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The Case for Replacing South DeKalb Mall with a New Mixed-Use Development

Photo credit: La Citta Vita

Bringing Atlantic Station to the eastside

New York City-based Thor Equities is an international real estate development and investment company that owns the 800,000 square foot The Gallery at South DeKalb. 

From Thor Equities' page describing The Gallery at South DeKalb: 

The Gallery at South DeKalb is located in the southeastern section of Atlanta, known as Decatur, Georgia. Situated minutes away from I-285, and directly off I-20 on Candler Road, the Gallery has tremendous exposure and visibility from the street. The daily traffic count of cars passing the Property is estimated to be about 136,000.

The Gallery at South DeKalb tailors itself to a close-knit community of African-American consumers with more than 600,000 potential customers in the primary and secondary market area. This trade area has the nation’s second-most affluent African-American base with an average household income at more than $60,000 for more than 257,000 people within a five-mile radius. There is also a deep relationship between the Gallery and their local religious partners. In their trade area, the 10 largest churches have more than 125,000 members, which support the Gallery at South DeKalb in many ways.

Just imagine for a moment that The Gallery at South Dekalb disappeared. When you drive up Candler Road, you don't see the 46 year-old mall, but you see something different. You see shops lining the street level at Candler Road, where you were able to look down into the valley that once held The Gallery at South DeKalb. When driving down into the valley, you see what looks like a small city center. You find buildings of differing heights and designs with retail names that are not within 20 miles of this location, but names that residents in the area seek out, drive to and shop at...20 plus miles away.

In your mind, you've seen this type of development, with names such as Atlantic Station, Glenwood Park, and Avalon. Residents of the actual city of Decatur and Atlanta come out to this location, to shop at stores that they used to have to travel much further to shop at. 

This is something that could happen. With I-20 being one of the busiest freeways in the south, south DeKalb residents shouldn't sleep on The Gallery at South DeKalb, or should I say, the potential of The Gallery at South DeKalb. There will be the usual, "this won't fly in south DeKalb, because of the income issues" crowd. It's all about providing a desirable destination. There's a solid middle class in the south DeKalb market area. 

Photo credit: Brett VA
The issue is not that most residents don't want to or can't support the retail, they like most consumers want the whole shopping experience to be something that they feel great about shopping at. Atlantic Station does a great job in this area. Its offerings are nothing out of the ordinary, it has a Publix, movie theater, mall-type retail, a huge confusing parking garage and enough events happening year-round. Atlantic Station is basic mall-type stores in a nice wrapping. They've also upgraded Atlantic Station once in the past nine years since it's opening. Retail center upgrades are important.  This is why in other parts of the metro with similar economic demographics, retail centers and stores are upgraded, renovated and refashioned often. The retail stores and shopping center owners know that doing an upgrade every 20 years won't fly with the consumers in those areas. Why should it fly in south DeKalb? 

Imagine having a Christmas tree lighting at the new South DeKalb. Imagine a weekend flea market. Imagine an amphitheater with events almost year-round. This is doable and we should explore this further. We should ask Thor Equities, "what are your plans for this property?" A repurposing of The Gallery of South Dekalb would be an amazing asset. 

If you're into planning and development, I came across a Livable Centers Initiative study commissioned by Dekalb County for the Panthersville/ Flat Shoals Parkway/ Candler Road area back in 2007. This is a great start, but the conversation needs to keep going. 

Photos are only depictions of ideas and do not represent actual future developments.

Written by Ari Meier

Copyright 2018 © Ari Meier

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