Decades-old airport Sheraton imploded

Not far past the end of the fifth runway at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, a deserted, hulking tower of brown concrete sat for years. Next door was a sprawling, abandoned convention hall.

Over decades, the 19-acre complex was home to hotels with different names, a post-9/11 mass unemployment office, a staging center after Hurricane Katrina and a repository for discarded furniture. More recently, it was a production studio for “The Gifted,” “The Walking Dead” and “Mile 22.”

The tower was detonated early Sunday morning with hundreds of pounds of dynamite, temporarily halting airplane traffic on two runways. Over the coming weeks, the remainder of the complex also will be demolished, completing its passage from importance to irrelevance to ceasing to exist.

Caption
09-05-2021 Atlanta, Ga.- The old Sheraton hotel at 1900 Sullivan Road near Hartsfield-Jackson Airport imploding to make room for new developments. (Tyson Horne / tyson.horne@ajc.com)

Credit: Tyson Horne

09-05-2021 Atlanta, Ga.-  The old Sheraton hotel at 1900 Sullivan Road near Hartsfield-Jackson Airport imploding to make room for new developments. (Tyson Horne / tyson.horne@ajc.com)
Caption
09-05-2021 Atlanta, Ga.- The old Sheraton hotel at 1900 Sullivan Road near Hartsfield-Jackson Airport imploding to make room for new developments. (Tyson Horne / tyson.horne@ajc.com)

Credit: Tyson Horne

Credit: Tyson Horne

Constructed in the 1980s, the 12-story hotel tower was most recently a 395-room Sheraton attached to the former site of the Georgia International Convention Center.

The convention center closed in the early 2000s, and the Sheraton shuttered in 2017.

It’s unclear what — if anything — will be built in their place.

Already turned to rubble in recent weeks as part of the $9 million demolition are a parking deck and ballroom.

The implosion of the tower at 7:30 a.m. Sunday took only seconds, but temporarily closed nearby roads. The subcontractor that conducted the implosion, Controlled Demolition Inc., also handled the demolition of the remainder of the damaged Surfside condo building in South Florida in July.

The old Sheraton and convention center building near Hartsfield-Jackson sat in a warren of airport hotels inhabited by tourists and business travelers off Sullivan Road in College Park. The site was originally chosen because of its free parking and promised conventioneers fewer hassles than making the trip up to the congested streets of downtown Atlanta.

The convention center opened in 1985 as a $15 million facility with the only 40,000-square-foot exhibit hall on the south side of Atlanta. In its first year, it hosted a monthly flea market, gun and sporting goods shows, a square dancing group and the Atlanta Men’s Show. At the time, the attached hotel was a Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza Hotel.

Caption
A ballroom sits empty at the former Sheraton Atlanta Airport Hotel in College Park, Friday, September 4, 2020. The hotel was acquired by the City of Atlanta for $16.8 million in 2017. Since the purchase, the hotel, which had a convention center attached, has been used for movie production. The city is demolishing the hotel. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

A ballroom sits empty at the former Sheraton Atlanta Airport  Hotel in College Park, Friday, September 4, 2020. The hotel was acquired by the City of Atlanta for $16.8 million in 2017. Since the purchase, the hotel, which had a convention center attached, has been used for movie production. The city is demolishing the hotel. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Caption
A ballroom sits empty at the former Sheraton Atlanta Airport Hotel in College Park, Friday, September 4, 2020. The hotel was acquired by the City of Atlanta for $16.8 million in 2017. Since the purchase, the hotel, which had a convention center attached, has been used for movie production. The city is demolishing the hotel. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

The convention center building did more than host conventions.

When thousands of aviation workers lost their jobs in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, the Georgia Department of Labor rented out space for a mass unemployment office.

By then, plans were already underway for a bigger, fancier convention center elsewhere. A new Georgia International Convention Center off Camp Creek Parkway replaced it in 2003.

The airport, owned and operated by the City of Atlanta, spent about $82 million in 2000 to acquire the old convention center as part of a deal for an eventual fifth runway.

After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, the Federal Emergency Management Agency used the shuttered convention center as a makeshift training center for hundreds of firefighters dispatched to disaster areas.

When a tornado hit downtown Atlanta in 2008 and damaged the Georgia World Congress Center, the Big South National Qualifier volleyball tournament was moved to other locations including the old convention center.

“They didn’t even sweep out the floors. They just threw a net up and threw the girls in there and they played volleyball all weekend,” said Lisa Todd, a former sales manager at the Sheraton.

The Sheraton had large guestrooms and soundproof windows with a view of the airport, as well as an inviting bar and grill with curved glass so “you could actually see the planes landing or taking off,” Todd said.

Caption
09/04/2020 -College Park, Georgia - The exterior of the former Sheraton Atlanta Airport Hotel, located at 1900 Sullivan Road, in College Park, Friday, September 4, 2020. The hotel was acquired by the City of Atlanta for $16.8 million in 2017. Since the purchase, the hotel, which had a convention center attached, has been used for movie production. The city is demolishing the hotel to make way for economic development and a potential runway. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

09/04/2020 -College Park, Georgia - The exterior of the former Sheraton Atlanta Airport  Hotel, located at 1900 Sullivan Road, in College Park, Friday, September 4, 2020. The hotel was acquired by the City of Atlanta for $16.8 million in 2017. Since the purchase, the hotel, which had a convention center attached, has been used for movie production. The city is demolishing the hotel to make way for economic development and a potential runway. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Caption
09/04/2020 -College Park, Georgia - The exterior of the former Sheraton Atlanta Airport Hotel, located at 1900 Sullivan Road, in College Park, Friday, September 4, 2020. The hotel was acquired by the City of Atlanta for $16.8 million in 2017. Since the purchase, the hotel, which had a convention center attached, has been used for movie production. The city is demolishing the hotel to make way for economic development and a potential runway. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

In 2011, Habitat for Humanity used what was then known as the Sheraton Gateway Hotel Atlanta Airport to launch a Carter Work Project with Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter and 500 volunteers who helped rebuild homes in Haiti for victims of the 2010 earthquake. Volunteers from across the country stayed at the hotel before the group flew to Port-au-Prince.

