Sale of historic Olympia building at Five Points is a civic opportunity

By Maria Saporta

The Olympia building — a historic gem in the heart of downtown Atlanta — is for sale.

The two-story triangular building currently is owned by the State of Georgia — as a result of a $3.6 million gift from the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation in January, 1995 right before the 1996 Summer Olympic Games.

“There’s a significant amount of renovation that needs to be done to the building,” said Paul Melvin, communications director for the State Property Office. “Given our budget restrictions at this time, we thought it was best to sell it.”

The deadline to ask questions and submit a bid to buy the building is noon on Friday, Oct. 12. All official answers to questions received will be posted on the State Procurement Registry website.

Bids will be opened at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 23 at the Georgia State Financing and Investment Commission Procurement Services at 270 Washington St. N.W. on the second floor.

Olympia building from Edgewood Avenue and Woodruff Park

The Olympia building was constructed between 1935 and 1936 at 23 Peachtree St. NE at a pivotal corner at downtown Atlanta’s Five Points.

Since 2003, the building also has served as the base of the retro Coca-Cola neon sign that adorns the property that sits between Woodruff Park and Underground Atlanta.

The state conducted an appraisal on the building in April that determined the building was worth $2.45 million. Interestingly enough, the state put the building up for bid within the last 45 days but there were no bidders.

So now the state has decided to rebid the sale of the building — all it needs now is willing buyer.

View of Olympia building from Underground Atlanta

Obviously, the building will require a special buyer — an entity that doesn’t care that there is no parking on the property and one that is respectful of the building’s historic landmark status.

The Olympia building was designed by architects Ernest Daniel Ivey and Lewis Edmund Crook. The Ivey & Crook architectural firm “produced some of this city’s finest architecture in the 1920s,: according to a history of the building. In fact, the firm also co-designed the Crum & Forster building in Midtown, which the Georgia Tech Foundation has been trying to demolish for the past four years.

The site of the Olympia building also has a fascinating history. In the mid-1840s, it was the site of Atlanta’s first post office and general store — housed in a wooden structure that was run by George Washington Collier, the city’s first postmaster.

Collier built on the site three times. In the 1900s, the ground floor of the Collier building was the home of Tom Pitt’s Soda Fountain. Pitts served milkshakes and a lemonade-lime drink and a popular new drink — Coca-Cola.

The current Olympia building was built by Frank Hawkins, who founded the Third National Bank. Hawkins had made money on investments in Olympia Beach, Fla., which is how the building got its name.

The history of Coca-Cola actually can be traced back to Five Points — just feet from the Olympia building.

On May 8, 1886, Dr. John Pemberton, an Atlanta pharmacist, sold the first Coca-Cola fountain drink at Jacob’s Pharmacy at Five Points on Marietta Street.

According to Melvin, Coca-Cola’s 10-year lease for roof-top Coke sign actually runs out in December, and there are no built-in renewals for the space.

Melvin said that Coca-Cola’s current lease for the space is $8,641 a month or $103,693 a year.

Ben Deutsch, a Coca-Cola spokesman, responded in an email that “we will be renewing the lease agreement.” But he had no other details.

The fact that it is not known who the new owner of the Olympia building will be, there is some risk for Coca-Cola, which is thought to have invested millions of dollars to bring the neon Coke sign back to downtown.

So how’s this for an idea?

What if the Coca-Cola Co. were to buy the Olympia building?

The idea is not so far-fetched. For starters, if Coca-Cola were to offer the appraised value of the building, it would break-even on its lease payments within 25 years.

Coca-Cola also could take over much of the ground floor of the building and sell Coke products and memorabilia to the thousands of tourists who walk by every day.

It also could donate the building to any of a number non-profit or civic associations that could use the second floor as office space. That gift could be a tax write-off, while at the same time be a sound business decision.

Among the prospective tenants include Central Atlanta Progress, the Atlanta Preservation Center, the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership among others.

No matter what, Atlanta has an opportunity to reinvest in one of its most historic structures — the Olympia building. Let’s hope that Atlanta is able to develop a solution that works out best for everyone.

