Photo by Josh Sandler

On the other side of the Fifth Street Bridge lies Tech’s gateway to the heart of Midtown Atlanta, greeted by the high-striving technology complex known as Tech Square, which is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year.

Today, the bustling complex provides students, faculty and visitors of Tech a refreshing take on the traditional college feel that they can find on the rest of campus.

Tech Square has provided growth and development for future business and technology leaders but also provides fun and entertainment from its  retail and food options.

“Without the restaurants in Tech Square, I would never have anything to eat for lunch since I am always at the business school. Also, it is a great place to just hang out and relax if you want a change of scenery,” said Shyamali Dey, a second-year BA major.

What was life at Tech like before Tech Square? What was the school like without the Business School or the Tech Trolley? Where did students eat outside of the dining halls?

Until 10 years ago, the area past Fifth Street Bridge was home to almost nothing.

“The 13 acres that now support the 1.1 million square feet of Tech Square facilities was a desolate place…a small music venue/bar called ‘Cafe Erehwon’ was located just across the 5th Street bridge.  Interestingly enough, the name ‘Erehwon’ was chosen by owner/musician Cy Timmons as it was ‘nowhere’ spelled backward,” said Rich Steele, senior director of Auxiliary Services.

The official grand opening of Tech Square was Oct. 24, 2003. This year, starting on Oct. 17, to commemorate the “Decade of Innovation,” there will be a customer appreciation sale at the bookstore, a symposium on innovation by Bud Peterson and a “small treat” for all Tech Square customers.

“In its first decade, [Tech Square] has become a nationally-recognized hub for innovation which is driving an exciting future that promises more development and a more grandiose representation of Tech’s impressive brand,” Steele said.

The earliest parts of Tech Square were constructed in July 2003 but went as late as early 2004. Tech Square was built  with a bold design in mind for a vibrant physical presence in Midtown, according to Steele.

“This [design] urged a pedestrian friendly mixed-use design with wide sidewalks, street level retail, street parking and easy access to transit,” Steele said.

“Immediately before Tech Square was built, there were a bunch of parking lots where drug deals and prostitution were rampant. It was not really safe in the evening,” added Terry Blum, Dean of Management at the time Tech Square was being built.

Blum was instrumental in advocating the creation of a Business School to be built along with the proposed hotel, bookstore and continuing education center. The Business School, then College of Management, was initially located in the Instructional Center.

Before Tech Square, students did not have the same opportunities for a change of scenery and break from the routine of campus life as they do now.

“There really wasn’t any place for speakers like the Impact Series…not adjacent to buildings that house start ups and other organizations, nor did it have spaces where students and faculty could socialize,” Blum said.

While Tech Square has changed drastically in the last 10 years, some of the popular retail locations were available from the start, including Tin Drum, Ray’s and Great Clips. Over the years, there have been clothing stores, a market and a barbeque restaurant which have been replaced by stores such as Game Stop and Walmart On-Campus.

  • Expanding across the canyon of the Downtown Connector not only transformed Georgia Tech… it transformed this entire area of Midtown. Businesses, restaurants, and residences have sprouted in the last ten years. Some of them want access to Georgia Tech faculty, students, and laboratories; some are just taking advantage of the “creative class” community anchored by Georgia Tech. It’s a great demonstration of the value of public-private partnerships, and the impact that a major urban university can have on the surrounding fabric of the city.