New purposes for Atlanta's old eyesores

Six years ago they were the crumbling, trash strewn, aging downtown disasters that pedestrians, for the most part, avoided.

Vagrants lurked in the shadows and rats scurried at the approach of footsteps.

When Central Atlanta Progress created a list of downtown’s 10 biggest eyesores in 2003, members had no idea what would become of the buildings they euphemistically dubbed “opportunities for redevelopment.”

But today, all but one of the buildings — the Medical Arts Building — have either been revitalized or torn down and replaced.

The buildings include:

● The Glenn Hotel, an office building turned into a boutique lodger;

● The Balzer Theater at Herren’s, the new home for Theatrical Outfit;

● The Ellis on Peachtree, the hotel most know as the Winecoff, site of one of the worst fires in U.S. lodging history.

While the pace of downtown skyscrapers reaching heavenward has slowed post-1996 Summer Olympics, CAP leaders say the area has made strides reviving the glory lost to some buildings and found new purpose for the land of those whose grand past could or should not have been revived.

“We really wanted to benchmark what we could accomplish in a time frame,” CAP president A.J. Robinson said, recalling the idea behind the list. “We wanted to point out that these were assets in the city that we could do something about.”

In addition to the Glenn, Ellis, and Herren’s, the list included

● The abandoned Beaudry Ford car lot on Ellis Street;

● The Greyhound bus station on International Boulevard near Williams Street;

● The Boomershine Pontiac lot on Ivan Allen Boulevard between West Peachtree Street;

● The Gentlemen’s Club on Ellis Street;

● The Eagle Building on Luckie Street;

● The Palamont Motor Lodge at the corner of Piedmont and Auburn Avenues.

Beaudry Ford became Georgia State’s University Commons; AmericasMart’s newest glass and concrete behemoth fills the spot where travelers once took “the hound;” and Ernst & Young and the W Atlanta, part of Barry Real Estate’s massive Allen Plaza project, have replaced Boomershine.

CARE, the international relief group, bought the Gentlemen’s Club next to its headquarters and replaced the onetime strip club with a private park; Matlock Advertising & Public Relations renovated and moved into the Eagle Building; and the Palamont, remembered for its baby blue paint and pink iron work, has made way for the Renaissance Walk condominiums.

“We are pretty happy,” Robinson said. “We’ve had a pretty good run.”

Hopes realized and dashed

Built in 1927, the 12-story Medical Arts Building has been vacant since the mid-1990s. Its windows are broken. Graffiti is scrawled along its upper floors, a badge of honor for taggers. Fencing has been erected right at its entrance to keep out the unwanted. In 2005, a four-alarm fire charred several floors of the brick and limestone structure.

Most recently InterContinental Hotels Group, owner of the Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Select brands, has used the building as a billboard, wrapping much of it in a banner advertising the chain’s updated look and feel.

But the overall look of the Medical Arts Building is a far cry from its early years when it was used by medical professionals. Then it featured a cafeteria, drugstore and telegraph office. G. Lloyd Preacher, who designed Atlanta City Hall in 1930, was the building’s architect.

Over the past 20 years, it has changed hands many times, and at one time record producer Dallas Austin was in negotiations to turn into a hotel. Today it is owned by Anosh Ishak, Ephraim Spielman and Daniel and Kamy Deljou.

Ishak said the owners recently had the interior of the building cleaned, including abatement for asbestos. The next step is to restore the exterior, but that might wait until they know how it will be used. The owners also are working with police to keep out vagrants.

“They are not homeless,” he said. “They are free rent people.”

Ishak said he and his colleague bought the building about five years ago because of the changes happening along Ivan Allen Boulevard. The challenge is getting a tenant.

“We are negotiating in two different directions,” he said, explaining that the owners are looking at the building for medical space or as a hotel. “At this time, there is nothing concrete.”

David Marvin, head of Legacy Property Group, said it’s not easy to redevelop a distressed building like the Medical Arts Building, which his company once eyed but was unable to negotiate a price.

Marvin redeveloped the Glenn, which was constructed in 1923 as an office building and put up for sale earlier this decade. It was once owned by the Federal Reserve Bank, which was considering the land for an expansion of its Marietta Street facility before pulling up stakes and moving to Midtown.

Like most buildings its age, the Glenn’s interior was so unusable that many later owners considered tearing it down.

“It had literally been vacant for 20 years,” Marvin said. “Structurally it was in OK shape, but its raw space needed a lot of tender loving care. After the redevelopment, the only thing that is original in the building is the glorious limestone facade and a few historic flourishes. Not much could be saved.”

Marvin said he bought the building for $2.8 million using a combination of financing, tax allocation district funding and tax credits for historic buildings. He spent $2.2 million rehabilitating the building, named for John Thomas Glenn, and opened it as a hotel in 2006.

“I don’t think anyone other than us thought of it for hotel use,” he said.

Economic development

At Georgia State University, the massive University Commons stands as a testament to the school’s move to help reshape downtown. Situated at the corner of Piedmont Avenue and Ellis Streets, the building looks like a mini-city with housing that appears limitless.

Many of the thousands of students who call the $168 million dorm home have no idea that their bedrooms float over Beaudry Ford, once one of the city’s biggest abandoned car lots. But Tom Lewis, senior advisor to GSU president Mark Becker, knows.

“We took an area that was boarded up and deteriorating and made it into a vital area of downtown,” Lewis said.