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Upscale apartments, mixed-use development planned at Covington shopping center
Developers talk construction of 315 residential units, redevelopment of Shoppes at Martin's Crossing
Pictured is the NOVEL Upper Westside by Crescent Communities in Atlanta. Crescent Communities Managing Director Kyle Brock said the style and aesthetic of these apartments would resemble what's intended for the Covington development. (Photo courtesy of Crescent Communities.)

COVINGTON, Ga. — Business owner and Newton County resident Sam Hay III recently unveiled plans for a 40-acre tract just off U.S. Hwy. 278, formerly home to “the old Walmart,” that would include an apartment complex and revitalized shopping center.

Hay was one of three people to speak about various developments happening in Covington at the Development Town Hall event held Wednesday inside the city council’s meeting room. Several members of the community attended the event and participated by asking questions about projects underway, as well as other citywide issues.

Hay said his property being developed was home to the former Walmart building, located next to Ingles in The Shoppes at Martin’s Crossing at the corner of Hwy. 278 and Covington Bypass Road, which has stood empty for more than a decade. The Hay family has owned the property for about 50 years, he said.

“That’s not to be confused with the old, old Walmart,” Hay joked with the audience.

Hay said there had been several opportunities over the years to fill the space vacated by the supermarket chain, but he believed none were in the community’s best interest, until now.

“We’re thrilled to tell you that several events have come together recently that we believe will allow us to transform that entire 40-acre tract into a destination for our community, a trailhead for the Eastside trail, and, really, an eastern entrance and gateway to the community that we can all be proud of and all will enjoy.”

Hay said his family made the decision in fall of 2020 to pursue advice about the property and how to best develop it, so they engaged Haddow & Company, a real estate consultant firm based in Atlanta. The firm conducted a study of the property and recommended the Hay family do two things: partner with a developer to construct a “high-quality multi-family development” and then redevelop the shopping center.

“As many of you may know, we really haven’t had high-quality, market-rent, luxury apartments to be delivered into our community for a good many years,” Hay said. 

Despite the announcement of plans for apartments at Covington Town Center, Hay said the last time such quality apartments were developed was about 15 years ago when the historic mills in Porterdale were transformed into the Porterdale Lofts.

“We feel that this is a great opportunity for this property and really for the community, too,” Hay said of his property’s plans. “We all know that our employment growth [and] our industrial growth has exceeded our housing growth, really, for a good many years now. And there are a good many folks who work in our community who really haven’t been able to find suitable housing.”

With Haddow & Company’s guidance, Hay said his family chose to partner with Crescent Communities — which is ranked among the top 20 multi-family development companies in the nation — to develop apartments.

Kyle Brock, managing director of Crescent Communities, was on hand for the event and spoke briefly about plans for the apartment complex.

Brock called the project an “average-sized” investment for Crescent Communities, but at the same time, said it was considered a “large investment of tens of millions of dollars.”

He said there would be approximately 315 apartments, and the complex would consist of multiple three-story buildings, constructed to an “appropriate scale” based on the surrounding area.

There would be options for one-bedroom rentals starting at $1,200 per month, two-bedroom rentals starting between $1,800-$1,900 per month, and a limited offering of three-bedroom rentals starting at more than $2,000 per month.

Brock said Crescent Communities’ typical resident ranged between 25-34 years old and had an average household income $137,000. He said their apartments were expected to be a great fit for this demographic.

“What we’ve seen is that a large segment of the population has moved away from home ownership, and that started in the Great Recession,” Brock said. “… They want the flexibility. They want no maintenance. They want someone else to pick up the phone and unclog their toilet, when that happens.” 

Brock said the trailhead, as well as any outdoor amenities, were the biggest attraction for developers.

“Outdoor amenities and exercise are a thing our residents really value and being located adjacent to the trail where you can easily and safely walk or bike downtown, or just for exercise, is a huge amenity and a huge plus for us,” he said. 

Brock said the plan was to create a connector trail throughout the property that would look identical to the current trail and be open to the public.

With such amenities, Brock said the hope was to attract quality tenants for the redeveloped shopping center, which would include restaurants and a brewery, among others.

On the topic of traffic, Brock wasn’t overly concerned with traffic flow as he said the current infrastructure could handle an increase brought on by the apartments. 

“The fact that this was previously a Walmart, it will be less traffic than that,” he said. “So the infrastructure is already here to accommodate much more traffic than is there today.

“When you locate residences next to retail, you cut down on trips, especially grocery,” he added, “and we look for places we can locate next to grocery.”

When asked about concern of schools and lacking space, Brock said based on his company’s portfolio, they expect about between 20-22 school-aged residents to live at the apartments. He said the majority of tenants would likely be young professionals without families.

As for redeveloping the shopping center, Hay said he was excited about the area’s potential but could not share specific details yet.

“We have had a significant amount of interest in the shopping center just in the last year or so,” Hay said. “We have several plans for the center, but unfortunately we can’t disclose any of those specifics tonight. But suffice it to say, the combination of first-class market rent apartments, a trail head and mixed use activity, we think are going to combine along with a revitalized shopping center to create a really nice gateway and destination for our community.”

Hay said the plan was to invest proceeds of the land sale to Crescent Communities back into the redevelopment of shopping center and retain ownership of the shopping center “for the long haul.”

“We think renovating the shopping center is critical to the future of it, and, of course, critical to obtaining a good mix of tenants,” Hay said.

He said there were already a few occupants outside of the former Walmart space, but now his team was “heavily” focused on the Walmart space, as there are “good prospects” now.

“I should tell you that we had a significant amount of interest in this land for multi-family development,” Hay said. “We believe it’s a superior location and has the infrastructure that’s needed to handle this kind of development without much impact.

“One of the things I’m very proud to tell you is that Crescent’s offer was not highest offer,” he continued. “But we believe it was best offer, and we believe that they will be the best possible partner to our family, to this property and to the community — to do something good that we all can be proud of and that we can all enjoy in the coming years as well.”

Brock estimated construction of apartments could begin next year, which would be a 12-month process. He said apartments could start being leased as early as 2023.

Developers' plans and application for a special use permit will go before the city's Planning Commission in August, according to Planning and Zoning Manager Marc Beechuk. The special use permit "is due to the project being multi-family over five acres," Beechuk said. The project appears to meet all other zoning requirements.

"Our code splits projects under five acres versus over five acres into two different levels of use," he said. "My understanding on this is to allow smaller developments by right, but to have an extra level of attention, or front end planning, on larger developments."