Georgia to Atlanta: Drop historic preservation effort at Pullman Yard, or else

By David Pendered

A lawyer for the state issued a tersely worded letter to Atlanta regarding the city’s efforts to protect the historic buildings and site at the state-owned Pullman Yard. Atlanta was advised to drop its preservation effort, or expect to square off with the state and its backing from Georgia’s attorney general.

Pullman Yard, a

In its day, Pullman Yard was a repair facility for a company that was the nation’s largest employer of African Americans. Most of Pullman’s 40,000 porters and conductors were African Americans, according to state records. Credit: File

The city complied with the request with little public resistance or remark.

The state’s letter was dated Oct. 24, 2016. Atlanta’s Urban Design Commission met Nov. 9, 2016 and deferred the Pullman nomination for landmark building/site. The UDC voted Nov. 21, 2016 to deny the nomination without prejudice.

Pullman Yard now is up for sale with no protection for its greenspace or 11 buildings, five of which date to 1915 – even though the state had required preservation of four buildings and a 150-foot-wide swath flanking a creek when it put Pullman Yard on the market in 2008.

Advocates who want to protect the old buildings and greenspace plan to rally at Pullman Yard Tuesday. The event is slated from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., a time the state is to open the site to “interested parties.” Pullman Yard is located at 225 Rogers St., a short distance east of Little Five Points.

“Bring poster signs,” advises the digital invitation. More than 1,500 names have been signed to a digital petition calling on GBA to protect the historic buildings and site, according to the petition.

Here are highlights of the Oct. 24 letter sent to the city by Cindy Presto, director of legal services for the state’s property agencies – Georgia Building Authority, State Properties Commission, and Georgia State Financing and Investment Commission:

Cindy Presto

Cindy Presto

  • “[T]he State does not acknowledge the city’s legal authority to nominate the property for historic or landmark designation.
  • “Based upon the fact that the property in question is owned by the State, the Law Department has advised that the property is not subject to local historic preservation ordinances.
  • “The Georgia Building Authority and the State Property Officer object to the Notice of Intent to Nominate Pullman Yard as an as a landmark building/site, and request that you immediately rescind your notice. If this does not occur in writing prior to the date you have designated for a hearing (November 9), the State Property Officer would like the opportunity to appear at the hearing to present argument regarding the state law preemption of the application of the local ordinance to Pullman Yard, a state-owned property. Please provide the professional courtesy of an immediate response so adequate preparation for the November 9 hearing can be made.”

The letter was addressed to Doug Young, the UDC’s executive director. Copies of the letter were addressed to Steve Stancil, GBA’s executive director; Marvin Woodward, deputy state property officer; Dan Gordon, Atlanta’s COO; Tanisha Thomas, assistant state attorney general; and Tim Keane, Atlanta’s planning commissioner.

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Five warehouses at Pullman Yard were built in 1915 of concrete block and brick, according to DeKalb County tax records. Credit: File

Gov. Nathan Deal chairs the GBA.

At the time, Sam Olens was Georgia’s attorney general and head of the state Law Department. Chris Carr was sworn in as attorney general on Nov. 1, the same day Olens took office as president of Kennesaw State University.

The clock is ticking on the sale of Pullman Yard. Even at this late stage of the current construction cycle, development continues apace throughout the city. The state is marketing the site for a mixed use development.

The site provides, “[a]n excellent opportunity for mixed use development,” with easy access to MARTA and a location in the redeveloping Kirkwood neighborhood, according to the Invitation to Bid released by the state.

April 4 is the deadline for bids to be submitted to the state. The minimum bid is $5.6 million for a 26.8 acre site with 11 commercial buildings. This is the largest single tract of land in Kirkwood.

Five warehouses were built in 1915 and range in quality from average-plus to poor, according to DeKalb County tax records. A sixth warehouse and office building was built in 1964. Four metal warehouses were erected between 1964 and 1981.

The property has been out of use since the state closed in 1993 an oil-fired steam-engine excursion train it had housed there. Georgia ran the sightseeing train for seven years, before ending it to save money during the recession of the early 1990s.

Pullman Yard, invitation to bid

The state markets Pullman Yard as a site for a mixed use development and provides a brief history in its Invitation to Bid. Credit: Georgia Building Authority

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Maintenance of structures was not a concern for the series of owners of Pullman Yards from its bankruptcy sale in 1969 until Georgia purchased it in 1992. Georgia wasn’t focused on maintenance, either. Credit: File

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The Pullman Car Co. purchased the site to repair its passenger rail cars. In 1925, Pullman was the largest employer of African Americans, mostly as conductors and porters, according to state records. Credit: File

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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