth is—investing heavily in Atlanta’s Westside with a new stand-alone multi-use development called Star Metals.

“Historically, this was the meat-packing center of Atlanta,” Morris explains. “There were slaughterhouses everywhere. Then the neighborhood evolved into textile mills, which existed up until about the 1970s. Then, in the 1990s, a place called Westside Provisions opened, and that was the beginning of the neighborhood as a food destination for all of Atlanta.” The neighborhood is also known as West Midtown.

Star metals facade
The facade of the Star Metals complex, like its name, pays homage to the site’s industrial past. COURTESY JEREMIAH COWAN

Star Metals, whose name is rooted in former metal scrapyard on the site, will eventually comprise six buildings encompassing residential, office, retail, hotel, and other commercial uses.

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“The client wanted something that is not typically done in Atlanta,” says Kevin Heidorn, project manager and studio leader at Oppenheim Architecture, designers of Star Metals. “We were very inspired by the history of the neighborhood, the railways, the industry.” At present Star Metals comprises the nine-story Star Metals Residences and the adjacent Star Metals Offices, both newly completed.

The two buildings are architecturally distinct. “For the residences, we decided to break the building into two masses,” Heidorn says, “one fan-shaped and the other orthogonal. Corrugated metal panels are a nod to the site’s history.” Then, he continues, the office building has its own modernist character. “For the office building, the client wanted a variety of floorplates and exterior terraces. So, we shifted different sized floorplates around a core.” The result is an homage to 1960s and 1970s modernism, a style prominent throughout Atlanta due to its boom period during those decades.

Outdoor living room
Work-life balance, much like indoor-outdoor living, is a draw at the Star Metals complex where offices, housing, and shops are colocated. COURTESY JEREMIAH COWAN

Developer Morris realizes that buildings alone do not a vibrant urban district make—there must be funky retail in the mix. In its nascent years, West Midtown supported galleries, bookstores and coffee shops—but these have been a victim of the neighborhood’s success, pushed out by increasingly high rents. Morris thinks his company has a solution: “Stella at Star Metals will be a high rise with offbeat ground-floor retail tenants, and we’re intentionally discounting the rent to one-third of the market rate to encourage them to grow and stay.”

With this new city mix, has Atlanta finally achieved the urbanity for which it has long strived? “You need both existing and new buildings,” Morris opines. “West Midtown has both. There are real industrial buildings that have been converted into lofts. Now we are constructing new buildings that celebrate the neighborhood’s roots and history. We have such a vested interest in the neighborhood, and we have a broader vision for it.”

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