Have a heart, Atlanta: protect the old buildings that survived the parking apocalypse.
A demolition permit has been requested for two lovely little old buildings in Downtown Atlanta’s parking-blight zone, just east of Centennial Park. I’ve mapped out all of the parking in that zone, above.
The parking lot shaded in purple and the two buildings that are shaded in red would be replaced with a 10-story Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville resort hotel, according to the proposal.
Obviously, the parking lot is expendable. But the two buildings — one on Nassau Street and the other on Walton Street — are precious. They’ve survived nearly 100 years of Downtown demolition as historic fabric was turned to parking facilities. Now, if the permit is granted, the bulk of that parking will remain while actually-valuable structures are torn down.
You may recall news items last year about one of the buildings being the spot where the first country hit was recorded (Atlanta was the seat of country music in the early years of the 1920s before Nashville took over). And you may recall that the City had moved to protect the buildings from being demolished to make way for a Margaritaville restaurant.
What you probably didn’t know is that the City made a deal with the property owner, saying that if he came back with a proposal for something at least ten stories tall, he could demolish the buildings. It’ll be a legal wrangle, but I hope the City denies the demolition request.
A deal with the demolition Devil
When the property owner first proposed a free-standing, single-story Margaritaville restaurant on this spot a couple of years ago (which would also have seen the demolition of these two buildings), the Kasim Reed mayoral administration didn’t like the idea.
The good news is that the administration wanted something more appropriately urban in this spot. The bad news is that they used the demolition of the buildings as bait in order to get that more-urban development.
In a letter signed by the City of Atlanta attorney in November of 2017, a pathway for demolition is spelled out by way of a deal with the developer. From that letter:
“AP [the developer] agrees to submit to the City an application for a special administrative permit by June 30, 2018 to build at least a 10-story hotel (“Hotel SAP”) that will encompass some or all of Properties. AP intends to develop a hotel associated with a unique Wyndham brand and have a development cost in excess of approximately one hundred million dollars ($100,00,000)…“
“If the City approves the Hotel SAP by July 30, 2018, AP shall by January 1, 2019 submit to the City an application for a demolition permit for the existing structures on 141 Walton and 152 Nassau…”
Clearly, the administration was trying to do the right thing in terms of preventing inappropriate new development. But they were very wrong in disrespecting the value of the old buildings, and in sacrificing them in order to get an upgrade on the development proposal.
The historic buildings that we’re losing
Look at these two brick buildings that are threatened with demolition. They’ve served Downtown for nearly 100 years, remaining intact while much of the neighborhood around them was demolished and turned into grim parking facilities. These are the ones we’ll lose if the demolition is approved by the City.
It makes no sense. We need to fill up all of Downtown’s many surface parking lots (see the pic at the top of the post — a lot of that is surface parking) with development before we even breathe a word about possibly tearing down anything from our precious and small stock of old buildings. And even then, don’t do it.
I don’t care if you think a property owner has the right to do this. When you buy property containing old buildings in the city center, you have to understand that you’re buying into history. There’s a special responsibility that goes along with it. And if property owners don’t understand that responsibility, the City should explain it to them and hold them to it.