By Maria Saporta
Halting the demolition of 20 Hilliard St., the 1910 building in the Martin Luther King Jr. Historic District, was just the first half of a victory for preservationists.
Now the real work for a complete victory begins with the formation of a community and advisory group that will work with the Atlanta Housing Authority to save what is also known as the Trio Laundry building.
The nine-member advisory group met for the first time on Oct. 1, when it heard from AHA officials about the property’s history, about efforts that are currently under way to save the building as well as potential uses for affordable housing if the building can be saved.
The Atlanta Housing Authority bought the building in 2008 with no particular plans in mind. Because of neglect, the roof collapsed in 2012. The authority applied for a demolition permit, and the City of Atlanta’s Bureau of Buildings declared that the building was unsafe. A demolition permit was approved after it was cleared by the staff of the Atlanta Urban Design Commission. The issue was never presented to the actual commission members.
As soon as preservationists realized that the building was about to be demolished in August, a tidal wave of opposition rose from all over the community – creating an enormous amount of pressure on both the AHA and the City of Atlanta to reverse course.
Daniel Halpern, chairman of AHA’s board, announced shortly thereafter that demolition had been halted and that the authority would be seeking input from the preservation community to figure out whether the building could be saved and what would be the best possible outcome.
Joy Fitzgerald, the interim CEO of the Atlanta Housing Authority, reached out to members of the preservation community and surrounding neighborhood to serve on the advisory group.
“Going forward, AHA will not make decisions regarding the future of the Trio Laundry building alone,” Fitzgerald said in a statement. “We will do so in collaboration with a valued advisory group comprised of neighbors, area stakeholders, historic preservation advocates and other concerned citizens who care about the community and the fate of this historic building.”
Kyle Kessler, the architect who spearheaded the public effort to save the building, has been named to the advisory panel, said he felt the first meeting went well.
According to Kessler, the Atlanta Housing Authority explained that it had created the advisory group to show that it was interested in saving the building, its adaptive reuse and its “intention to make the best use of the property in coordination with the community.”
The panel heard official presentations from the AHA about the building’s condition, which has had deteriorated significantly in recent years because it wasn’t well maintained.
“The good news is that AHA’s architectural and structural consultants have determined that the building can be stabilized, and that work will begin soon,” Kessler said. “Next, there will be further environmental testing to determine the type, magnitude, and extents of the contaminated soil on the property. Everyone is hopeful that the soil can be remediated without further destruction of the building.”
Kessler, who also serves as president of the Atlanta Downtown Neighborhood Association, said preservationists “remain cautiously optimistic that the building can be restored to productive use and once again contribute to the rich heritage of the MLK historic district.”
In addition to Kessler, the other members on the advisory group are:
Jennifer Ball, vice president, Central Atlanta Progress;
Dagmar Epsten, president and CEO, Epsten Group, Inc.;
Judy Forte, superintendent, King Historic District for the National Park Service;
Kewon Foster, pastor, Liberty Baptist Church;
Karen Huebner, consultant; former executive director of the Urban Design Commission;
Matt Ruppert, owner, Noni’s Bar and Deli;
Joe Stewardson, president, Old Fourth Ward Business Association; and
Mtamanika Youngblood, president, Sweet Auburn Works.
The advisory group and AHA have agreed to meet on a regular basis, at least monthly.