The problem they now see is that the event will for some 30 hours sever one of three north-south arteries to their neighborhood. Opponents of the event argue that promoter Randall Fox, who runs The Atlanta Foundation for Public Spaces, is a bit of a carnival barker. They say he’s swooping in to make money off public space and public art.
Just a week after the ball, residents of that same tight-knit community will close several streets to host Cabbagetown’s annual Chomp & Stomp fest. But that’s different, said Nathan Bolster, a photographer who helped kick off the initial Chomp a decade ago.
“It’s one thing for a neighborhood to embrace something that is their own,” said Bolster. “It’s another thing for an outsider to come in with something that is quintessentially for profit.”
Part of Cabbagetown’s charm is its sense of neighborly citizenship, heightened by being an enclave cut off from the rest of the city by the CSX railroad.
The neighborhood, made up of small shotgun shacks and wood bungalows, is overshadowed by the hulking brick Fulton Bag & Cotton Mill, which operated until the late 1970s. The mill’s closure sent the descendants of the “lintheads,” who hailed from Appalachia and who toiled there for a century, into a spiral of destitution and hard livin’. Prostitution, drugs, knife fights. You name it. Life was like a bad country song.
David Thayer has seen the changes during three decades as a resident. First there were the mill folks, then urban pioneers seeking cheap rent and, finally, the gentrifiers. One no longer senses the desperate, impoverished feel of 20 years ago, but some of the old camaraderie remains.
“It’s a real neighborhood, a real neighborhood,” said the rugged-looking Thayer, sitting outside a pastry shop, smoking a Winston. He is known locally as “Mr. Grumpy” and doesn’t like the disruption a fancy masquerade ball will bring.
“This is a place where people sit on each other’s porches and talk with each other. It’s an oasis.”
But back to the Krog Masquerade.
Bryan Brunson, head of the Cabbagetown Neighborhood Improvement Association, which opposed the event, worries that the city permitting such an event will set a precedent for filmmakers and other party-goers to start closing tunnels.
He has also urged Fox to publicly declare how much his company will contribute to charities. Opponents complain that Fox has been squishy on that subject.
Others are advocating a guerrilla campaign to whitewash the walls of the tunnel, which is about 400 feet long, changing the ambience from edgy to generic.
Fox said he has artists at the ready to re-tag the walls if that happens. He said many of the 2,000 tickets he hopes to sell will be bought by locals.
“The animosity is coming from those who didn’t think of it first,” said Fox, who envisions the tunnel as the Paris Underground, a place with libations, burlesque dancing and a freak show. “It showcases Cabbagetown like it’s never been showcased before. We want our guests to overflow to the businesses in Cabbagetown.”
The closest business, just steps from the south entrance of the tunnel, is 97 Estoria, a neighborhood joint where a handful of regulars sipped rainy afternoon beers Tuesday. They grumbled about the event, as did several others questioned.
But the tavern’s proprietor, Tracy Crowley, has no such misgivings. All he wants, if there’s a couple thousand folks seeking a party, is a piece of the action.
“If they’re bringing all these people to my front door, then why not be a part of it?” asked Crowley, who runs several other watering holes, including the iconic Moe’s and Joe’s in Virginia-Highland. “We’ve been discussing an event like that for 10 years.”
But during those 10 years the neighborhood has continued to evolve. Among the folk art that replaced the old refrigerators and couches, one now sees children’s toys.
Sitting on the front porch they rent a block from the Krog tunnel, Anna Bryant and Danielle Lower enjoyed cups of coffee in the rain. The young ladies at first liked the idea of the event. “I was superexcited, but …” said Bryant.
“But how will they fit 1,000 people in there?” said Lower, finishing the thought. They have friends going to the ball, but they intend to stay home because of the onslaught of traffic and revelers.
“It’s a very family friendly area,” said Bryant. “There’s pros and cons that come with that. You don’t want to lose that authenticity.”
It’s something all “cool” places must one day face.