The Atlanta International School

A proposal to create an international district in Buckhead, where consulates, bi-national chambers of commerce, trade offices and multinational companies would be clustered, is headed to the next level.

More than 50 people from Atlanta’s international community have agreed to serve on a committee to pursue the idea, Jim Durrett, executive director of the Buckhead Community Improvement District, told GlobalAtlanta.

He plans to hold a meeting of the group to further develop the idea.

“We have received enormous interest in working with us on this,” said Mr. Durrett.

It started as a concept during development of a new zoning plan for the Buckhead Village area bordered by Pharr Road on the south, Piedmont Road on the east, Peachtree Road on the north and including the area west of Roswell Road.

The rezoning, up for approval by Atlanta City Council in the next few weeks, is designed to create a village with sidewalks, bike lanes, parks and plazas, Mr. Durrett said.

“The result of the rezoning will be to encourage a development character that is reminiscent of walkable villages such as you find in Europe,” he said.

During the rezoning work, community improvement district staff and others began to think about the assets of the area. One that immediately came to mind was the Atlanta International School, located in the former North Fulton High School building at 2890 North Fulton Drive

“The school is trying to connect to the community,” said Mr. Durrett. “A lot of business executives who do significant work overseas send their kids to that school, folks that are at consulates and trade organizations also send their kids there. There is some synergy that already exists there.”

From there, the vision of an international district began to grow.

“Maybe this could end up being a kind of ’embassy row’ area,” said Mr. Durrett. “Maybe it could be something that could have an interesting theme to it, a cultural theme. Maybe we could put different international organizations or businesses in the same facilities so that they could share resources and realize cost savings because of the scale.”

The idea was discussed at a June 22 meeting of the Metro Atlanta Chamber‘s International Partners Committee, which was attended by 60 people, said Stephen Schwartz, a consultant hired by the community improvement district to help develop the idea.

Fourteen attendees, including consuls, honorary consuls, professors from the Georgia Institute of Technology, Georgia State University and Emory University and Kevin Glass, headmaster of the Atlanta International School, volunteered to participate in the effort, said Mr. Schwartz.

Another 40 people, all members of the international community, have also expressed interest in helping to develop the idea, Mr. Schwartz added. 

“What we have done so far is simply sort of throw out this idea and the basis for this idea, test the water and see if there is any interest in taking it to the next level,” said Mr. Durrett. “We have confirmed that there is that. Now we’re going to be organizing these 50 volunteers in some sort of an ad hoc committee structure to take it to where it needs to go. I don’t know where that is.” 

The idea of consolidating Atlanta’s international community has surfaced before.

Developers of the International Village project in Chamblee envisioned a trade center to house foreign trade officials and members of the diplomatic community. In 2008, however, the developers filed for bankruptcy. The 28-acre site near DeKalb-Peachtree Airport is now for sale.

“It’s bank owned,” said Dan Schultz, Chamblee’s development director.

Another project is the International Center at Centergy on Fifth Street in Midtown. Plans call for an 11-story, 237,000 square-foot building with offices, a conference center, auditorium and library, Mack Reese, a partner at Gateway Development Services Inc., the project’s developer, told GlobalAtlanta.

“We’re still moving ahead and we still plan on building this building,” Mr. Reese said. “Obviously, we’re in a very challenging time in the real estate cycle. It makes this building more difficult to do. But I do think it will happen. We would like to think we could start it next year and finish it in the second or third quarter of 2012.”

His company developed the existing Centergy building, which houses numerous internationally focused tenants, including the Georgia Department of Economic Development, the U.S Commerce Department‘s Export Assistance Center and the Royal Bank of Canada. The International Center would be located next to the Centergy building, with plans for housing consulates, bi-national chambers and international companies. It would also include suites for honorary consulates, Mr. Reese said.

He does not disparage the Buckhead effort to create an international district.

“It makes a lot of sense, whether it’s here or in Buckhead or both,” said Mr. Reese.

Currently, consulates, trade offices and bi-national chamber offices are distributed throughout metro Atlanta, although many, such as the Brazilian, Greek and Japanese consulates, are in or near Buckhead. 

“It’s long term,” Mr. Glass of the Atlanta International School, said of the plans for an international district. “We already have consulates in the Buckhead area. We’ve already got international businesses in the Buckhead area. We’ve already got lots of international families living in the Buckhead area. Now it’s just a question of building on that.”

Jim Gaffey, an international business consultant in Atlanta and a first-generation Irish-American, applauds the effort. “Atlanta is now connected to the world in so many ways beyond the impact of the 1996 Olympics,” said Mr. Gaffey, president of the Gaffey Group. “Many countries are establishing consulates here including the latest, the Republic of Ireland. An international quarter would enhance that focus even more.” 

For more on the Buckhead Community Improvement District, click here.