Atlanta developer eyes beloved gritty stretch of Ponce

Property owner: The Local likely to close by end of year



A developer is looking to rebuild part of a beloved — and Beltline-adjacent — stretch of Ponce De Leon Avenue, according to a property owner on the block.

Though details are still scant, patrons and residents have taken to social media amid rumors in the last week about the future of a handful of Ponce businesses that start at Bonaventure Avenue and run west toward the Beltline and Ponce City Market. Charles Kerns, who owns two of the parcels, confirmed to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he is finalizing an agreement with a developer — which asked him to keep its identity a secret for now — to build a mixed-use development on the land.

Kerns owns the property underneath The Local, a popular late-night spot treasured for its wings and karaoke, which he said will likely close by the end of the year.

“It’s time for me to get out of the business,” said Kerns, who has spent 38 of his 74 years doing business on Ponce. The deal isn’t final, he said, but businesses in the area have announced they are closing or moving. Other property owners on the block — including those who own the site that is home to underground club MJQ — have not commented on any potential sales.

For years, revelers ranging from college kids to wedding parties have crisscrossed the parking lot between The Local and the graffiti-laden MJQ for sweaty late-night dancing. Of course, the Clermont Lounge across the street is always an option. In a city defined in part by its sprawl, this is one of Atlanta’s last areas that can host an entire night of fun contained to one walkable block.

The turnover of Kerns’ properties — and possible sales elsewhere on the block — is another sign of the rapid redevelopment around the Beltline, as legacy institutions face a hot real estate landscape often accompanied by higher rents and constant offers from firms looking to buy their land.

“I think given the trajectory of the city, the trajectory of the area and the general ‘anything-goes’ real estate ethos of the city, that it probably was inevitable,” said Dan Immergluck, a Georgia State University urban planning professor.



8Arm, a chameleon of a restaurant opened by the late chef Angus Brown just east of the Beltline, announced last week it would close in October after the land was sold to a development company. The firm, Cartel Properties, also owns the adjacent property formerly home to the quirky artists market Paris on Ponce. A fire ravaged the 100-year-old building in late 2019.

A few days later, speculation began to spread that the nearby block — home to The Local, MJQ and other small businesses — had also been bought out by developers.

Much of the rumors followed a Monday post from Vesta Movement, a kickboxing business also on land owned by Kerns: ”News just broke of our entire block — from our building all the way to Paris on Ponce — being sold,” Vesta wrote in an Instagram post Monday. “We are among the small businesses being bought out by developers with a lot of money. It is very hard to comprehend how much of change — and loss — this is going to be for the city that we know and love.”

Vesta co-owner Alixx Hetzel did not respond to an AJC email requesting further comment.

Other businesses on the street — including Southern Star Tattoo, MJQ and Bangkok Tailor — have been similarly tight-lipped about the rumor of a sale.

Details are few because the project hasn’t been formally pitched, and Fulton County records don’t show that any property has changed hands yet. David Brandenberger, head of the Virginia-Highland Civic Association, said he’s heard rumors about a development but hasn’t seen anything official. Same for Debbie Skopczynski, chair of NPU-F. “I’m as curious as anyone,” she said. Councilman Alex Wan, who represents the area, said nothing official has been brought to him.

Matt Rohrig, president of Cartel Properties, said his firm is not involved in any other purchases on the street. He also said there are no immediate plans to redevelop the 8Arm and Paris on Ponce properties.

Kerns wouldn’t reveal the developer he’s in talks with, but said it is a local firm. The AJC has contacted developers who have eyed properties near the Beltline.

Steve Selig, whose company Selig Enterprises owns multiple properties on the other side of The Local, said they have no plans to develop the block and isn’t aware of his company being approached about their properties.

The AJC also contacted Portman Holdings, another local developer with long ties to Atlanta. The firm’s vice president of development, Josh Gately, said: “We are not commenting on things related to projects at this time.”



Kerns said there’s a misconception that he is being pushed out. Kerns said he plans to lease the property to the developer instead of selling it. Specific redevelopment plans, including price and timing, are still unclear.

“This is not me caving. ... The internet is blowing up with this (talk) right now that the bad guys are running us out of town,” he said. “It’s time for a bunch of people who have been on Ponce since it was a really bad place to be to get their due. Ponce is changing. It’s going to happen.”

Business owners even just 10 years ago complained to officials of open drug deals and the number of unhoused people walking around because the area was between two shelters.

Now the block sits in the shadow of the Beltline and Ponce City Market, which are seen as gleaming signs of both revitalization and gentrification in Atlanta. The nearby Kroger, which got the nickname “Murder Kroger” following the first killing in the store’s parking lot in 1991, was also transformed into a multimillion mixed-use development in 2019, with direct access to the Beltline and an office tower now sitting above the grocery store.

And surrounding businesses on Ponce are cashing in on the interest.

Dugan’s Restaurant & Bar — an ITP respite for bikers, especially Black bikers — is set to close and become a dine-in-only Chick-fil-A, said Dugan’s general manager Jerry Rohring.



He told the AJC that the restaurant/bar will remain until late fall or early next year before moving to Northlake Mall.

Rohring has been with Dugan’s for 34 of its 37 years. He said they’ve been approached by multiple businesses, including the neighboring Green’s liquor store and QT, for their nearly acre of prime property.

So why now? “The price finally got right,” Rohring said.

Kerns knows about a value. Though he is no longer associated with the restaurant, he is one of the original co-founders of Eats, which has been serving up hefty portions out of its stucco façade since 1993. He also opened one of Atlanta’s first burrito joints named Tortillas on his Ponce property before it closed in 2003.

When asked about how he responds to people who might grieve the loss of cherished hangouts, Kerns said: “To everyone that’s mad at me for doing this — thank you, that means you care, and I appreciate it.”