OPINION: Atlanta lounge owner’s horror when bricks and dreams crumble

An exterior wall collapsed Wednesday afternoon at the building on Edgewood Avenue. (Credit: Atlanta Fire Rescue)
An exterior wall collapsed Wednesday afternoon at the building on Edgewood Avenue. (Credit: Atlanta Fire Rescue)

Credit: Atlanta Fire Rescue

Credit: Atlanta Fire Rescue

The staff for the ready-to-open cocktail lounge on Edgewood Avenue was getting some last-minute training last week when they realized something was wrong. Bad wrong.

“I stopped and asked everybody, “You feel the building shaking?” recalled Jeff Jones, who had just hired on to work at the Edgewood Dynasty, a business that was in the location where the popular Sound Table had been until recently.

Yep, they felt it.

Outside, there had been a steady pounding of a pile-driving machine on the property behind them where an $80 million mixed-use complex with a hotel, offices and townhomes is to be built. And next door, a backhoe was pulling up an asphalt parking lot, readying the site for construction of a four-story complex.

Then glasses started falling off the bar and the workers started grabbing bottles from the shelves to keep them from similarly crashing to the floor. They noticed plaster cracking, falling, and then decided to get out of there. Quick!

The front door was kind of tilted sideways, Jones recalled.

Soon, the Fire Rescue Department arrived at the building at 483 Edgewood Avenue, and it appeared on the news with stories of a hasty evacuation and images of a gaping crack sprawling along the side of the two-story façade.

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The next morning, Grant Henry, who owns the popular “Church” tavern across the way at the corner of Edgewood and Boulevard, returned to the scene to do some independent sleuthing.

“I took some pictures and compared them to those from a day earlier and noticed (the crack) had slipped 4 inches,” he said. Henry called his City Council person and then the fire department.

The firefighters, he said, told him there was nothing they could do because no one was in danger. They will run into burning houses or dig through piles of bricks to rescue someone. But they won’t just hang around to see if a building will collapse.

But Henry did until he got hungry and left for lunch. Then the side of the building caved in, leaving the street closed, businesses shut down and the surreal sight of an entire stocked bar evident to whomever passed along on Boulevard. In fact, curious motorists stopped their cars to gawk or even shoot pictures.

Greg Johnson, the new owner who was getting set to open his dream business, is gobsmacked.

Greg Johnson and his wife, Noelle Taylor, were set to open a cocktail lounge on Edgewood Avenue when a construction accident made it all come tumbling down. (Credit: courtesy of Greg Johnson)
Greg Johnson and his wife, Noelle Taylor, were set to open a cocktail lounge on Edgewood Avenue when a construction accident made it all come tumbling down. (Credit: courtesy of Greg Johnson)

Credit: Photo courtesy of Greg Johnson

Credit: Photo courtesy of Greg Johnson

“Through no fault of ours, this is an absolutely devastating turn of events,” said Johnson, a doctor and retired military officer who bet big on the area. Not only was he set to open the cocktail lounge, but he had a dessert place next door and a wellness center upstairs from that. All are now closed.

“I put my life savings into this,” he said. “I cashed out my 401(k) to do this. Now I’m hosed.”

Johnson and his wife, Noelle Taylor, were fans of the previous incarnation of the lounge, Sound Table, which had a 10-year run and helped put the Edgewood nightlife scene on the map. The Edgewood area, which is adjacent to the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park and near the Beltline, is an organic collection of mom-and-pop businesses that have struggled and thrived over the past decade to create a destination location.

“A bunch of people had the same idea at the same time,” said Karl Injex, the former owner of Sound Table. “What I love about Edgewood is that it is all hand built; there’s no big box or chains, no Chili’s, no McDonald’s.”

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Injex said he and Johnson agreed to the deal a year ago, before anyone ever heard of COVID-19. Injex was glad to see that Johnson remained resolute about opening the business. He called it “passing the baton.”

Johnson hired at least 25 people to run the new business. Last Thursday was to be their first day. Now they are out of business. Or at least in a prolonged limbo.

“I’ll have to pound the pavement, like I did today,” said Jeff Jones, the bartender who had to run out of the building last week.

“Through no fault of ours, this is an absolutely devastating turn of events. … I put my life savings into this. I cashed out my 401(k) to do this. Now I’m hosed.”

- Greg Johnson, owner of new Edgewood Dynasty lounge that collapsed

Atlanta planning czar Tim Keane said the two adjoining construction sites have been shut down until the collapsed wall can be repaired or stabilized. There’s no telling when that might be. Businesses along most of that block were still shut down this week.

“As you know, there are differences of opinion as to who caused this,” said Keane. “Then it becomes a private matter between these three parties.”

That is, those building the hotel, those working on the lot next door, and the guy with the big debts and no lounge.

It’s too early in the process to know how it happened. But two things are clear, according to witnesses: There was digging along the foundation of the building from the construction next door, and there was earth-shaking pounding from the hotel construction behind them.

“As you know, there are differences of opinion as to who caused this.”

- Atlanta planning commissioner Tim Keane

So, I guess you could argue, was it the punch to the solar plexus or the shot to the chin that knocked the dude out?

Walter Jordan, a restaurant consultant who was the applicant on the property next door, said “it was most definitely not the bulldozer” that caused the collapse, adding that witnesses said the pounding from the hotel was shaking the walls. The head of Trident Construction, which is the listed excavator, declined to comment when I called him.

Arun Nijhawan, who heads Lucror Resources, the developer of the hotel/office complex, said the fault lies “with another project other than ours.”

“We weren’t digging near the building or doing anything near it,” he said. “We have sensors there that showed very safe conditions. We have nothing to do with it. We honestly know nothing.”

The building with the collapse is a relatively nondescript structure built in 1909, according to Kyle Kessler, an architect and amateur historian. It was a furniture storage business in its early years, a tire business and a union hall.

“It was a utilitarian building in proximity to a part of the city we want to preserve,” he said.

Billy Fleming, who has owned the building for 15 years, said they are trying to save the structure and get Greg Johnson’s lounge up and running. Again, no time frame. “Most everything about it is intact,” he said, although resolving the liability and getting someone to pay may take a while.

“I’m sure it’ll be insurance company going after insurance company,” he said.

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