Property owner fights historic designation for Eagle building

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The owner of two Midtown buildings, including the former home of the Eagle, is contesting the city’s effort to declare them landmarks, arguing that portions of the structures aren’t worth saving and doing so would wreck the value of the properties.

Shahzad Hashmi, the owner of 300 and 306 Ponce de Leon Avenue, also alleged that the bar’s longtime owner broke his lease, didn’t pay rent, failed to maintain the property and cost him money and an opportunity to sell the properties in 2020.

The fate of the buildings comes as Eagle owner Richard Ramey again delayed re-opening the iconic bar – this time until 2022.

The lengthy and increasingly contentious effort to designate the two buildings at the corner of Ponce and Argonne Avenue in Midtown as landmarks – and protect them from demolition – is currently before the Midtown Neighbors’ Association. Last week, the MNA’s Land Use Committee deferred the city’s application for a month.

In a 183-page response, Hashmi and attorney Dennis Webb said portions of the adjoining properties are in “poor condition,” don’t meet current building codes and are in danger of collapsing. They also argued that the city requires buildings to be “architecturally, historically, and culturally significant” to be named landmarks yet only the former Eagle home meets the threshold for “cultural significance.”

“Dr. Hashmi does not believe that the buildings meet all of these criteria,” Webb, an attorney with Smith, Gambrell & Russell, stated in a March 5 letter to city zoning officials. 

Each property includes two structures that are joined – wood-framed residential homes that were built in 1898 (306 Ponce) and 1910 (300 Ponce) and commercial storefronts added to each in the mid-1900s. The storefronts are visible from Ponce while portions of the residential structures are visible from the rear parking lot accessible on Argonne. 

The integrity of the wood structures concerns Hashmi and Webb the most. Webb said the original homes built on the property have been debased and that none of the buildings are the work of “an architect of any acclaim” and or represent “an uncommon architectural style.” 

“[The commercial storefronts] make the sites recognizable in a historical context. The same is not true of the wood-frame structures, however. They have lost all original architectural integrity. They have lost all integrity of materials and workmanship,” Webb wrote.

Both wood-frame structures are in poor condition and engineers concluded that portions of the home at 306 Ponce are “in danger of ‘partial or even total collapse.’” Repairing the building would mean constructing a new structure inside the existing shell, Webb wrote. 

In their letter, Hashmi and Webb offer a compromise: designate the two storefronts as landmarks and demolish the wood-frame structures. 

“Whether they meet the architectural standards for significance or not, Dr. Hashmi is willing to preserve the concrete and steel shopfronts and incorporate them into a new building design that will maintain the community’s associations with the properties and preserve the traditional streetscape along this portion of Ponce de Leon Avenue. There is simply no reasonable justification to require that the wood-frame structures be preserved, however,” Webb wrote. 

Preserving the two wood structures would be financially disastrous for Hashmi, according to the letter.

“Imposing any regulation that requires that they be preserved and rehabilitated would create undue and unnecessary hardship for Dr. Hashmi and destroy the reasonable economic value of the properties,” Webb wrote.

Consideration of the landmark designation by the MNA’s Land Use Committee on March 16 was the latest stop for the effort by the city and preservationists to protect the buildings. On Jan. 27, Atlanta’s Urban Design Commission unanimously approved the nominations. Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced her intent to designate the buildings as landmarks in December. 

In November, the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation included both buildings among its 10 “Places in Peril” list for 2021.

The MNA’s Land Use Committee will consider the application again during its meeting on April 20. The city’s Neighborhood Planning Unit-E could vet the application during its May 4 meeting. If it clears those hurdles, the effort would then move to the city’s Zoning Review Board and ultimately the City Council for final approval.

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.

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

Landlord: Eagle violated lease, didn’t pay rent for months

The push to designate the two buildings as landmarks unfolds as the future of the bar remains murky. Legal documents from Hashmi allege that Ramey routinely paid the bar’s rent late and state the lease was terminated in the settlement of a previously undisclosed lawsuit against the bar in 2020. 

