“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.”