The Ardent Cos. plans to replace ground-level offices at Piedmont Center with retail space. A loading dock will be knocked out to make room for an entrance to a central courtyard surrounded by food and beverage options.

As suburban-style office parks fall on hard times, The Ardent Cos is infusing Buckhead’s largest one with an entertainment district in hope of appealing to workers and nearby residents.

The Atlanta-based firm plans to convert 35,000 square feet of ground-level offices at Piedmont Center into Oxton, a food-and-beverage hub that could be filled with a brewery, coffee shop, casual dining options and more. The retail space will be centered around a courtyard on almost 1 acre between Buildings 1-4 of the campus.

The project involves knocking down a loading dock to make room for a courtyard entrance at Piedmont Road. It will enhance visibility for future retailers, as well as provide a more comfortable way for pedestrians to access them from a nearby sidewalk. The office park is already a short walk from multi-use trail PATH400 with the potential for a closer connection in the future.

“It needs some modernization, sure, but it’s a heck of a location and heck of an opportunity,” said Mike Guynn, managing director at Ardent. “We have great facilities, open space and nature trails. But in today’s environment, you need something that sets you apart.”

Transformation of office

Ardent started rehabilitating Piedmont Center, spread across 45 acres, after gaining control of the 14-building campus a few years ago. The firm padded the property with eight spec suites, which are pre-built offices for companies in need of fast, flexible space. Switchyards, a members-only coworking space, is now open on the ground floor of Building 3.

The transformation of Piedmont Center is an example of the effort to attract and retain tenants at aging properties. More than 200 companies, including anchor tenant Kaiser Permanente, lease space at the 1980s-era office park. A bit more than 70% of the 2.2 million square feet of space is occupied, Guynn said.

In the era of hybrid work, companies are trading large workspaces for smaller ones in lively environments. Most of the sought-after office properties are surrounded by publicly accessible amenities. The Atlanta BeltLine’s Eastside Trail and West Midtown have landed corporate relocations by placing restaurants, shops and bars at workers’ fingertips.

“A lot of people I know in Buckhead go down to Ponce City Market and West Midtown all the time,” said Westbridge Principal and Partner Chris Faussemagne, who serves as a consultant for Oxton. “There is an opportunity to put all those people here in one central spot.”

Faussemagne helped create Westside Provisions, Stockyards and other adaptive-reuse projects.

In recent quarters, office leasing in Buckhead trailed behind Midtown and other parts of Intown Atlanta. Real estate experts say enhancing walkability, focusing on street-level experience and beefing up dining options could help reclaim its appeal.

Reimagining Buckhead

Buckhead developers are slowly reshaping the single-use, car-centric design of the commercial district.

Citizens Market, a 25,000-square-foot food hall, is expected to open at Phipps Plaza in April. It’s one of several components aimed at reenergizing the shopping mall. Simon Property Group is densifying the site with a Nobu hotel and restaurant, health and wellness club, modern office tower and a large greenspace.

Selig Enterprises plans to upgrade Lenox Marketplace, a 1990s-era retail center now rebranded as The Block at Phipps. The firm is redoing storefront façades along Peachtree and Oak Valley roads, creating an open-air corridor to enhance the pedestrian experience and bringing new dining and shopping options.

The Arden Co.’s team

Ardent also tapped Merritt Lancaster, principal and cofounder of Bridger Properties, to serve as a consultant. The firm will be responsible for leasing the retail space. The project team is in active negotiations with potential tenants, many of which have an existing presence on the BeltLine or West Midtown, Faussemagne said.

Square Feet Studio Architects is the lead designer of the project. Ardent expects to start construction on the multi-million-dollar project by the third quarter of this year with the first set of tenants expected to open by summer 2024. It’s exploring the potential of adding multifamily or other uses to the site, though that would come after Oxton is settled, Guynn said.