City proposal allows portion of Eagle building to be demolished

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The City of Atlanta and the owner of two Midtown buildings – including the former home of the Atlanta Eagle – struck a deal to dramatically scale back the scope of an effort to declare the properties historic landmarks. 

The terms of the compromise between Doug Young, the city’s assistant director of the Office of Design, and property owner Shahzad Hashmi were discussed publicly for the first time on Tuesday. The modifications to the proposed landmark designation for the two properties were presented during a meeting of the Land Use Committee of the Midtown Neighbors’ Association.

“The one thing that strikes me looking at this document is it seems pretty simple. It’s basically a page of conditions for one building,” said Dennis Webb, an attorney who is representing Hashmi during the landmark designation process. “But what it doesn’t tell is the amount of information and input that it took us to get here.”

The compromise is the latest twist to the lengthy and sometimes contentious effort by the city and preservationists to protect the two buildings. Each property includes two structures that are joined – wood-framed residential homes that were built in 1898 (306 Ponce, the former home of the Eagle) and 1910 (300 Ponce, known as the Kodak building) and commercial brick storefronts added to each in the mid-1900s.

“We’re certainly proud of the fact that we are taking an active role in memorializing and honoring what happened at the 306 site and frankly, the Kodak site as well,” Webb said. “The agreements we’ve made to document, preserve and record the history of this property are significant.”

The compromise between the city and Hashmi came after the MNA’s Land Use Committee urged the two sides to broker a deal during its initial review of the landmark proposal in March. The committee deferred the city’s application for a month, providing time that Webb said allowed the two sides to meet, tour the site, host weekly phone calls, and do “a lot of homework.”

“It is our assertion that both these buildings have a story to tell of the City of Atlanta’s history and have both architectural and cultural merit to the City of Atlanta,” Young said. “So we initiated that designation to protect those properties from unsympathetic development or potential demolition in the future.”

The compromise scales back the original proposal to designate the entire structures on both properties as historic landmarks. In a blistering rebuttal to the proposal last month, Webb said portions of the structures aren’t worth saving and doing so would be financially disastrous for Hashmi. He also threatened legal action against the city if the landmark designation was approved.

Webb offered a compromise: designate the two storefronts as landmarks and demolish the wood-frame structures.

The three-page document unveiled on Tuesday calls for protecting the mid-century storefronts that face Ponce on both properties. The owner would be allowed to demolish the roof of the residential structure on the former Eagle site, as well as an expansive outdoor deck and stairwell. For the Kodak building, the entire residential structure behind the storefront could be demolished. 

Additionally, the conditions allow for the property owner to build adjacent to, over and behind the commercial storefronts on both properties. 

Before any demolition or construction, the conditions call for the property owner to protect exterior signs for both buildings, including the Eagle sign on the front of 306 Ponce and the Kodak sign atop 300 Ponce. The property owner must also document the interior and exterior of the buildings through photos and drawings and install signage that describes the history of the buildings that is publicly visible for 10 years.

Charlie Paine, secretary of Historic Atlanta and chair of its LGBTQ Historic Preservation Advisory Committee. (Photo by Patrick Saunders)

‘It starts eating away at the integrity’

Preservationists that initiated the landmark designation proposal expressed skepticism over the compromise and concern that removing the roof of the residential structure at 306 Ponce would damage the property’s historical significance.

“It starts eating away at the integrity of the structure as a whole, and I’m actually talking about both buildings now,” said Charlie Paine, secretary of Historic Atlanta and chair of its LGBTQ Historic Preservation Advisory Committee. 

“This is not about preserving aesthetic values of a property. This is about preserving one of the most significant LGBTQ sites in the City of Atlanta. What I’m seeing right now is a little bit askew from what I would have thought was going to happen when I began this process,” he added.

Charles Lawrence, Historic Atlanta’s board chair, said the compromise limits the benefits the landmark designation would provide to control development on the two properties.

“One of the things that frightens me about this particular proposal is that at the end of the road, when its highest and best use has been fulfilled, the property will be a five-story monolith with these two facades, stripped of all signage and meaning sort of strapped onto something that, as we all know, will probably be brick with Hardie panels and maybe a couple of metal accent panels applied to it,” he said.

The MNA committee did not issue a recommendation on the landmark application but is expected to do so before the full MNA board considers the proposal on April 29. The proposal will then likely move to Neighborhood Planning Unit E during its May 4 meeting. After that, the city’s Zoning Review Board will consider it before an eventual vote by the Atlanta City Council.

The city’s Urban Design Commission unanimously approved the landmark proposal in January. Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced her intent to designate the buildings as landmarks in December. 

The Eagle closed in November, the same month the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation included the building among its 10 “Places in Peril” list for 2021.

On March 1, the Atlanta City Council unanimously passed a measure placing the two properties under the city’s Historic Preservation Ordinance while the landmark designation is being considered. The temporary protections last until June 30.

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