At potentially up to 8 million square feet, the redevelopment of the former U.S. Army base at Fort Gillem represents a chance to build Atlanta’s largest logistics hub.
“Fort Gillem was like a doughnut hole sitting in the middle of everything,” said David Welch with Starwood Capital, which has teamed with Weeks Robinson Properties to redevelop the base.
“We now have a blank canvas to build a state-of-the-art logistics park unparalleled in the Southeast,” he said.
Developer Forrest Robinson said of his initial impressions of Fort Gillem in 2004, “I couldn’t get over what a fabulous location this was.”
For the developers behind Fort Gillem, the recent transfer of most of its land to city of Forest Park officials — paving the way for a campus called Gillem Logistics Center — marked the culmination of several years of high hopes and hard work.
“I was a young man when I started this,” Robinson joked.
Robinson, a co-founder of the industrial real estate company Weeks Robinson, was the first to show Forest Park officials the promise of redeveloping military bases a decade ago.
To illustrate, he even took them on a tour of Cecil Field in Jacksonville, Fla.
Like Fort Gillem, it fell victim to the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, which shut down bases across the country.
Few properties are better positioned for a turnaround. Fort Gillem sits just a half mile from Interstate 675 and less than 3 miles from I-75 and the Atlanta Perimeter. The world’s busiest airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, is just 4 miles away.
At more than 1,000 acres, the project’s size and potential investment would also put it in select company across the South.
It has even drawn comparisons to AllianceTexas, a mixed-use development in the northern part of that state where Amazon recently put one of its new distribution and warehouse centers.
Companies looking to bolster their logistics networks seem intrigued by the location. Atlanta Business Chronicle reported on its website June 9 that The Kroger Co. will kick off the redevelopment with a more than 1 million-square-foot distribution and warehouse project.
Robinson could not disclose the names of the other companies making inquiries about Fort Gillem, but, he said, “The interest in this project is very high.”
Among the companies looking for land to build e-commerce and other types of distribution and warehouse projects in the metro region, Green Mountain Coffee and Restoration Hardware are two of the largest, said Scott Amoson, head of research for the Atlanta office of real estate services company Colliers International.
Weeks Robinson and Starwood Capital will soon begin the transformation of Fort Gillem from the idea of a regional logistics hub to the first phases of its reality. Improvements include the widening of Fort Gillem’s Hood Avenue and upgrades to its connection onto Moreland Avenue.
The revamping of Fort Gillem could be a catalyst for new investment on Moreland Avenue, which is the eastern boundary of Fort Gillem. But, the bigger impact on Forest Park and Clayton County is on the southside Atlanta economy.
It could spark hundreds of millions in new investment and 3,000 additional jobs once it’s completely built out, said Fred Bryant, executive director of the Urban Redevelopment Authority, which is overseeing the project.
Kroger will relocate 750 distribution and warehouse jobs to Fort Gillem, including 120 new positions. The company bought the first 253 acres along Hood Avenue, where it may investment as much as $200 million into its distribution and warehouse operations.
“It’s going to have an immediate positive impact,” Bryant said.
More than 700 acres at Fort Gillem would remain primed for development, most of it for industrial projects. Its location and connectivity always made it a logical place to build a modern, regional logistics campus. It just wasn’t available.
Some 12 miles south of Atlanta, the base opened in 1941 and over the next several decades continued to expand to house thousands of personnel. Although metro Atlanta escaped the military base closings in the 1980s and ’90s, the region lost Fort Gillem — and Fort McPherson — in 2005.
When it was targeted for closure by early 2011, it still employed more than 1,000 people. One of its largest operations was the Army and Air Force Exchange Service (Atlanta Distribution Center), which serviced other military bases across the Southeast.
The property is still dotted with small brick industrial buildings that have been on the base for years. They will be demolished to make way for the modern operations that Kroger and other companies will occupy.
The base is rural, covered with rolling hills, wild deer and turkey, and two lakes. Forest Park may still want to use some of the logistics campus for park land. There are also 11 historic buildings at Fort Gillem that will be retained.
Fort Gillem represents an ongoing shift in industrial development trends sweeping across Atlanta.
While companies are still looking far outside the city for untouched land on which to build their distribution and warehouse operations, more have started looking closer in, especially for their e-commerce facilities.
Fort Gillem signals the repurposing of properties near the city of Atlanta, where the existing transportation and logistics infrastructure already exists. The redevelopment of Fulton County Airport-Brown Field into a $150 million industrial project is a smaller but similar example of repurposing these closer-in sites.
The revamping of Fort Gillem could be a catalyst for new investment on Moreland Avenue, which is the eastern boundary of Fort Gillem.