Skip to Main Content
Midtown News Center

Midtown Leaders Preview Public Life Action Plan

The morning focused on the importance of fostering a robust public life at street-level.

Published: 8/09/23

More than 800 business and civic leaders, policymakers and urban enthusiasts gathered at The Fox Theatre on Feb. 8 for the 2023 Midtown Alliance Annual Meeting. The theme of the morning’s meeting was “What Draws Us Together” and focused on the importance of fostering a robust public life at street-level via ground floor design, retail, programming and activating outdoor spaces, and mobility. The meeting previewed Midtown’s new public life action plan with specific invitations and strategies to address these fundamentals.

Here are highlights from the event, along with video replays of each presenter's remarks.


Board Chair: Midtown Real Estate Development ‘On a Tear’

Mary Pat Matheson, Anna & Hays Mershon President and CEO at Atlanta Botanical Garden and Midtown Alliance Board Chair, kicked off the annual meeting program by celebrating recent economic development wins in the district. 

“In Midtown, it’s been another year of forward progress,” Matheson said. “Midtown continues to be on a tear.”

There are an average of 74K people on average who spend time working, living, learning or visiting in the square mile of the district every day. And Midtown remains among the most active real estate markets in the Southeast. 

Six major projects were delivered in the past year. This included: 

  • More than 6,300 residential units
  • Over 455 new hotel rooms 
  • More than 200,000 square feet of new retail space
  • More than 2.3M square feet of new office space delivered or now under construction — on top of almost 2 million square feet delivered in 2021.

Midtown led all Atlanta submarkets last year with new office supply delivered, as well as net office absorption, which is the net of new office leases vs. move-outs. Midtown had more office absorption than all other Atlanta office markets combined.

Hotel occupancy is also on the rise. On any given night, there are an average of about 3,700 occupied rooms in the core of Midtown. That’s only 8% less than pre-pandemic.

“We are fortunate to have a mixed-use district that is solid and growing, and that’s a wonderful foundation to build on,” said Matheson.

Watch a replay of Matheson's presentation:



Mayor Dickens Celebrates Shared Wins

The Hon. Andre Dickens, 61st Mayor of the City of Atlanta, noted many new companies relocating to or expanding in Midtown, such as Adobe and Visa, as well as game-changing institutional buildings slated, such as Tech Square III under construction this summer, and the Emory Winship Cancer Institute tower delivering this May. 

“All of the economic activity in Midtown actually benefits the entire City of Atlanta,” Dickens said. “Two of every three local tax dollars that are generated in Midtown go to support other parts of the city… Areas of dense development generate much more revenue than they consume in services. This is the rising tide that lifts all boats, and helps to provide a way for our city to thrive inherently, because we are indeed stronger together.”  

Dickens said he appreciated the progress made to bring violent crime and property crime down in Midtown, in part due to relationships like Atlanta Police Department’s 20+ year partnership with Midtown Blue. Overall crime for 2022 was down 28% vs. 2021, according to data from APD. Read Midtown Alliance’s latest public safety report here. 

“There’s a lot going on and a lot to be proud of right here in Midtown and the City of Atlanta,” Dickens said.

Watch a replay of the Mayor's presentation:



Midtown Real Estate Developer: ‘Let’s Not Ignore the Critics’

Cousins Properties Executive Vice President and longtime Midtown Improvement District Board Member John McColl introduced the meeting’s keynote speaker.  

“While Midtown is a success story, we are just measuring the moment,” he said. “For any city, each year is another chapter in a book that never ends. And as we write Midtown’s story, these next pages are critical. To seize the opportunities before us, we will need to reach deep inside ourselves to commit to our shared vision.” 

“For most of us, including me, it is hard to hear your project critiqued by ‘outsiders,’” McColl said. “But when it rings true, let’s not ignore it.”  

Among other things, Midtown’s Public Life Action Plan calls upon property owners and developers to re-focus on a more engaging street-level experience - retail spaces, building edge conditions, facades and outdoor spaces.   

“As you may have heard, that market has gone through a few changes recently,” he said. “Among them is a flight to quality - and a flight to experience where a nice array of amenities is no longer a nice-to-have, but a must-have. Companies and their employees must view the office as a true destination and not simply an obligation.” 

