Bill Torpy at Large: Bulldozers take aim at another Atlanta icon

Atlantans often complain about our civic penchant for tearing down quirky, interesting and historic buildings and replacing them with soul-sucking schlock.

That being the case, let me take you to the one-acre lot at 2160 Monroe Drive, which would be the newest exhibit in that argument.

That’s the site of the old Trust Company of Georgia bank building. You know the one, it’s the odd circular building along I-85. It’s historic and architecturally significant, although you mightn’t know that by looking at it. It’s reminiscent of George Jetson’s penthouse and was designed by modernist architect Henri Jova, who went on to design Colony Square, the original Underground and the Carter Center.

But what trumps “historic and architecturally significant” in Atlanta is highest and best use. And whoever owns that property believes that best use is a five-story, 85,890-square-foot climate-controlled self-storage building with retail space and some parking. So instead of the usual “live, work, play” you keep hearing about, this would be “store, shop, park.”

I say “whoever owns the property,” because something called HTFS Capital LLC is on record as the owner. And the civil engineer hired to come before the Beltline Design Review Committee last month said he’d pass on my request to discuss the matter but neither HT nor FS ever called back.

Oh yeah, the five-story monument to Americans having too much junk would sit along a future leg of the Beltline as it goes north from Piedmont Park. Oddly, the Beltline committee last month weighed two other proposed self-storage facilities on the agenda — one a block away at 2033 Monroe Dr (119,910 square feet) and another to the west on Northside Drive (127,790 square feet). Also, there is already a storage facility across Monroe.

So, the innovative, award-winning, city-changing Beltline would be a collection point for massive storage facilities. Restaurants like to cluster to draw diners. Gas stations cluster to draw motorists. And so now the Beltline’s future northern arc will draw those who have accumulated too much stuff.

In a mercenary view of the matter, I suppose it make sense. Just about every other block intown is being bulldozed to erect five-over-ones, the now ubiquitous luxury apartments that stack five stories of millennials over one story of their cars.

Those apartments don’t come cheap, however — generally $1,500 and up. So when they realize their 710-square-foot, one-bedroom pad is too small for their treasures, hello climate-controlled self-storage facility!

The old bank building, with a 56-foot diameter upper level and a domed skylight, “was a major transformation for the design of banks, going from neo-classical to modern,” said Charles Lawrence, who heads the Georgia chapter of Docomomo, which stands for the Documentation and Conservation of the Modern Movement.

He said the Beltline’s master plan “recognizes that this building is significant and should be saved.” However, it seems there is little in the zoning law that also says that.

Ryan Gravel, who as a Georgia Tech student came up with the idea of the Beltline to be built on old railroad rightaways, called the planned storage clusters a shame.

“In the original Beltline Zoning District we were not going to allow self-storage, but the legislation got changed,” he said.

City Councilwoman Mary Norwood echoed Gravel’s sentiment. “Our vision needs to be broader than to tear down an iconic building to build a storage facility,” she said. “We don’t need to be a cookie-cutter city.”

Businesses at 2160 Monroe have had a hard time making a go since SunTrust sold the building in 2000. Currently, it houses Cirque, a restaurant/bar that specializes in daiquiris and seafood. It’s the third restaurant making a go there.

Proprietor Kechia Matadin, who also runs the Daiquiri Factory in Midtown, took over the current space almost three years ago and opened up the main floor as one large, circular dining room with blue wavy walls. She always liked the look of the building and jumped when she saw it was vacant.

“Everyone notices this building,” she said. “It’s sort of a ‘Look at me!’ building.”

The wall behind the bar has 15 colorful daiquiri mixers — Strawberry, Bananarama, Georgia Peach, Sex on the Beach. The crowd on this day is 30- and 40-somethings, although she said she gets all kinds of customers.

She knew nothing of the proposed tear-down, only learning of it recently when a customer forwarded an account in the Curbed Atlanta development website.

“I’d love to do another 10 years here,” she said, soaking in the restaurant’s big cool room. “This boggles my mind.”

The next Beltline design committee is 5 p.m Wednesday at 100 Peachtree St., 23rd floor. That’s the Equitable building, a landmark that hasn’t been demolished yet. Stop by if you’re inclined.

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