Former Eagle site could see $25 million redevelopment

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The former home of the Atlanta Eagle and its decaying neighbor next door could be the site of a new $25 million development even after portions of the existing structures are designated historic landmarks by the city.

The details of what could be developed on the site emerged Thursday as the Midtown Neighbors’ Association vetted – and ultimately gave its approval to – ordinances from the City of Atlanta designating the two properties along Ponce de Leon Avenue as landmarks. 

“We’re talking about a  $20 to $25 million dollar project,” Dennis Webb, an attorney for property owner Shahzad Hashmi, told the MNA board. 

New development would be allowed on the two properties – 300 Ponce, known as the Kodak building, and 306 Ponce, the former home of the Eagle – under a compromise struck by Webb with Doug Young, the city’s assistant director of the Office of Design. That agreement, unveiled publicly on April 20, scales back the scope of the city’s landmark designation for the two properties.

The compromise calls for protecting the mid-century storefronts that face Ponce on both properties. The owner would be allowed to demolish the roof of the back-facing residential structure on the former Eagle site, which was built in 1898, as well as an expansive outdoor deck and stairwell. For the Kodak building, the compromise allows for the demolition of the entire residential structure, built in 1910, behind the storefront. 

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

Plans for redeveloping the properties are progressing as the city’s push for declaring them landmarks moves through a lengthy and sometimes contentious approval process. 

Webb said Thursday that the cost of the new development means Hashmi would need outside investors for funding and would likely not remain as the sole owner. MNA board members expressed concern that partners in the project wouldn’t be committed to protecting what remains of the structures under the landmark designation.

“Given the dollars involved for the proposed development, Dr. Hashmi will not be the majority owner,” Webb said. “There will be a bank loan and investors and things like that. He is the driver of the project. He’s hired the architect. He’s hired the construction consultants. We’ve got a pro forma. He hired a lawyer to advise him through the process. He’s certainly the quarterback, but I don’t think he will be a majority owner.”

Demolishing the roof of the residential portion of the former Eagle site and work on the landmark portion of the property still needs approval by the city through its Urban Design Commission, Young said. That’s the case whether Hashmi owns the property or not, he added.

“There’s a set of standards that the Urban Design Commission uses to review [landmark building status] work or additions or whatever with LBS projects for that matter. And, in particular, that criteria in this situation would probably involve our demolition criteria, which is also very specific,” Young said.

The Eagle closed in November. (Photo by Matt Hennie)

‘It ain’t perfect’

Preservationists that initiated the landmark designation proposal expressed skepticism about the compromise and concern that removing the roof of the residential structure at 306 Ponce would damage the property’s historical significance. Charlie Paine, secretary of Historic Atlanta and chair of its LGBTQ Historic Preservation Advisory Committee, criticized the scaled-down landmark designation again on Thursday.

It is crazy how much we’re talking about demolition and removal of structures while we’re talking about the historic preservation ordinance right now,” Paine said.

“It is important that the roof structure remain intact. I support development on the property, but I’m not really sure what the point of landmarking the Atlanta Eagle is going to be if we’re only saving one facade because these conditions are looking like setting up a $25 million dollar development with a rooftop. And then once you build the rooftop, you can tear down everything inside, too,” he added. 

Webb said the landmark designation requires any new development to include elements of the existing roof. But the property owner needs some leeway to make a future project financially and structurally feasible, he added.

“We’ve got our issues with what’s happening here. Whether it’s legal, whether it’s not. Whether the criteria is met or whether they’re not. But the fact is, we want to find a solution,” Webb said.

“It ain’t perfect, I get it. It ain’t perfect for us. It’s not perfect for the city. It’s not perfect for Mr. Paine. But I think it’s a pretty good result that ultimately gets people where they need to be. We’re doing more than just preserving a significant part of the Atlanta Eagle building. We’re also documenting what happened there,” he added. 

Conditions of the landmark designation require 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.

The Atlanta Eagle wrapped a weekend of closing parties on Nov. 14 to celebrate the 33-year-run of the leather bar. (Photo by Russ Bowen-Youngblood)

‘The roof should be protected’

Earlier this week, the MNA’s Land Use Committee – which reviewed the landmark designation for the properties on April 20 – voted to “not oppose” the proposal. As the MNA board moved toward its own vote on Thursday, board member Garrett Clum pushed to keep the roof of the residential structure at 306 Ponce within the landmark designation.

“The roof should be protected,” Clum said. 

Clum and longtime Midtown real estate agent Stephen Beckwith voted for Clum’s motion to protect the roof from possible demolition. The motion failed 12 to 2.

The MNA board then voted to “not oppose” the landmark designation for 306 Ponce. It also passed with 12 votes. Clum voted against it and Beckwith abstained. The board also voted to “not oppose” the landmark designation for 300 Ponce. The motion passed unanimously with Beckwith abstaining.

Courtney Smith, president of the MNA, said she’s concerned that Hashmi will tear down both structures if a compromise isn’t reached with the city over the landmark designation.

“I am concerned that if nothing gets passed that your client will file for a demo permit of the entire thing for both buildings and we’ll be left with nothing,” Smith told Webb. “So I’m compelled to agree to the compromise just so our gay community has something left that represents what this space has been for them.”

The landmark designation proposal now moves to Neighborhood Planning Unit E, which could consider it as soon as May 4. After that, the city’s Zoning Review Board will review it before an eventual vote by the Atlanta City Council. Then it’s up to Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms to sign into law the ordinances creating the landmark designations.

The city’s Urban Design Commission unanimously approved the landmark proposal in January. 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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