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.

pullman yard, 1

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

Pullman Yard, c

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

pullman yard, 5

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.

15 replies
  1. Chad Carlson says:

    “They cite two laws governing the state’s responsibilities for preservation and stewardship as reasons the City does not have jurisdiction, meanwhile, the State is not in compliance with either.”Report

    Reply
  2. Burroughston Broch says:

    As I posted before, the City of Atlanta has no control over the State. And the City has been sitting on this news for 2-1/2 months, playing politics.
    And make no mistake, the City will lose if it tries to litigate, costing City taxpayers more money.Report

    Reply
  3. Andrew Durden says:

    The New Georgia Railroad steam locomotives, which belong to the Southeastern Railway Museum, are coal-fired, not oil-fired. The railroad also operated four diesel-electric locomotives.Report

    Reply
  4. Andy McBurney says:

    Interesting.
    Sadly, the state has a case because local governments are not recognized as sovereign democracies, they exist at the whim of the state.
    It seems like the bigger issue is if states can enable local governances with their police power, yet exempt themselves from them… or would this be a challenge to the entire law?Report

    Reply
  5. Ted61 says:

    This sounds like a site that Invest Atlanta or some other redevelopment agency would have purchased already.  Did this one just fall through the cracks or am I missing something?Report

    Reply
  6. gschmidt says:

    Once again, both the state and the Atlanta Urban Design
    Commission drops the ball, in favor of serving the sacred goal of increasing
    the TAX BASE at all costs, thereby killing the proverbial golden goose by
    chasing after short-term benefits. Once again, they’ve voted for more clogged streets, unimaginative,
    gulag-style apartments and town homes (with front doors and balconies mere
    steps away from the traffic smells and noise.) Once again, they’ve gone for the dreaded
    “mix use development” that leads to late-night bars next to
    apartments, 5 a.m. trash trucks coming in to empty the dumpsters, a few token
    trees at the curbside, no park areas in which to walk your dog or enjoy nature
    and very little urban planning. They’ve already done it to Pharr Road in the
    Buckhead area and on Lavista at Piedmont Road; they’re doing it to Cheshire
    Bridge and Piedmont Roads and soon we’ll all be reduced to riding bikes or
    scooters in the searing heat of summer because there is no more room for
    automobiles. I cannot go anywhere as it
    is already in my neighborhood, especially during the rush hours, which has led
    to heavy spill-over traffic through our residential area. Thanks, Atlanta.
    Thanks, Georgia.Report

    Reply
  7. Latyrx says:

    Kudos to Atlanta for standing up and not letting said developer bulldoze these historic properties. “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”.  Good luck with that!Report

    Reply
  8. Ted61 says:

    I guess the point I was trying to make was that no community should rely solely on regulations to preserve its antiquities.  if this site truly has significant historical value, some public, quasi-public or nonprofit entity should have purchased it for preservation and enhancement. The only prudent thing to do now is shift focus to saving other similarly endangered properties. You have lost this one!Report

    Reply
  9. Burroughston Broch says:

    Agree. But the City continues to play this game with the State and loses every time, costing City taxpayers money.
    One definition of insanity is repeating the same action while expecting a different result.Report

    Reply

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