Kempner: Builder OK with strip club, landfill, but not The Masquerade

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Steve Brock has made good money building cozy homes near the kind of Atlanta landmarks that seem like rotten neighbors. Like a strip club, a sewage treatment plant, a landfill and a prison.

“It’s the junky stuff that no one wants in their part of the city,” said Brock, one of intown’s bigger homebuilders. He banks on “the value proposition” of discounted land.

But Brock has found something to oppose: Heaven, Hell and Purgatory.

He recently sued to keep them away from half-million-dollar homes he's building in a part of Atlanta's Westside known as Blandtown. (Realtors prefer to call it "West Midtown.")

Heaven, Hell and Purgatory are the names of the stages at The Masquerade, a gritty North Avenue music venue that plans to relocate off Fairmont Road, a Westside street that runs by kudzu, aging industrial buildings and the beginnings of a new Brock development.

Brock’s lawsuit claims he’s losing business because potential homebuyers imagine what The Masquerade will bring: rowdy partyers spilling into the late night and cars jamming future neighborhood streets. He’s been trying to convince Brian McNamara, The Masquerade’s chief, to look somewhere else on the Westside, particularly at an industrial site on a four-lane road near the Bankhead MARTA station.

“Yes, it’s a little on the edgy side, but it’s a cool location,” Brock told me.

He said he believes McNamara is considering it and other alternate sites.

(McNamara didn’t respond to my bazillions of attempts to reach him. An architect told me he’s still moving forward with plans for the site near Brock’s property.)

Music vs. The Man?

It might seem like this is a battle between music and The Man. Or civility vs. edginess. And, sure, those fights will happen more as intown gets more revitalized and, you know, pretty.

“I’m sick of seeing all this gentrification all over my beautiful city because people want more money and are getting greedy,” one person posted on Creative Loafing’s web site. Adding The Masquerade to the locale “will give it back the character that is being destroyed in several areas around this once beautiful Unique City.”

But there are wrinkles in this dustup.

One is that Brock doesn’t come off as a guy who runs from edgy stuff. (Though he long ago moved from the city to East Cobb to avoid what he said were unacceptably bad public schools for his kids.)

Once a builder in places like Sandy Springs, Roswell and Brookhaven, Brock told me that nearly 20 years ago he shifted to the Westside where there was more grit but also more “competitive” land prices. He’s on home number 1,000 and something there now.

He tends toward those craftsman bungalow styles with cozy porches. One of his first Westside forays was envisioning the neighborhood potential of a site that previously housed an oil recycling business. (Before that it was home to a rendering plant.)

It’s not, he said, that homebuyers want to be near such things.

“They would rather live in Buckhead,” he said, “but they can’t afford a million and a half dollar home.”

‘An area on the rise’

I imagine some of that thinking might have also played into the decision by The Masquerade to move to the Westside.

ExploreEarly on, one of The Masquerade’s folks told the AJC that the Westside “seemed like the right place.”

“It’s an area on the rise; it has good interstate access,” he said.

It might help that the Atlanta Beltline is planned to run beside the site, too.

The Masquerade has attracted a funky array of patrons and bands since it opened on North Avenue in the late 1980s. Its three floors of stages have hosted goth and punk, heavy metal, hip-hop, even country.

“It almost feels like the building is going to come down when the crowd gets into it,” said Edgar Alverson, who sometimes goes there to see bands with his wife. “It’s got its own unique feel … Any kind of venue with character is more interesting than a cookie-cutter type thing.”

The Masquerade launched on North Avenue long before the Beltline showed up next door and Ponce City Market became a popular hangout across the street. Now, it’s a hot area that keeps getting more gussied up. A plan for another mixed-use development on The Masquerade site pushed the owner to look elsewhere.

There are, though, oddities in The Masquerade’s applications with the city over the new site.

Parking math

Like when it tried to classify itself as a “convention center,” which I’m told has far lower requirements for parking. (I’m having a hard time picturing name tags and khakis at The Masquerade.) The new location would have just 123 parking spaces for about 1,000 patrons. Do the math.

The Masquerade’s original application vastly understated the size of the club while also vastly overstating the amount of parking available on site. Both tended to make it look more palatable for the area.

Jim Martin, who chairs a local neighborhood planning unit board, told me that after he questioned those issues, an attorney for The Masquerade wrote a follow-up letter. The lawyer blamed “typographical errors” and “ongoing communications between our client and the landlord about obtaining additional leased space.”

Meantime, there are legitimate questions about where the city’s gritty stuff will go as intown gets increasingly revitalized. The good news for The Masquerade is that there still are lots of places in the city where there’s room for gritty to roam.

But you might hope it’s not by your house.

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