By David Pendered
Charlie Loudermilk and John Portman sat shoulder to shoulder on a brilliant Tuesday in Atlanta as civic leaders thanked Loudermilk for his public service before cutting the ribbon on the Charlie Loudermilk Park.
“Charlie Loudermilk and John Portman are two leading lights,” Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said of the business tycoons.
Focusing on Loudermilk, Reed said, “Atlanta comes here, humbly, to thank you. … I am grateful to you personally, and thank you very much.”
Loudermilk and Portman did not make public remarks at a ribbon-cutting ceremony that attracted upwards of 100 onlookers. Loudermilk had already spoken, through his financial contributions to the $2.5 million renovation of the park once named Triangle Park.
The park now offers a water feature, grassy lawn, and the signature clock tower that Loudermilk wanted to have chime the hour. The clock sounded its first note right after the ceremonial ribbon cutting ceremony led by Reed. Loudermilk Park is a triangular piece of land created by the separation of Peachtree Road and Roswell Road, when traveling to the north.
Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell said Loudermilk’s civic service has improved Atlanta, and his influence continues to propel the city forward.
“This park is the least we can do to honor and celebrate you,” Mitchell said.
David Allman commended Loudermilk for civic leadership. Allman was the founding chairman of the Buckhead Community Improvement District, and is the owner/chairman of Regent Partners, which has developed or purchased more than $2.5 billion in real estate assets.
“You started the Buckhead Coalition [and] I remember meeting at your farm to start the Buckhead CID,” Allman said. “Your legacy is complete; your legacy is intact.”
Allman noted that Loudermilk Park is an example of the greenspace improvement efforts that are part of the Buckhead CID’s vision for uplifting Buckhead Village. The village is the final remnant of the low-density retail community built long before the development of Lenox Square and Phipps Plaza, not to mention the $1 billion Buckhead Atlanta mixed use project.
Atlanta Councilman Howard Shook said he was going to commend Loudermilk with the highest praise he can offer.
“You are a great American,” Shook said. “Thank you so much for what you have done.”
Jim Durrett, executive director of the Buckhead Community Improvement District, said the park is not quite finished. Four areas are to receive plantings; 250 bricks engraved with the donor’s name are to be located somewhere in the park; and a sculpture that is to be “appropriate to Buckhead” is to be installed at the narrow part of the triangle, where it will welcome northbound travelers to the community.
There was no mention of the fate of “The Storyteller,” a statue by Frank Fleming that formerly anchored the park. The statue depicts a man with the head of a buck telling stories to various animals. Legend has it that Buckhead was named after a hunter hung the head of a buck at Irby’s Tavern. The name of the area changed over time from Irbyville to Buckhead.
Loudermilk is a legend in Atlanta’s civic development. Loudermilk started Aaron’s, Inc. as a rent-to-own business in 1955 and fostered its growth to over 2,100 company-owned and franchise shops in the U.S. and Canada. As the business grew, Loudermilk turned to philanthropy.
Loudermilk’s name appears on the Loudermilk Conference Center; the Loudermilk Gymnasium at Covenant House, which houses homeless young people; various facilities at Lovett School; and two buildings and a statue at the University of North Carolina, according to a story published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle that was written by Loudermilk family friend Blake McBurney, CEO of Norcross-based McBurney Power.
In 2011, Loudermilk pledged $1 million to permanently endow the political debates hosted every election year by the Atlanta Press Club. The Loudermilk-Young Debate Series is named to recognize Loudermilk’s long friendship with former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, whom Loudermilk supported in Young’s mayoral campaign.