By Maria Saporta
For 40 years, Southface has been leading the way in making Atlanta a more sustainable city.
The environmentally-focused nonprofit has been a pioneer in green building practices – and it deserves much of the credit for Atlanta’s national reputation as a city committed to energy and water conservation.
But now Southface is facing its own challenges – likely having to move from its headquarters, now on a .74-acre site along Pine Street near Piedmont, where it has been since 1995.
That property was part of the 20-acre, $31 million sale of the Atlanta Civic Center site from the City of Atlanta to the Atlanta Housing Authority on Nov. 21.
AHA has negotiated a three-year lease “to provide Southface with adequate time to identify a new site and move its operations” according to the agreement.
“Southface is still a partner,” said Catherine Buell, president and CEO of the Atlanta Housing Authority. “We have entered into a lease agreement with them, but we still are having ongoing negotiations.”
Andrea Pinabell, who has been president of Southface for nearly a year – succeeding founder Dennis Creech, hopes to be able to work closely with AHA to create a signature development on the Civic Center site.
“There is an immense opportunity to have an iconic affordable housing mixed use development that preserves green space and allows for innovative storm water management,” Pinabell said. “The City and the AHA have an unique opportunity here to create an inclusive and equitable development that supports and uplifts the neighborhood.”
Pinabell added that a transparent public process is important to meet the needs of the surrounding neighborhoods.
“Southface stands ready to support that process including hosting a planning charrette on our campus to bring the neighborhood’s thoughts and vision to the table,” Pinabell said. For example, a creek buried in a tunnel underneath the Civic Center parking lot could be restored and turned into an attractive water feature.
Buell did say AHA is open to master planning process.
“We are going to plan on having a design charrette,” Buell said. “We really want to make sure we are taking a fresh look at the plans. We also want to work with the surrounding communities.”
Recently, Central Atlanta Progress did conduct a planning charrette for the entire Civic Center site, and that plan envisioned leaving Southface in place.
“The second big issue is the vault that Watershed has begun to build rather than doing a water feature like the Old Fourth Ward park,” said A.J. Robinson, president of Central Atlanta Progress. “We tried to bring this to everyone’s attention months ago but without any result.”
Robinson said he still believes there’s a better way to design the site than what is currently being envisioned.
As for the future of Southface, Buell acknowledged that the AHA lease envisions the nonprofit leaving the site. Most likely, the Southface complex and the EcoCenter would be demolished for the new development.
Pinabell said it was premature to know what is the best long-term solution for Southface.
For about five years, Southface had been having negotiations with the city to buy its property and an additional half acre so it could expand. In 2011, Southface opened the SWEET Center in leased space on Piedmont Avenue to provide certification for weatherization professionals. Before the Civic Center deal went through, Southface had hoped to move the SWEET Center to its main campus.
Southface had been leasing its Pine Street facility from the city since the 1996 Summer Olympic Games when it showcased Atlanta’s green building practices, architecture, interior design and residential construction.
Over the years, Southface has added to its demonstration facility – creating a $10 million campus that has a green roof, solar energy, porous concrete and other leading building practices.
Southface also has partnered with the city on virtually every environmental initiative, including the successful Atlanta Better Building Challenge.
Atlanta now has the nation’s largest program (based on office buildings and commercial space) on track to reduce energy and water consumption.
Also, it has certified 50,000 environmentally-friendly EarthCraft homes, of which 40 percent are affordable. And it has trained more than 5,000 individuals to pursue clean energy and green building jobs.
Southface clearly has been the secret to Atlanta’s successful sustainability efforts, and it has been a critical player in the Grants to Green program to help nonprofits reduce their costs through energy and water savings. It also worked closely with the Kendeda Fund to launch the Southeast’s first Living Building now under construction at Georgia Tech.
Despite all it has done for the city, Southface is now facing an unknown future. But Pinabell is hopeful that the community will help it figure out the best outcome for the nonprofit.
As Pinabell said: “Southface has a bright future and is poised for growth.”