Located just off the Fulton Industrial Boulevard exit ramp in southwest Atlanta is a scene that threatens to force motorists right back onto the interstate. The landscape is grim: abandoned fast food joints, gaudy strip clubs, and two shuttered motels that deliver street drugs and prostitution with the efficiency of a McDonald’s drive-thru.
Terry MBA real estate students Clayton Edwards and Clayton Mozingo agree that this corridor between I-20 and the Charlie Brown Airport is not for the faint of heart. But, believe it or not, they envision it as a potential industrial epicenter for Atlanta and perhaps for the entire southeast.
Edwards, Mozingo, and teammates Chris Heins, Jared Londry, and Fair Tomlinson used that urban renewal vision to create a proposal for the 20th School Challenge Real Estate Case Competition in Atlanta on April 11. The team developed a feasible, market-oriented, redevelopment plan for the 300-acre commercial site on Fulton Industrial Boulevard—and they did such a good job that they beat out MBA teams from Georgia Tech, Georgia State, and Emory to earn $1,000 in prize money and the Case Competition’s esteemed Silver Shovel trophy.
The Georgia Chapter of the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties (NAIOP) sponsors the competition and each team had six weeks to prepare a redevelopment plan for the project site. What separated Terry’s plan from the competition is the fact it addressed a vital community issue that the other plans did not—crime. The team’s three-pronged approach began with the recommendation that this ugly and dangerous industrial corridor be included in an already-existing Community Improvement District (CID) in order to help alleviate its crime and image problems.
“Community support is your biggest ally to fight crime, and phase one of our plan addresses how to do it,” says Edwards, who explains that an existing CID, located just south of the area in question, is already generating a significant reduction in crime. “So our first recommendation is to expedite incorporation into the CID, which will improve public safety as well as the visual image of the area with new landscaping and trash pick up.”
The second component of the MBA team’s plan involved replacing the vacant motel property with a 24-hour fueling station that will improve first impressions for any motorists exiting I-20 onto Fulton Industrial Boulevard. Edwards and Mozingo note that incorporation into the CID and establishment of a viable business off the exit ramp represents a good beginning—but the root problem lies with the current ownership structure of the properties where most of the crime takes place.
“We need to consolidate ownership of the properties,” says Edwards, who explains that there’s a lot of owner segmentation that makes it difficult for the community to present a united front to address the crime in the area.
Mozingo cites statistics for the last five years, which show that the two motels account for approximately 700 of the 3,700 arrests in this crime-infested area, which is the closest point of land outside the city of Atlanta. “So anyone arrested in Atlanta without a home address is dropped there by police,” says Mozingo. “Many of them figure out a way to live in the abandoned hotel. So approximately 27 percent of the crime is coming from 0.7 percent of the landmass in the area. That was eye-opening.”
Some of the buildings with the highest criminal activity are, in fact, for sale. But who would want to buy them given the current situation? The MBA team’s presentation took that into account and make recommendations as to how to assemble these land parcels to encourage new owners to get involved in their plans for redevelopment.
Mozingo says the Terry team’s goal for the area is not to try to remake it into a shiny retail hub because, unlike other teams in the competition, he and his cohorts didn’t consider that approach to be realistic.
“We realized from talking with people that certain things just don't make sense for that area,“ says Mozingo. “The judges asked other teams if they realized that people have been trying to do that same thing at this site for the past 50 years—and nothing has worked.”
The final phase of the team’s plan involved courting investors to assemble two large parcels with the goal of providing locations that might support future investments. The team suggested possibilities that included a distribution facility, an e-tailer, and even a technical college that would provide trained workers for new employers who move to the area.
“If the right investments go in, it becomes a primetime area for distribution and light production with a nice highway exit,” says Spencer Coan (MBA ’10) of Ackerman & Co., who, with fellow alumnus Jay O’Meara (BBA ’97, MBA ’00), volunteered to coach the team. “I think everyone knows that about this area, but the key was being realistic. I think the other programs had good plans and did a lot of research, but they were overzealous. One team suggested a $65 million data center to be placed there in the next five years — and that place hasn’t seen $65 million in investment in the past 20 years combined.”
Coan and O’Meara were wise choices to serve as coaches, having participated in the NAIOP-sponsored competition when they were Full-Time MBA students themselves. To hear them tell it, the Terry team’s efforts to truly understand the area was the difference in the competition.
“Our students did a good job of getting boots on the ground and speaking with the people in the Fulton Industrial district, with potential business representatives, and with the industrial brokers that Jay and I sent them to see," says Coan.
“We tried to do it over the phone, but there were things going on in Atlanta that we needed to be on the ground to participate in,” says Edwards, who knew the area and, with help of Mozingo, developed the team’s grassroots approach. “We went down there, took pictures of the area, met with the Community Improvement District (CID) and with whatever people we needed to.”
According to Edwards and Mozingo, winning the Silver Shovel trophy was a total team effort. Heins conducted the financial and demographic analysis and development pro forma. He also worked with Tomlinson, who was instrumental in executing the 50-page document that accounted for 60 percent of the competition scoring criteria. Londry worked on the aesthetic presentation of both the report and the final visual presentation.
According to O’Meara, who spoke with the judges afterwards, the combined effort generated an engaging and detailed presentation that illustrated not only the team’s depth of research but also its realistic understanding of what will and won’t work in that area.
“Win or lose, this was one of the most important and relevant experiences these real estate majors will have during their years at Terry,” says O’Meara, a senior vice president at CBRE who met his senior partner through the NAIOP School Challenge. “It helps them get a picture of how the real estate business works and provides something they can use as a springboard to keep those business contacts alive for many years to come.”