When developer Bob Silverman wanted to turn an abandoned
lumberyard near a noisy Atlanta rail switchyard into a Provence-
style neighborhood four years ago, it wasn't just bankers who
Nearly everyone had the same thought at first: "People thought I
was crazy," he says.
The final product - dubbed M West - turned out to be more German
Bauhaus than rustic France. But the 183 homes on 12 acres sold out
in nine months when it opened last year with units starting at
$200,000. The buyers were seemingly oblivious to the concrete plant
across the street and the exotic dance club advertising "Blue Collar
Lunch" next door.
It's all part of the changing landscape of urban centers. With
high land costs and rising housing demand in US cities, it's old
concrete plants, back lots of steel mills, and other ugly lots that
are becoming the new outposts for affluent urban dwellers.
"Reuse [of industrial properties] is definitely a big trend in
cities that may no longer be industrial hubs, but are becoming
social centers that require housing," says Trish Riggs, of the Urban
Land Institute, a think tank in New York.
The Euro-fication of housing has been driven by high fuel costs
and denser development since about 2001. Now, ugly lot development
is taking place from Salt Lake City to Baltimore, Md., often along
withering industrial corridors, experts say.
* In Pittsburgh, SouthSide Works is a former steel mill site
recently reimagined as a "mixed-use" development with homes, shops,
and offices along the riverfront, anchored by the turrets-and-
minarets profile of The Cheesecake Factory restaurant.
* In Philadelphia, the University of Pennsylvania is redeveloping
40 acres of industrial riverfront on the Schuylkill River into a
sprawling neighborhood that would meld together Center City and West
* Here in Atlanta, developer Jim Jacoby is finishing Atlantic
Station, a megasize residential and shopping center built on top of
the old Atlantic Steel grounds. IKEA, the Swedish furniture store,
is the cornerstone tenant.
Wayne Mason, an Atlanta land prospector, calls it "the train-
track strategy." A few years ago, he spotted an abandoned concrete
plant next to a gas station that doubled as a drug den: They sold no
gas and the milk at the minimart had expired months ago.
"It was the sorriest piece of property I ever saw," Mr. Mason
says. He toppled the plant and crushed tons of spilt concrete into
fill. After he sold the land to a developer, densely built
townhouses spread across the lot during the past three years. And
the gas station is gone now.
Greasing the gears for industrial redevelopment are "brownfield"
laws that allow the reuse of industrial property. …