Sembler Co. didn't make much of a first impression when it started working with Atlanta officials and concerned citizens about what became Edgewood Retail District.

“Insensitive and evil,” were the words that came to Atlanta Councilwoman Natalyn Archibong's mind when the developer proposed a mixed-use project on the former Atlanta Gas Light complex. “It was brown shoes and we wanted Manolo Blahniks.”

Archibong's recollection came during a rare and brutally honest behind-the-scenes discussion in early October. Jeff Fuqua, chairman of a neighborhood planning unit acknowledged that he kept retailers in the dark initially about the tough negotiations. “We had to convey to tenants that there wasn't a lot of visibility from the street,” he said.

Everyone's smiling now, more than 70 site plans and 80 special conditions later. Even Fuqua, whose company footed the $110 million bill amid rising construction costs. An investor group led by Greensboro, N.C.-based Steven D. Bell & Co. purchased the project for $82 million in July. Sembler retained a small ownership position and manages and leases Edgewood. The pedestrian-friendly urban development includes 537,000 square feet of retail and 300 condos, lofts and apartments