October 7, 2022

The suburbs of Atlanta are littered with decaying office parks, shopping malls and retail centers, all of which can be opportunities for developers to reinvigorate with new uses.
But these spaces are tough to repurpose unless they’re completely dead, as existing leases can complicate matters, said Mark Toro, founder and chief vision officer at namesake firm Toro Development Co. The stars align for redevelopment when all tenants desert a building in an attractive area, as happened to Toro with State Farm’s former campus in Johns Creek, one of metro Atlanta’s most affluent and diverse suburbs.
“It’s the first time in my career I’ve ever seen a 5-mile trade area with an average household income start with a two,” Toro said. “We have an opportunity to serve that community.”
The details
Toro recently filed plans with local officials to turn the 43-acre site at McGinnis Ferry Road and Johns Creek Parkway into a mixed-use development called Medley, named as an homage to the city’s diversity and a reference to the variety of flavors and experiences that will be offered by the project. It will be part of the suburb’s larger vision for creating a 192-acre town center.
Johns Creek City Council is expected to discuss and vote on Toro’s project in December, Toro said.
The residential portion of Medley calls for 750 apartments and 150 for-sale townhomes. The plan also includes community greenspace, 110,000 square feet of office space and 150,000 to 200,000 square feet of retail, restaurants and entertainment concepts. Several retailers will be housed in “jewel boxes” with activated rooftops, similar to the building occupied by Cafe Intermezzo or Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Avalon in Alpharetta.
As a whole, Medley and its tenants will center around “food, fitness and fun,” Toro said.
Toro Development Co. has tapped Franklin Street Senior Director Len Erickson to lead retail leasing and Stream Managing Director Bryan Heller to lead office leasing. Nelson Worldwide and Site Solutions will serve as the architects, while Kimley-Horn will serve as the engineering firm for the project.
Buying power
Johns Creek is now home to more than 82,000 residents, following a 10-year growth spurt of 7.5%, according to U.S. Census data. It was ranked as the seventh-most popular housing market in the U.S. during the first three months of this year, according to a May report from Zillow.
Adjacent to the future site of Medley, Boston Scientific Corp. (NYSE: BSX) recently announced plans to open a $62.5 million plant. Emory Johns Creek Hospital has created a master plan to double its hospital and medical office space off McGinnis Ferry Road over the next few decades.
The median household income within a 5-mile radius of the Medley project is about $200,000, compared with $147,000 within a 5-mile radius of Avalon and $120,000 of Suwanee Town Center, Toro said. From a commercial real estate perspective, high-income levels equate to high buying power, he said.
“The worldliness of the Johns Creek resident — coupled with their income level and education level — creates the perfect storm for many of the commercial operators that we’ll accommodate.”
‘Gathering human energy’
In his previous role at North American Properties, Toro was known as a “turnaround artist” for breathing life into Midtown’s Colony Square and Atlantic Station. He also played a major role with creating Avalon, which is often viewed as a blueprint by real estate professionals for successful mixed-use development in suburban areas.
The reimagining of the former State Farm campus coincides with a shift in views on the workplace, baby boomers looking to downsize and an overall housing shortage. As a way to attract talent and encourage workers to return to work, companies are searching for creative office space in walkable environments with an abundance of amenities.
One way to activate sites after work hours is by peppering office space with retail, entertainment and residential units. Consider the plans by North American Properties for The Forum in Peachtree Corners, Trademark Property Co. for North Point Mall or Edens for North DeKalb Mall.
“The experience we had at Avalon overwhelmingly proves the thesis that feet on the street is what drives commercial success,” Toro said. “It’s what creates what we call the third place effect, occasioned by gathering human energy … Having 900 residences on the site is what will drive that human energy and draw the community at large.”
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