The Georgia Tech Foundation’s Real Estate Initiatives Help Further the Institute’s Mission




Workers install the new Georgia Tech signage on top of the CODA building. The new sign was installed to match the Institute’s new brand guidelines.


The Georgia Tech Foundation’s Real Estate Initiatives Help Further the Institute’s Mission

In the late 1990s, before Tech Square was a nationally recognized community for innovation and technology development, it was just vacant parking lots in a less-than-desirable area of Midtown Atlanta, across the interstate from Georgia Tech’s campus. But the university had a vision. In 2001, the Institute was coming off its most successful fundraising effort ever. For the third year in a row, U.S. News and World Report had placed Tech among the nation’s top 10 public universities, and as then-president Wayne Clough put it in an issue of the alumni magazine, Georgia Tech had “gone from the triple A to the major leagues.” The university was on a mission to continue their ascent, and that included a plan to expand the campus. So with the help of the Georgia Tech Foundation (GTF), the Institute jumped the freeway.

It would be the foundation’s first major real estate investment. The final approval to purchase the land came during GTF’s board meeting in December 2001, less than 90 days after the events of 9/11. Those events changed the world, sending the United States into a war against terrorism, locking down financial markets for a time, and causing great concern about the future.

“And here was the board of the foundation voting to bet a significant portion of its balance sheet on speculative real estate on the wrong side of the freeway,” says Al Trujillo, GTF’s current president and COO. “It was a courageous move.”

And one that paid off. After Tech Square launched in the fall of 2003, it played a key role in the revitalization of Midtown Atlanta. Today, the multi-block neighborhood has the highest density of startups, corporate innovators, academic researchers, and students in the Southeastern United States.

As Trujillo puts it, “The rest is positive history.” Since that first major investment, GTF has created a well-developed real estate program that includes the ownership of a number of properties. Most of what the foundation buys is what Trujillo refers to as mission real estate. The property is purchased with the intent that Georgia Tech will use it, whether they decide to build a softball field, classroom and programming space, or housing. (Creating these spaces is especially important, given that Georgia Tech is currently the fastest growing public university in the country.) The foundation leases these properties to Georgia Tech, and when they’re paid off, GTF donates them to the Institute.

Because GTF is a private entity, they have access to flexible financial resources and are able to move quickly, unlike the university itself. According to Cindy Pekrul, the foundation’s CFO, the GTF board has pre-approved a maximum amount to guide staff as they find properties to invest in.

“That helps us because we don’t have to act like a state entity; we can be pretty quick,” says Pekrul. “And anytime you’re in a city that’s dense, you need to be fast on your feet when considering real estate opportunities.”

Such was the case when a 7.5-acre property to the west of campus recently went up for sale. Given the real estate market in Midtown Atlanta, it would’ve been purchased before Tech could make a move. The property was owned by Randall Brothers, a materials supplier company that opened its door in 1885 — the same year as Georgia Tech. Trujillo likes to joke that the Institute has probably been coveting that land ever since. When the company’s owners decided they were going to move their location, GTF was able to step in and make the purchase of what will eventually become Arts Square, a center of academic and research activity, housing, entertainment, and dining.

Occasionally, donors will gift properties to the foundation. These are not necessarily in Atlanta, (like the recent 150 acres of pine stands in South Carolina that were donated), but they still have a major impact in advancing Georgia Tech.

“Our intent with those properties is to liquidate them at the right time and turn them into the monies to fulfill the donors’ wishes,” Pekrul says. “I think our ability to maximize on those gifts has been enhanced by our knowledge of this real estate program.”

Other times GTF buys properties to make money, with the plan to sell in the future or to lease out to local businesses. One example is the Atlanta Technology Center (ATC), a 19-acre office park on Northside Drive close to I-75 and Atlantic Station. GTF bought the property in 2018 and invested in giving it a more modern look and improving the common areas. Today, it’s a community of technology companies, in addition to housing the main office and practice facility of the Atlanta Opera. The ATC is valuable property now, but it will soon become more so. Atlanta’s BeltLine, a multi-use trail built on a former railway corridor connecting the city’s neighborhoods, has been approved to come through ATC. Once it does, the area will become one of the city’s most desirable places to live, work, and dine.

“We’ve thought about having an outdoor performing area once the BeltLine is there,” says Trujillo. “Imagine taking a stroll on the BeltLine, then taking in a performance while you’re having a meal. That’s a great way to spend a day in Atlanta.”

Properties like ATC and Arts Square both support Georgia Tech’s mission but in different ways.

“ATC stewards our endowments and maximizes the potential of those endowments,” Pekrul says. “Arts Square and ATC use two different strategies, but they both benefit Georgia Tech.”

They also benefit the city of Atlanta. Take Arts Square, which will encompass a southwest side community known for some of the highest poverty rates in the city. By developing the new Arts Square neighborhood, the foundation hopes to incorporate two communities that have historically been divided by an economic faultline.

“We don’t want to build a shiny new building with a fence around it and to say some people aren’t welcome,” Trujillo says. “This is real estate that has a campus purpose, such as education and research, but we can provide a true opportunity for our neighbors to more fully participate with the university. In that way, we help the city. That’s an obligation of Georgia Tech, and the foundation is included in that.”

GTF also has the opportunity to be part of Atlanta’s history with its 2016 purchase of the Atlanta Biltmore Hotel, which opened its doors in 1924. It was once known as the South’s supreme hotel and became a symbol of Atlanta’s business and social scenes. For more than 30 years, the South’s first radio station, WSB, broadcast from its studios within the hotel, and the radio tower became a landmark on the city skyline. It was eventually turned into an office complex in the 1990s. The Institute is now working on plans for the building’s next 100 years, and GTF is able to be patient for those to come together.

“Our investors don’t want their money back in 10 years, so we can have a very different time frame expectation than most,” Trujillo says. “We love for things to be planned or built sooner rather than later, but things take time and we’re not going anywhere.”