McColl has played an active role on Midtown Alliance’s steering committee as it worked to develop its Public Life Action Plan in partnership with Gehl Studio.

“We’ve looked at where Midtown is today, where we need to be, and how to get there,” he said. “We’re excited to introduce this important work this morning - and as a call to action for all of us to roll up our sleeves and get moving.” 

Watch a replay of McColl's presentation:



Keynote: Blending Physical Improvements + Activations to Reach Public Life Potential

Gehl Studio director Anna Muessig and her colleagues have been working with Midtown Alliance and steering committee members for the past six months to develop an action plan for “public life” — tailored to Midtown.

Gehl defines “public life” as the street-level experiences people create together when we're not at home, in our workplace or in a car. This Action Plan emphasized the importance of access to thriving public spaces in Atlanta’s post-pandemic future as a key driver of community transformation, value creation and resiliency.

What's missing in today's Midtown?

Muessig and her team walked every street in Midtown, collecting data and observing how people experience different blocks throughout the district. She noted that Midtown has a strong foundation for growth —  bolstered by the district's mixed-use profile, walkable street grid and strong arts and culture identity. But at eye-level there are too many gaps in quality experiences from block to block, and few publicly accessible open spaces where people can spend time. And many building facades at street-level lack invitations to see inside or go inside and do something.

Four Core Strategies
Muessig described the keys to realizing Midtown's potential for robust public life, which blend physical improvements with activation and programming strategies.   

  • Activate Public Spaces: There are not many public spaces in the core of Midtown and 94% of existing spaces are privately owned. Muessig suggests adding some creature comforts and activities to the newer spaces at the bottom of buildings to make people want to spend time there.
  • Enliven Ground Floors: Street-level retail is the most direct way to enliven ground floors. The right retail mix is also critical to serve local needs, to add to street life and foster social connection.   
  • Soften Building Edges: Muessig said, "I think one of the steering committee members said it best: 'Don't make the bottom of the building look like the top of the building.' Having an interesting and human-scaled design at street level is critical." 
  • Foster Seamless Mobility: Having a safe and multimodal transportation network is a necessary component to attract and support thriving public life.

Watch a replay of Muessig's keynote:



Midtown Alliance President and CEO Outlines 2023 Work Plan

Midtown Alliance President and CEO Kevin Green closed out the 2023 Annual Meeting with a look at what’s on deck in 2023 and how the organization will be supporting the public life action plan.    

One goal is to create more public spaces. Of the 1.2 square miles (770 acres) that make up the MID, only 1.2 acres are permanently protected open space.

“We need more,” Green said. “We created four new public spaces in the past 9 months. What if our district created four more every year? The compounding effect over time would be transformative.”

In the past year, Commercial Row Commons, parklets along Spring Street, Arts District Plaza at 15th Street, and 10th Street Park enhancements were completed, bringing four new and refreshed places for people - and dogs! - to hang out.

Green also gave an update on large scale transportation projects.

“I am happy to say that as of Monday, we issued a notice of authorization for construction on Juniper Street,” Green said.

Upgrades to 15 Midtown intersections are next up, including eight new traffic signals and two pedestrian-activated signals, along with new ADA ramps, crosswalk striping and other enhancements.

The 15th Street Extension – a new street between West Peachtree and Williams street on donated GDOT right-of-way should be out for bid in the next 60 days.  Projects in the planning phases include 17th Street Corridor Enhancements and the Central Midtown Connection Plan. Also, look for a substantially upgraded bus stop as a pilot project in the next couple of months.

Circling back to the public life action plan, Green also announced “(Ad)Venture Capital” --  an effort to enlist partners to enliven Midtown’s street-level experience. This pilot program will offer staff resources, expertise and potential seed funding to catalyze efforts in three areas:

  • Community activations
  • New or enhanced public spaces
  • Ground floor activations.

Learn more about the program here.

Watch a replay of Green's presentation:


That's a wrap on one of the district's most anticipated community events of 2023. Midtown Alliance thanks our 2023 Annual Meeting Sponsors, whose generous support makes this event possible. And thank you to the attendees for coming together. Keep up with our News Center for the latest updates on how the projects and ideas presented at this event will come to life. 

Share This