Ramey told Project Q Atlanta that he won’t reopen the Eagle until 2022 – another delay in relaunching the bar. When Ramey announced in October that the bar was closing, he pledged to reopen in a new location sometime in 2021. In December, the date for a new Eagle – or possibly reopening at its former home – was pushed to October 2021. 

Now, Ramey said, he’s targeting 2022.

“The Atlanta Eagle will reopen in 2022. We’re not going to reopen this year,” he said. “My goal date is January 2022. I want to try to get herd immunity and get a portion of Georgians vaccinated and I want to feel comfortable in running my business. I just felt like we need a little bit more time.”

Ramey is open to the bar returning to its longtime home at 306 Ponce. In December, he said the building would need “tons of repairs” before the bar would reopen there. But Hashmi’s allegations about Ramey’s operation of the bar could provide a stumbling block.

Hashmi bought the two Ponce properties and the adjacent parking lot in 2016. He hoped to demolish the buildings and create a development to include a third location for his medical practice, Webb wrote. Salveo Integrative Health has offices in Lawrenceville and Flowery Branch.

While the 300 Ponce building was vacant for years, 306 Ponce housed the Eagle since it opened in 1987. The popular gay leather bar had a lease, which Hashmi honored when Ramey told him he planned to retire at the end of the lease, according to a March 4 affidavit from Hashmi.

But while the two business operators had an “amicable” relationship, Hashmi said Ramey “was routinely late on rent payments.” And while the lease required Ramey to maintain the interior and exterior of the building, Hashmi said he didn’t.

“He also did minimal if no maintenance on the exterior of the building and, in my opinion, did not adequately maintain the interior of the Atlanta Eagle Club,” Hashmi said in the affidavit.

Hashmi raised the rent in October 2019 to help pay for increased property taxes and to fund a new roof. Ramey paid the higher rate for six months but in April 2020 – as the pandemic took hold and business plummeted – the Eagle stopped paying rent. When the bar closed in November, Hashmi said it owed rent for seven months.

Hashmi, in the affidavit, also alleged that a patron sued the bar in May 2020 after slipping on water and falling near the dance floor. The bar did not carry liability insurance – a requirement of the lease – and Hashmi had to contribute funds to settle the lawsuit, he said.

“Because of Mr. Ramey’s inaction, I had to contribute from my personal funds to the settlement of the Atlanta Eagle Lawsuit,” Hashmi said in the affidavit.

The lawsuit also led to the termination of the lease, he said. The unpaid rent scared away a potential buyer of the two properties, according to the affidavit.

“The Atlanta Eagle Lease was terminated by mutual agreement of the parties and as part of the settlement of the above-referenced lawsuit. Mr. Ramey did not reimburse me, however, for seven months of unpaid rent or for the money I had to advance to settle the Atlanta Lease Lawsuit,” Hashmi said. 

“I have suffered significant financial loss because of Mr. Ramey,” he added. 

Ramey told Project Q that he pleaded with four landlords – including Hashmi – over the 23 years he operated the Eagle to make improvements to the Ponce building. 

“I feel like the Eagle building can definitely be saved. It needs some major repairs, which I begged for from all my landlords. The money that I put into this property is astronomical to the 23 years as a tenant, so if the landlords through the years had contributed to that fund, the building wouldn’t be in the condition that it’s in today,” Ramey said.

Ramey said he and Hashmi signed a confidential agreement that addressed the rental payments, liability insurance and lawsuit. Citing that, he declined to discuss Hashmi’s allegations in the affidavit or the lawsuit. 

“I can tell you that all of that is untrue,” Ramey said. “He and I had a confidential settlement agreement that was agreed upon and signed by both parties. Due to that confidentiality, I will not speak of it.”

Ramey added that Hashmi is not owed any outstanding rent from the Eagle.

“The Atlanta Eagle and Richard Ramey owe the landlord nothing and the landlord owes me nothing. That’s all part of a confidential agreement at the closing of the Eagle,” he said.

Project Q was unable to locate the lawsuit filed by the Eagle customer.

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