Amsterdam Walk, owned by Halpern Enterprises, is a diamond-in-the-rough story about family, imagination, revitalization and teamwork. We are proud to have played a part in the repositioning and resurgence of this dying retail center on a dead end street into a vibrant community and a gem in the crown of one of Atlanta’s kindest companies. Below is a Q&A with Halpern Enterprises chairman, Jack Halpern.
When Jack Halpern’s father immigrated to the US at 16-years-old, he did not speak the language. By eighteen he owned his own grocery store and started in real estate shortly thereafter. 60 years later, the company owns and operates over 3 million square feet of retail property in Atlanta and surrounding areas. And, while Halpern Enterprises certainly knows about hard work, they also know the value of family.
We’ve been fortunate enough to work with them to help creatively reposition Amsterdam Walk, resulting in over 80,000 sq. ft. of new leases at this BeltLine gem.
We sat down and discussed what it takes to be successful in real estate with one of the industry’s most respected veterans, Jack Halpern, Chairman of Halpern Enterprises.
Q: What attracted you to buy Amsterdam Walk? Was its proximity to Piedmont Park a factor?
Jack Halpern: At the time we purchased it, the property that we eventually renamed “Amsterdam Walk” was part of an old, in-town industrial district that had become obsolete as warehouse space. What attracted us to these buildings initially was that they could be purchased cheaply, at least on a per square foot basis. I had grown up in nearby Morningside, so I knew the neighborhood well, but at the time we bought this property (the mid 1980’s), Piedmont Park was not the wonderful amenity that it is today – particularly the section of the park that adjoins our location.
Q: When you first invested in Amsterdam Walk what did you think about the abandoned rail line running behind the property? What do you think about it now?
Jack Halpern: The rail line was still active at the time we purchased the property, although it carried very little traffic. There was actually a rail spur into what is now Amsterdam Walk, serving the industrial tenants who were still in operation there. The vision of the Beltline, which is now becoming reality, has the potential to dramatically enhance the quality of life for many of Atlanta’s residents. We feel fortunate to have purchased our property as long ago as we did, and believe that its proximity to the Beltline will be an important factor in how Amsterdam Walk evolves in the years to come.
Q: Family is integral to your business, do you feel that gives you a competitive advantage?
Jack Halpern: Being a family business enables us to make decisions quickly and efficiently, and also allows us to take a long-term perspective on investments—which is often critical for success in the real estate business. We view our role at Halpern Enterprises as that of custodians of a family legacy, which we hope will endure as an asset for our family, our business associates, and our community for generations to come.
Q: You took a risk in repositioning the property from primarily retail/showroom to an arts, education, and active lifestyle community. What prompted this type of creative reinvention?
Jack Halpern: We were always challenged by the property’s lack of visibility from a primary commercial street, a shortcoming we were able to overcome in the 1990’s by recruiting a large discount shoe store as an anchor tenant – along with a unique collection of other successful merchants. When the shoe store closed and the economic recession hit Atlanta hard starting in 2008, many of our more successful retailers were able to move from Amsterdam Walk into other shopping centers where newly-vacated space had become available – and which provided them with more traffic and greater visibility. A number of the less successful retailers at our property either struggled or went out of business. Fortunately, we had the ability to re-invest in the property at this critical time, changing the tenant mix and repositioning the property to appeal to the increasing number of young, affluent individuals and families who were moving into the area. We recruited a variety of successful entrepreneurs to provide the kind and quality of services that the community wanted and would support – from a pre-school for their children to day care for their pets; from neighborhood restaurants and places of entertainment to places where people could work out, improve their health, or get a haircut. Traffic and business at the property has never been better. As in-town living continues to become more appealing to a larger segment of the population, Amsterdam Walk continues to attract new tenants who successfully complement one another—and who are able to cater to the growing, changing, diverse demographic mix of the surrounding community.
Q: Regarding Amsterdam Walk, why do you think providing a place for families plays so well?
Jack Halpern: Historically, large numbers of Atlanta’s young people moved to the suburbs after getting married, and those who moved here from out of town settled in suburbia because of the relatively cheap price of housing (or quality of the school systems) outside the perimeter. In recent years, many of the young professionals who have fueled the residential growth in midtown and the surrounding neighborhoods have come to appreciate the benefits of in-town living, and don’t want to give up their urban lifestyle when it comes time to start a family. Many of the tenants at Amsterdam Walk have benefitted from this demographic trend, providing the kinds of amenities that were only available previously to families out in the suburbs. We have been able to attract a critical mass of such “family friendly” businesses, creating synergy among the various tenants and an inviting atmosphere for families in the neighborhood. Having ample free parking and proximity to the Beltline and Piedmont Park have also contributed to our property’s appeal.
Q: Catch Air is a great addition to Amsterdam Walk, but let’s be honest, did you do the deal so your grandkids could have a great place to play?
Jack Halpern: I’ve learned a lot from my wife and children over the years, and am now blessed with two grandchildren to help guide me through this next phase of my life cycle. When I accompanied my 3 year old grandson, Zachary, to a birthday party a few months ago at Catch Air’s Sandy Springs location, I was impressed with the variety and quality of the play areas, the overall cleanliness of the facility, the efficiency of its operation—and the huge number of kids (and parents) that the place could accommodate. After learning that there was nothing comparable located in-town, I thought that they would be a natural for Amsterdam Walk – and that seems to have been the case. Zachary didn’t get a commission for recruiting them, but I did buy him a season’s pass.