But the future of the hotel was in peril for more than a decade as the airport began began preparing for a potential sixth runway. The Sheraton and a smattering of hotels at the southwest corner of the airfield stood in the way.

The airport, as part of a separate deal with the City of College Park, agreed to take on some maintenance responsibilities for the hotel. Renovations were put on hold. Guests noticed the hotel was aging.

In 2017, after determining it would cost too much to replace elevators, escalators and make other repairs, Hartsfield-Jackson acquired the hotel for $17 million and shut it down, according to Tom Nissalke, an airport assistant general manager. Its furniture, fixtures and equipment were sold off the same year.

Caption
A sign for the production office of a movie production company is displayed at the former Sheraton Atlanta Airport Hotel in College Park, Friday, September 4, 2020. The hotel was acquired by the City of Atlanta for $16.8 million in 2017. Since the purchase, the hotel, which had a convention center attached, has been used for movie production. The city is demolishing the hotel. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

A sign for the production office of a movie production company is displayed at the former Sheraton Atlanta Airport Hotel in College Park, Friday, September 4, 2020. The hotel was acquired by the City of Atlanta for $16.8 million in 2017. Since the purchase, the hotel, which had a convention center attached, has been used for movie production. The city is demolishing the hotel. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Caption
A sign for the production office of a movie production company is displayed at the former Sheraton Atlanta Airport Hotel in College Park, Friday, September 4, 2020. The hotel was acquired by the City of Atlanta for $16.8 million in 2017. Since the purchase, the hotel, which had a convention center attached, has been used for movie production. The city is demolishing the hotel. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Hartsfield-Jackson used empty space in the old convention center to store used airport furniture, before moving it to a warehouse and eventually discarding it.

For several years, the complex was used by the Southeast Film Group as SFG Studios, a “robust movie and television production studio complex with eight loading docks onto the stages,” on-site laundry, hair and makeup rooms, according to its website. The site also housed 34 offices and conference rooms.

That, too, came to an end.

Caption
A poster featuring movies created by SFG studios using the former Sheraton Atlanta Airport Hotel is displayed in the hotel in College Park, Friday, September 4, 2020. The hotel was acquired by the City of Atlanta for $16.8 million in 2017. Since the purchase, the hotel, which had a convention center attached, has been used for movie production. The city plans to demolish the hotel to make way for a runway expansion project. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

A poster featuring movies created by SFG studios using the former Sheraton Atlanta Airport Hotel is displayed in the hotel in College Park, Friday, September 4, 2020. The hotel was acquired by the City of Atlanta for $16.8 million in 2017. Since the purchase, the hotel, which had a convention center attached, has been used for movie production. The city plans to demolish the hotel to make way for a runway expansion project. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Caption
A poster featuring movies created by SFG studios using the former Sheraton Atlanta Airport Hotel is displayed in the hotel in College Park, Friday, September 4, 2020. The hotel was acquired by the City of Atlanta for $16.8 million in 2017. Since the purchase, the hotel, which had a convention center attached, has been used for movie production. The city plans to demolish the hotel to make way for a runway expansion project. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Hartsfield-Jackson officials said earlier this year that the airport has been paying $600,000 a year in taxes and maintenance of the old Sheraton and convention center, and knocking the complex down would reduce costs.

While the demolition was originally planned to make way for a sixth runway, the extra runway might not be needed for many more years. Over the past decade, Delta Air Lines, the airport’s dominant carrier, has shifted from small regional jets to bigger planes, accommodating more passengers with fewer flights. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic caused air traffic to plummet, and it hasn’t recovered fully.

The airport doesn’t currently have any plans for the site. “We’re not in a rush to redevelop it,” said Nissalke.

Caption
Signs are left over from movie production crews at the former Sheraton Atlanta Airport Hotel in College Park, Friday, September 4, 2020. The hotel was acquired by the City of Atlanta for $16.8 million in 2017. Since the purchase, the hotel, which had a convention center attached, has been used for movie production. The city plans to demolish the hotel to make way for a runway expansion project. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Signs are left over from movie production crews at the former Sheraton Atlanta Airport  Hotel in College Park, Friday, September 4, 2020. The hotel was acquired by the City of Atlanta for $16.8 million in 2017. Since the purchase, the hotel, which had a convention center attached, has been used for movie production. The city plans to demolish the hotel to make way for a runway expansion project. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Caption
Signs are left over from movie production crews at the former Sheraton Atlanta Airport Hotel in College Park, Friday, September 4, 2020. The hotel was acquired by the City of Atlanta for $16.8 million in 2017. Since the purchase, the hotel, which had a convention center attached, has been used for movie production. The city plans to demolish the hotel to make way for a runway expansion project. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

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