Major mixed-use development could replace strip mall, Emerson office park in Cumberland

Existing strip mall to be replaced -- photo by Haisten Willis

A mixed-use development totaling more than 525,000 square feet could replace an aging strip center and the Emerson Center office complex near SunTrust Park and The Battery in the Cumberland area of Cobb County.

According to documents submitted to the city of Smyrna, Westplan Investors purchased the 8.7-acre site in May for $7.2 million and plans to develop a project potentially featuring 310 multifamily units, a 200-room, six-story hotel, 65,000 square feet of office space, 11,000 square feet of retail and a 692-space parking garage.

Rendering submitted to City of Smyrna

“I hate to sound cliche but the Braves stadium has created a halo effect, and this is a poster child for that halo effect,” said Garvis Sams, the attorney representing Westplan. “This is part of the most energetic expansion I’ve seen in my 30-plus years working in Cobb County.”

The existing strip center at 2800 Spring Road includes the Chin Chin Chinese restaurant and European Cafe, while the 144,575-square-foot Emerson Center Office Park at 2810 Spring Road, which dates to the 1970s, sits largely abandoned. Plans for the new development date back about four years, to when the property was owned by Nilhan Developers LLC, a company affiliated with Chittranjan “Chuck” Thakkar. The property is visible not only on Spring Road, but also on I-285 across from Cumberland Mall.

Should it be built, the as-yet-unnamed project would involve annexing 5.9 acres into the Smyrna from unincorporated Cobb. Derek Norton, who represents the area on the Smyrna city council, said it would complete a “four-legged stool” with Cumberland Mall, the Cobb Galleria and SunTrust Park/The Battery.

“We’re looking for bigger and bolder smart growth in that area,” Norton said.

However, the Smyrna planning and zoning board tabled a vote on the project during its Monday night meeting, and city staff will meet with the developers over the next few weeks to hammer out details.

“We’re not interested in the typical 300- and 400-unit apartment buildings. I think we’re missing an opportunity if we don’t do something big and bold in that location,” said Norton. “We don’t want to mess it up and wish we’d done it differently later on.”

Specifically, Norton noted he’d like to see taller buildings included to allow for more retail and office space. The planning and zoning board is now scheduled to take a look at the project when it meets on Sept. 11.

Rendering submitted to City of Smyrna

Documents submitted to the P&Z board also include campaign contribution reports, showing Sams donated $2,500 each to election campaigns for Smyrna Mayor Max Bacon and Smyrna city councilmen Doug Stoner and Ron Fennel in 2015. Garvis said he regularly donates to elected officials across Cobb County and beyond.

“They were either running for election or for re-election, and that’s just what we do,” Sams said. “In every jurisdiction, if you check campaign disclosure reports in Cobb, Cherokee, Sandy Springs, Alpharetta, you name it, that’s just what people do. If you believe in someone’s vision you contribute to the campaign to keep them in office.”

On June 15 of this year, Sams donated $2,000 to Norton for a potential run for Smyrna mayor in 2019. However, Norton said that mayoral campaign will only happen if Bacon, who’s held the office since 1985, decides not to seek re-election. He added that the contribution will not affect his decision-making regarding the Emerson project.

“Garvis [Sams] and I have a longstanding relationship and this doesn’t have anything to do with it, it won’t be a conflict,” he said. “I don’t think he’s trying to influence anything, he donates to everybody.”

Both Norton and Sams noted the enormous impact made by the new Braves stadium, saying it has been an unprecedented catalyst for growth in Cumberland that’s likely to continue for years to come.

If all goes as planned, Sams said groundbreaking could be held in early 2018, with a grand opening in 2020.