“The West End Mall Redevelopment Project is an example of everything a federal Opportunity Zone should be,” Von said in prepared statements that were part of a news release offering an update on the project. “Developers, city leaders, investors and communities across the country are trying to figure out how to make opportunity zones impactful,” Von said. “A growing number are looking at ways to get a financial return, and they want to make a difference. The redevelopment of the West End Mall is poised to be a national example of how to do just that.”
Dr. Eloisa Klementich, Invest Atlanta president and CEO, said the project will further her agency’s efforts to “foster equitable investment in the Southside” that’s geared to provide “access to jobs and affordable housing.”
ECP has spent the past year working with city council, engaging community leaders and the public, and developing a preliminary site master plan and design. “We have taken a unique approach to gaining support in an opportunity zone,” says Gravel. “Rarely in the opportunity zone sector do you have a supportive community, an engaged local government and the attention of national investors. But our vision for West End has successfully secured support and interest from all three. We did this by prioritizing community engagement, bringing leaders to the table early on, and pitching strategic investors first to become anchors in the deal.”
The unveiling of the plans follow months of public and private strategic meetings with community leaders and stakeholders, including nearby historic black colleges Spelman, Morehouse, Clark Atlanta University and Morehouse School of Medicine. The redevelopment of West End Mall will feature retail, restaurants, offices and housing delivered in two phases.
Von is now in the process of acquiring the West End Mall and working with the community to plan a $400 million, multi-year, multi-phase overhaul into a walkable mixed-use development with retail, cultural, offices, residential spaces and a hotel. His business partner on the project is Ryan Gravel, the original visionary behind the Atlanta BeltLine. While each brings key connections and expertise to the project, neither has ever led a real estate development deal before. They’re jumping off together into the deep end of the economic development pool, and they’re expecting to get a boost from Opportunity Zones — the new investor tax break intended to encourage new investment in economically distressed areas. “The only thing I wish Opportunity Zones had was some sort of inclusion mindset like airport and state contracts have,” Von says. “Without that being mandated, we’re reverse-engineering that.”
New details are emerging about a $350 million redevelopment planned for the Mall at West End, a project envisioned by a team that includes Atlanta Beltline architect Ryan Gravel. The city’s economic development agency Invest Atlanta on Thursday approved a $2 million predevelopment loan for the 12.5-acre project.
The Mall West End was built in 1971 and was once the place to shop for Atlanta’s African American middle class. The mall is now often overlooked as a shopping destination. Donray Von and Ryan Gravel want to change that. “I remember Peppermint Records, I remember the ice cream store, I remember Cherry’s…” said investor and developer Donray Von.
Invest Atlanta is now partnering with Von and Gravel’s development firm, Elevator City Partners. Invest Atlanta has approved a $2 million pre-development loan for the project.
On Wednesday, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and the Rockefeller Foundation announced a partnership to help encourage socially conscious investment in Atlanta’s 26 opportunity zone neighborhoods, and to reduce the risk of displacement of longtime residents and businesses. A significant part of the partnership is a $1 million grant from the Rockefeller Foundation.
Donray spent his first act building a successful career in the music industry, managing artists such as The Roots, Cody Chestnutt, and Outkast. Donray’s most recent venture through his recently founded Elevator City Partners is the redevelopment of West End Mall with co-founding partner, Ryan Gravel.