Cost estimate of property damage downtown hard to come by

Five days after violent protests hit downtown Atlanta, there’s still no estimate of financial losses from the property damage and looting that dozens of businesses sustained.

Business leaders in Buckhead have produced an estimate — between $10 million and $15 million of damage was done along a four-mile stretch of Peachtree Road, according to the Buckhead Coalition.

Downtown has been much tougher to assess. It's been hit harder, over a wider area and for a longer period of time than Buckhead. Police have closed off much of the impacted area, making it hard for experts to inspect the damage up close, said Bruce Seaman, a public-finance and economics professor at Georgia State University.

“That makes it premature to even try to put any numbers on it,” Seaman said.

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A large swath of downtown was hit, from the Georgia World Congress Center to Underground Atlanta, taking in Centennial Olympic Park, Marietta Street, Nassau Street and Luckie Street. A still-unknown number of businesses were hit by smashed windows, graffiti painted on exterior walls, damaged signage and stolen merchandise.

Establishments that sustained damage include the CNN Center; the College Football Hall of Fame; the Embassy Suites, Omni Hotel and American Hotel Atlanta; the restaurants McCormick & Schmick’s, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Hudson Grille, Stats and Waffle House; the convenience store Kwan’s Deli; and the Children’s Museum of Atlanta.

Foot Locker store at Underground Atlanta was hit Tuesday, the fifth night of protests. Atlanta Police arrested 52 people from Tuesday night's protest.

Most of the damage at Centennial Olympic Park was cosmetic, said Jennifer LeMaster, a spokeswoman for the park’s manager, the Georgia World Congress Center Authority. It’s still determining the cost of its losses, she said.

No other local or state government department, business association or law enforcement group has issued potential cost estimates, either.

Central Atlanta Progress, an organization of business and civic leaders downtown, has not generated a cost estimate, and it may be some time before it can, president A.J. Robinson said this week.

The Atlanta Police Department does not generate cost estimates from protests, spokesman Carlos Campos said.

“If someone breaks your window, you call the police. We take the police report and try to find the person who did it so they can be arrested,” he said. “We don’t follow up and ask you how much it cost to fix your window.”

City Hall has not responded to questions about cost estimates because of protest-related property damage.

The state Department of Insurance won’t have an estimate of the costs sustained by insurance policyholders for several weeks, after claims information is filed, an agency spokesman said.

The Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce and the Atlanta Business League, an organization for black-owned businesses located downtown, have not generated cost estimates, group representatives said.

The Buckhead Coalition generated its estimate of $10 million to $15 million by consulting with construction firms, president Sam Massell said. Building contractors have current values for work such as replacing large plate-glass windows and rebuilding damaged exteriors.

“Contractors know how much these things cost,” Massell said.

The Buckhead Coalition’s estimate does not include the cost of inventory stolen by looters, Massell said.

Many parts of Buckhead that were damaged have reopened, but that’s not the case downtown. Most insurance adjusters won’t enter an area that’s been closed off by law enforcement, even if that means delays in processing a client’s claims request, said Ken Tolson, U.S. president of claims solutions at Crawford & Co. in Peachtree Corners.

“We’ll put an adjuster there as quickly as we’re allowed,” he said.

Adjusters must inspect physical damage in-person before specific cost estimates can be calculated, Tolson said.

In the meantime, Tolson recommended that business owners take photos and board up their damaged property as quickly as possible, even while waiting for an insurance adjuster to arrive.

Most business insurance policies will cover damage caused by civil unrest, said Robert Gordon, senior vice president of policy at the American Property Casualty Insurance Association.

Some U.S. companies provide calculations of losses from events such as tornadoes and hurricanes, but they are less forthcoming about damage caused by civil unrest. Property Claim Services, a unit of Jersey City, N.J.-based Verisk Analytics, will provide an estimate of damages nationwide, but only about 15 days after an event happened, a spokesman said.

Karen Clark & Co. in Boston, a competitor to Property Claim Services, will not provide damage estimates, a spokesman said.

The 1992 Rodney King riots in Los Angeles were by far the costliest protests in U.S. history, generating an estimated $775 million of losses for the insurance industry, or $1.4 billion in today’s dollars, according to Verisk. The 1965 Watts riots, also in Los Angeles, were the second costliest at $44 million ($357 million in today’s dollars). Most recently, the 2015 Baltimore riots produced $24 million of insurance losses ($26 million in today’s dollars).

In downtown Atlanta, merchants are preparing for how to reopen after the protests cool off. It’s a process made more complicated by the fact that many had been closed for weeks because of the coronavirus, especially restaurants.

“We were in the process of bringing employees back in a gradual way, and that’s all been interrupted,” said David Marvin, whose company Legacy Ventures owns Stats and other restaurants downtown.

“It’s a war zone down here,” he said. “I had probably 25 guys with 150 sheets of plywood boarding up broken windows on Saturday.”