The expansive porn palace and gloryhole haven Inserection – the welcome center to gay Atlanta's red light strip on Cheshire Bridge Road – is knee deep into an $800,000 renovation transforming the building and the business.
Long the focus of attention and scorn as opposition fights to scrub the strip of its sexy parts, Inserection is changing in part because of those opponents. But also in spite of them. The building has seen extensive updates to its facade in recent months, which ought to placate neighbors who want to see upgrades. But renovations inside come with a goal of improving, not ending, the sexy aspects of the adult-oriented businesses that dot the street from Piedmont to Interstate 85.
"What came out of that debacle is how can we be a better corporate citizen, how can we build a better place," says Michael Morrison, the manager of Inserection who once owned that store and a chain of others.
"We talked to all of the adult entertainment establishments up and down the street and decided that we are going to lead the charge," he adds.
The "debacle" is a months-long fight in 2013 that sought to rid Cheshire Bridge of adult-oriented businesses – including Inserection, Southern Nights and several strip clubs – that were granted exemptions when city zoning regulations were changed in 2005. The businesses and supporters fought back, eventually defeating the changes championed by gay City Council member Alex Wan, whose district includes the area.
That controversy – and the arrival of new, upscale developments as close as next door to Inserection (second photo) – helped pushed Morrison to take action. Say goodbye to Inserection and hello to Tokyo Valentino Erotique, an Atlanta take on a concept Morrison put in place with a similar videoplex and erotique in Miami.
"We want a landmark place in Atlanta so that people have to see how wonderful this crazy adult store is. We need to give people an excuse to push back from their computers and go shop. It should be a fun adult shopping experience," Morrison says.
"The store here in Atlanta, when we get done, is going to be one of the nicest stores in the nation," he adds.
With the exterior work mostly complete, Morrison says the project will focus on interior renovations. The retail portion, private rooms and video booths with their gloryholes – oh those gloryholes! – will remain. So too will the lounges. But Morrison says to expect a more spa-like experience with a locker room, showers and towel service. Three levels of cruisy fun, he predicts.
"You should have fun and adventure walking around. There should be something new around each corner," Morrison says.
"We have raised the bar for the other adult companies on the street and even some of the clubs to improve their image and be a better corporate citizen," he adds.
'A very upscale gay entertainment package'
Morrison launched the renovation – and pivot of the business – last year. But it's been slowed by arguments with city officials over building and sign permits, architectural renderings and whether the business is expanding the footprint of its adult-oriented offerings, which it's prohibited from doing under its grandfathered status.
Morrison blames opponents who live in nearby neighborhoods, along with Wan, for the delays. But he expects to button up the needed permits in the coming weeks and start the interior renovations in July, closing the store for two weeks to complete them.
Wan says any delays in permits and the renovations are part of a process to ensure that changes comply with city codes. A gay doctor who renovated a long-vacant office building further down the strip – next to Southern Nights – encountered similar delays as he tried to open a new office last year.
"The reality of it is that anyone who wants to build in the city or make improvements, there is a process that you have to go through to get your permits. My understanding from the city is that some of the work that [Morrison] has done is not in compliance with code. That's the reality of what is happening there," Wan says.
Besides, Wan adds, he welcomes the rehab of any business along the strip.
"I'm always supportive of any property owner that wants to invest in that corridor. I'm excited to see the level of interest that is happening up and down on Cheshire Bridge right now. It's good to see it," Wan says.
Morrison says he knows the extensive renovations won't win over all of his critics. But the project is aimed more at pleasing his customer base, which he says is about 70 percent LGBT.
"Not everyone is going to like it. We know that. But we get to give a better experience to the customers and they deserve it and reward us for it," Morrison says.
"It should be a very upscale gay entertainment package. The place should be clean and have a good feel to it, and be kind of mysterious. We want to preserve that," he adds.