Green Street Properties’ Charles Brewer recently spoke with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about Glenwood Park, a new Atlanta neighborhood developed with TSW, as well as new urbanism and green building.
Internet pioneer a green machine: Brewer a disciple of new urbanism
Walter Woods, Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Thursday, April 29, 2004
Charles Brewer, the Internet pioneer turned singing developer, wants the rest of Atlanta to join his chorus of smart growth, and he’s busy writing a B-side to his innovative Glenwood Park mini-village, this one perhaps on a needy stretch of downtown street.
Brewer, famous (or infamous) for strumming a Bob Marley song to a meeting of confused developers, will open his current project, what he calls the “lovable, walkable” Glenwood Park off I-20, in November. Now, he’s looking for a second project to spread his anti-sprawl, new urbanism gospel.
He hasn’t bought a site yet, but Brewer’s sniffing various ideas, including reclaiming some yet-to-be-determined blocks of Atlanta streetscape.
Brewer admits he got the idea from Midtown’s Technology Square, where Georgia Tech took an “abandoned area[on Spring Street] and made a nice street out of it,” Brewer said.
Brewer would also be happy to clone his first baby, Glenwood Park, which was only a few years ago a pile of concrete rubble in Atlanta’s sometimes transitional Grant Park neighborhood. This fall it will open as a 28-acre mini-town of homes, shops and offices on the Glenwood Memorial Connector.
Glenwood Park started with Brewer’s daydream notions for walkable communities. In November 2001, the ideas found a physical site when Brewer took over and redirected an office project at a former Vulcan Materials site.
Three years later, Glenwood Park has paved streets and skeleton houses and is well on its way to a ribbon-cutting. Snapping in the last piece of the puzzle, local developers Parkside Partners agreed April 12 to buy an abandoned, 22,000-square-foot office on Brewer’s site and restore it for new tenants.
He believes the project epitomizes his strict version of smart growth, which shuns Atlanta’s vast single-family subdivisions and congested highways. To Brewer, typical developments force people into long commutes, cut family time and harm society and the environment.
In response, Glenwood Park will have public spaces like parks and cafes, walkable, tree-lined streets, and little car traffic. People should be community citizens, Brewer insisted, “rather than just consumers.”
In his tongue-and-cheek rendition of reggae’s “Redemption Song” at a developer breakfast two years ago, Brewer sang the lyric, “Oh please don’t build the cul-de-sac. Yes, let the streets connect. If you don’t, you’ll have congestion. And your life will be a wreck.”
Brewer’s development principles match his environmentalism (down to his fuel-efficient car). He and his team are “almost demented” about the environment, said Ed Gilgor, a local attorney and chairman of the local neighborhood planning unit.
“When they found some wood chips on the site, they found a way to recycle them,” Gilgor said.
But Brewer confesses keeping his green principles wasn’t easy. “It’s hard to make [new urbanism] a reality on the ground,” he said.
Brewer, who founded and later retired from what’s now EarthLink, put $8 million of his own money into the Glenwood Park project, and the development has yet to borrow money.
That helped Brewer clear a steep financial barrier that confronts most village developments, said Stephen Macauley, a local mixed-use developer.
Such projects have short track records, which means banks are stubborn about lending them money, Macauley said.
“But if it’s done well, you can generally get higher rents and sale prices [for the residential units], and that income holds over time and the value increases,” he said. “[Brewer’s project] is extremely progressive and leading edge.”
Brewer has chosen to be a developer because “there’s something I can do” about sprawl-related pollution and other issues, Brewer said. “Outsourcing? I have no idea what to do about that.”