Column: Cooper Carry part of rebirth of downtown

By Maria Saporta
Friday, September 25, 2009

When you get off the elevator on the 24th floor of downtown’s One Ninety One Peachtree Tower, you might think you’re in a nightclub. The lighting is dim, and the walls are black. You’re welcomed at a reception area with a black reclining circular wall with modern-looking round shelves spaced every few feet — each with dramatically placed red daisies featured with their own spotlight.

It takes several seconds for your eyes to adjust, and then you see a back-lit sign saying simply Cooper Carry.

You have entered the new offices of an Atlanta architectural firm that is nearing its 50th year. Cooper Carry Inc. has just relocated from Buckhead’s Piedmont Place, where it has been for 25 years, to the crest of Peachtree Street downtown.

The move is a metaphor for the evolution that the firm has experienced in the last couple of decades. Despite record flooding on Monday, Sept. 21, Cooper Carry was thrilled to be in its new space on its first day, especially for the dozens of employees who rode transit.

“It was exhilarating for everyone,” said Kevin Cantley, Cooper Carry’s president. “There’s a sense of excitement of being able to participate in the rebirth of downtown.”

For Cooper Carry, it’s also a highly visible statement that says it is no longer a traditional suburban-oriented design firm. In fact, in the past decade or more, the architectural firm has been focused on urban, mixed-use redevelopment projects in cities such as Raleigh, N.C., and Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

“It’s all about connectivity and connected architecture,” Cantley said.

Pope Bullock, executive vice president of the firm, repeated the words of the firm’s co-founder, Jerry Cooper: “We believe that the spaces between buildings are more important than the buildings, and we believe cities are more important than buildings.”

Ideally, the firm would have loved to have moved into a building it had designed, but the economic timing did not work. So it decided to move to the One Ninety One building, owned by Cousins Properties Inc.

“We like Peachtree Street. We like being on top of mass transit. We like the confluence of all the transit options in downtown,” Cantley said. “We have had Cousins as a client of ours since nearly our beginning.”

The firm, which is leasing two floors for a total of 50,000 square feet, has downsized like nearly all other architectural firms — going from about 300 employees in 2007 to about 150 today.

Its new space is designed to meet the highest level — platinum — of green building standards. Richard Stonis, the firm’s director of interiors, proudly shows off the openness and flexibility of the new space, including the two “town center” employee break areas that look over the central city — from Underground, Georgia State University, Centennial Olympic Park to the Peachtree ridge.

“Downtown just seemed to have all these opportunities,” Cantley said. “We know that with these great points of energy, connections is where good development can occur and knit the city together into an urban fabric. We want to be part of that.”

Y renamed for Blank

The Centennial Place Family YMCA will be renamed the Arthur M. Blank Youth YMCA at a dedication ceremony on Sept. 29 as a way to recognize the philanthropist, Home Depot co-founder and Atlanta Falcons owner for his contributions to the community.

“I had no idea it was coming,” Arthur Blank said when told of the Y’s decision to rename the club after him and his family. “We are not into buildings being named after us. It is an honor.”

Blank’s relationship with the Metro Atlanta YMCA dates back to 1992. Since then, Blank, his foundation and the Atlanta Falcons Youth Foundation have made contributions and pledges totalling $7.4 million to the organization with about $2 million benefiting the children of the Centennial Place Family YMCA, located at 555 Luckie St.

BBBS’ jewel

Karen Mathis had been president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America for less than a week when she came to Atlanta to meet with the local agency on Sept. 21 and Sept. 22.

She specifically planned for Atlanta to be her first agency visit as a testament to what Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metro Atlanta, under the leadership of CEO Janice McKenzie-Crayton, has been able to do.

“I wanted to come to Atlanta because this is one of the jewels in our tiara, and Janice casts a long shadow nationally,” Mathis said in an interview. “It sets a very, very high bar. Many of the bet practices of our national network started here.”

Those include providing greater accountability of Big Brothers Big Sisters social impact, launching a campaign to add more men as mentors, and establishing a unique corporate mentoring program to encourage high school students to stay in school and attend college.

Mathis sees as one of her major tasks to help the public understand the role that the national organization.

IMPACT Awards

It’s official.

The grand winner of the 2009 IMPACT awards, presented by the Corporate Volunteer Council of Atlanta, was Atlanta Gas Light Co.

The awards were announced at the 12th annual IMPACT award program on Sept. 17. Atlanta Gas Light’s $15,000 award will go to Cool Girls, its nonprofit partner.

The other winners were: Bouje Publishing for the Emerging Program Award; The Coca-Cola Co. for the Innovative/Collaborative Program Award; and Bank of America for the Project Award. Each firm will receive $5,000 to go toward the nonprofit of its choice.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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