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Atlanta Eagle: City’s development plan an injustice to LGBTQ persons, Historic Atlanta says

By David Pendered

Atlanta’s plan to allow development at the site of the Atlanta Eagle and KODAK building is an injustice to the city’s LGBTQ community and the plan should be amended, according to Historic Atlanta, a preservation organization that began the effort to preserve the property.

Historic Atlanta, a preservation organization, contends Atlanta’s proposals to allow development at the Atlanta Eagle and KODAK building represent an injustice to the city’s LGBTQ community and heritage. Credit: Kelly Jordan

Historic Atlanta states in a May 6 letter to the city:

  • “As the first LGBTQ property ever considered for designation by the city, the severely limiting conditions [on development] fail to do justice for an important minority community in the city.”

In addition, Historic Atlanta makes a point that could gain relevance if the city seeks to expand the discussion over historic recognitions that, to date, has dwelled on renaming of public schools and removing Confederate emblems: The recognition of places of significance in the city’s LGBTQ history and legacy.

The point raised by Historic Atlanta did not arise during the 2017 public conversations over how Atlanta is to evaluate its memorials, particularly its Confederate monuments. Historic Atlanta observed in its May 6 letter to the city:

  • “[T]he City of Atlanta staff does not have an LGBTQ Historic Context Statement to aid in the evaluation of a building’s integrity and should not forfeit necessary full AUDC review of this portion of the building,” referring to the Atlanta Urban Design Commission that oversees historic buildings and sites.

On Monday, the situation is to have its first hearing before the Atlanta City Council’s Zoning Committee. The committee’s task is to consider rezoning the property as a landmark building/site, with conditions that allow the property to be modified from its current state and developed with structures. This proposal was crafted by the Atlanta Urban Design Commission, an arm of the city’s Planning Department.

RuPaul (center) Miss Opal Foxx (left, Benjamin Smoke) and Miss Felecia appeared in 1985 at the Celebrity Club, which later opened as the Atlanta Eagle. Credit: Joe White, courtesy of Historic Atlanta

No public comment is to be allowed because the matter has been considered by the city’s Zoning Review Board, according to the agenda. The ZRB is an advisory body, and a majority of its members voted for the plan being opposed by Historic Atlanta. Two other groups endorse the UDC’s proposal: The Midtown Neighbors Association, and the Neighborhood Planning Unit for the area, NPU-E.

The Zoning Committee could vote to approve the proposal and send it to the full council for a vote as early as May 17. Or, the committee could hold the measure for further discussion.

The situation under discussion is commonplace in Atlanta. A property owner wants to redevelop a site that is significant to a broader community, which has taken steps to preserve the existing property. The UDC has sought to balance the interests of the owner and community.

In this case, advocates including Historic Atlanta contend the property is historically significant as a major gathering spot during the evolution of Atlanta’s LGBTQ community. The drag queen RuPaul performed at the bar when it was named the Celebrity Club. The Atlanta Eagle was the city’s destination for the leather and Levi’s crowd.

Potential changes to the structures located at the Atlanta Eagle and KODAK building are opposed by Historic Atlanta. Credit: Kelly Jordan

Atlanta police raided the Atlanta Eagle on Sept. 9, 2010 in an incident some have described as Atlanta’s version of the raid on the Stonewall Inn by New York police in 1969. In 2016, then President Obama designated Stonewall National Monument as the nation’s first to recognize LGBT rights.

The owner of the property, AYL Management Group, LLC, intends to develop a medical office building at the site of the Atlanta Eagle and KODAK building, located at 300 and 306 Ponce de Leon Ave., according to its March 5 letter to the city. AYL objects to the proposed historic designation because of the restrictions the designation would place on the ability to develop the site with a medical office building.

The UDC responded with a proposal to allow a portion of structures on the site to be removed, and for the ensuing development to rise above the existing roofline. The front of the buildings would be maintained and the KODAK sign would be restored and placed in public view from Ponce de Leon Avenue.

Historic Atlanta contends the UDC’s plan does not adequately protect the historic legacy of the site and cites three sticking points with the UDC’s proposal:

The UDC proposes designating only a portion of the structure as protected.

  • Historic Atlanta asks for the entire structure to be preserved.

A new structure could be built above the roofline of the Atlanta Eagle and KODAK building under a proposal to be discussed Monday by the Atlanta City Council’s Zoning Committee. Credit: Kelly Jordan

The UDC intends to grant the property owner, “the right to build adjacent to (including affixed to), over, and behind the mid-century, commercial front addition to the 1900s house, and the 1900s roof structure….”

  • Historic Atlanta contends, “The proposed allowances included in the language of condition 2 are contrary to the findings of the AUDC, adverse to the preservation goals of the AUDC, and there is already a process for considering the types of proposed work described above – this creates unnecessary confusion.”

The UDC intends to allow the property owner, “to remove the roof structure on the 1900’s house [behind the Atlanta Eagle], from the existing second-story floor ceiling height and above…”

Historic Atlanta offers three rebuttals to this condition:

  • “The proposed allowances included in the language of condition 11 are contrary to the resolution of nomination of the Atlanta Urban Design Commission that the building’s significance is tied to criteria … recognizing significance rooted in the relationship of the 1898 home and the 1949 addition. The allowances described in the condition are definitely adverse to the preservation goals of the AUDC and the integrity of the structure.
  • “The proposed allowances would severely lessen exterior integrity of the structure, so much as to make the building ineligible for the National Register of Historic Places, for which it has recently been affirmed by the State Historic Preservation Officer as eligible.
  • “The proposed condition creates a limited ability for the Atlanta Urban Design Commission to review major work on the structure….”

 

 

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David Pendered

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.

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