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7 comments
Dan Tanner
Dan Tanner like.author.displayName 1 Like

First, to Mr. Hudson's supposition: as I understand it, the Great Depression began 10/20/1929.  The William Oliver across the street (32 Peachtree Street, NW), with an 18th-floor rooftop terrace, was built as an office building in 1930.  Today, it is condominiums.

 

Next, and more topical ... the next owner of the Olympia building.

 

How’s this for an idea?

 

What if Georgia State University were to buy the Olympia building?

 

The idea is not so far-fetched. For starters, if GSU were to offer the appraised value of the building, it would break-even on Coca-Cola's lease payments within 25 years.  Maybe sooner, since they wouldn't be paying property taxes, so maybe they could amortize the debt more quickly if they make smart use of the space(s).

 

GSU ... or should I say its bookstore (Follet) ... also could take over much of the ground floor of the building in much the same manner of the Barnes & Noble at Georgia Tech in Midtown's Technology Square and sell GSU-branded products, supplies, and novels to the thousands of students, office workers, tourists, residents, and shoppers who walk by every day.

 

It also could use the second floor as a space for textbooks (as is also done at GT's B&N).  CAP on the Edgewood St. side and the copy shop on the Decatur St. side could stay.  The "pointed" end of the building (directly under the Coke sign) could be leased out as a true cyber cafe with a unique patio area for students to enjoy a latte while studying.  Did I mention the building "points" the way to the Georgia Dome ... home of Panther football?  What great symbolism!

 

While we hate to lose the tax dollars, it makes sense.  GSU has the building that abuts it to the east on the Park Place side, the white marble fits the architectural style of many other GSU buildings closely, Coca-Cola is already a sponsor of GSU (including athletics) ... and what would say "Welcome to Georgia State University in Downtown Atlanta" better than that added presence at 5 Points, USA?

 

I hope GSU President Becker is a SaportaReport reader.  Failing that, I hope someone reading this knows people in the Auxiliary Services Office at GSU and that they can turn around a bid in just a month.  Thanks for the consideration ... this idea's been bouncing around in my head only for about 7 or 8 years so far.  It feels good to finally be able to put it into words!

Burroughston Broch
Burroughston Broch

Maria, I assume that Coca-Cola is not interested, otherwise they would have bought it.

In terms of an investment, it's not attractive. Pay $2.45million to buy it, spend who nows how much more for renovation, and lease it for $104,000year? That is a simple return of less than 4%.

My guess is that the State will receive no bids anywhere close to $2.45million. Are you bidding?

maria saporta
maria saporta

 @Burroughston Broch No, I'm not bidding. SaportaReport is barely a break-even enterprise. But we can dream.

That said, I'm still hoping that Coca-Cola will buy the building and possibly make a charitable contribution to one of the organizations I mentioned in the column. They can then have a guarantee to use of the roof for the Coke sign, they could sell Coke products on the ground floor, and they could receive great community good will.

My guess is that one could bid for the building for substantially less than the appraised value. And I also believe the business and philanthropic sector — depending on the ultimate tenant in the building — would be willing to contribute towards the building renovation.

Thanks for being such a regular reader and thanks even more for all your comments. Maria

Burroughston Broch
Burroughston Broch

Perhaps you could set up shop there, though. By the way, I met your father at Tech in the late 1960s when I took a course in city planning as an undergraduate.

Kevin L. Hudson
Kevin L. Hudson

Great write-up and some great ideas. As I understand it, The Olympia Building was the only office building built in downtown during the great depression, which explains why it was only two stories at a time when 10+ story buildings were common there.

JJ Hutchison
JJ Hutchison

I bought one of Big Town's pool tables when they closed.

 

 

 

Rob Augustine
Rob Augustine

If I'm not mistaken, the two most famous tenants in this building where Wormser Hats for many years on the ground floor, and the famous Big Town Billiards on the second floor. While I was at Georgia State we had to take PE classes in the old YMCA building on Luckie Street. Walking from GSU and back, the temptation to stop and shoot some pool at Big Town was irresistable. I hope the building gets new life, and I hope a billiards parlor, is not out of the question!

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