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Emory may remake Peachtree-Pine shelter and nearby buildings into sustainability center

The historic building at 477 Peachtree St. in Midtown as it appeared in 2017, when it was still the Peachtree-Pine homeless shelter. (File Photo by Maria Saporta)

By John Ruch

Emory University is considering a plan to remake the former Peachtree-Pine homeless shelter and most of its Downtown block into a new academic center for sustainability and resilience.

The conceptual plan — which appears to save part of the historic shelter building while tearing down the rest for a public soccer field — was revealed in a video presentation about the new “Resilience and Sustainability Collaboratory” that was posted on YouTube Sept. 23.

The proposed Resilience and Sustainability Collaboratory as it appears in an Emory University video presentation. The view appears to show the block from the corner of Pine and Courtland streets, with what appears to be the front section of 477 Peachtree remaining in the rear with a university-branded facade.

“So what I love about this is Emory coming to the heart of the city, coming and opening a space that will be very community-oriented,” said Ciannat Howett, Emory’s associate vice president for sustainability, resilience and economic inclusion, in the video. “It’s going to be really inviting for the community to come.”

Emory spokesperson Gana Ahn said the video presentation was an internal visioning session for faculty members and was mistakenly posted on the university’s YouTube channel for general public viewing. A written statement from Emory said the university intends to have the sustainability center somewhere in Atlanta, but that the idea is still conceptual, and that another use may be supporting Emory University Hospital Midtown, which sits on the other side of Peachtree Street.

“Emory University has not made any decisions regarding the use of 477 Peachtree Street and our plans are in the conceptual, visioning stage,” the written statement said. “Our goal is to convert as much of the site as possible into a dynamic new facility that serves Emory’s strategic needs for the future. Any development will be respectful of the past.

“Emory purchased this property to make the university’s resources more accessible to the greater Atlanta community,” the statement continues. “It will support our academic mission across the arts, the sciences and the humanities. The property may support Emory Healthcare services, given the site is across the street from Emory University Hospital Midtown. The Resilience and Sustainability Collaboratory is a functioning program that will occupy space in a downtown Atlanta location that has yet to be determined.”

The plan discussed in the video — which is dated July 29 — is for the block bounded by Peachtree, Pine and Courtland streets and Renaissance Parkway. Emory bought the shelter and several other nearby buildings in 2019. Howett indicated that at least three other adjacent, historic buildings will be saved and used for theater and art programs. The Shakespeare Tavern Playhouse is the only building on the block that Emory won’t own, Howett said, and it “will stay.”

Most of the buildings are around a century old, but have no formal historic protections. That includes the former shelter at 477 Peachtree, which started life around 1921 as a United Motors Services car dealership and sports a colorful, Art Deco facade. The shelter use began in 1997 until it was forced to close in 2017 after years of battles with the City and neighbors over conditions and real estate interests.

The building was designed by prominent architect A. Ten Eyck Brown, who also designed the Fulton County Courthouse, the Sweet Auburn Curb Market and a Buckhead book bindery building that was recently partly saved from development. Attempts to nominate 477 Peachtree for official City landmarking have failed. Aside from preserving history, another motivation for preservation today is that reusing an older building is typically more environmentally sustainable than demolishing it and building a new one.

Some local preservationists said they had checked in with Emory about its intentions for the building, but had not necessarily heard all the details of the “RSC,” as the university is calling the facility for short.

“It’s definitely an important building in that part of upper Midtown,” said Mark McDonald, president and CEO of the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation, adding he had a conference call with Emory officials a couple of weeks ago due to rumblings about the plan. “I’ve been in touch with Emory’s real estate department about this project on numerous occasions and let them know the Georgia Trust considers it to be a very important building from the modern period of Atlanta….”

The Georgia Trust would be happy if the plan involves preserving the front portion of the building, McDonald said, “because the front portion contains the significant Art Deco architecture.”

A close-up look at the Art Deco design of the 477 Peachtree facade. (File Photo by Kelly Jordan)

David Yoakley Mitchell, executive director of the Atlanta Preservation Center, said he meets quarterly with Emory for updates on its various plans. “The Atlanta Preservation Center is looking forward to the development of this space and partnering with Emory to advance this structure and honor the legacy of this historic building and promote its sustainability,” he said.

According to Fulton County property records, Emory owns five other buildings on that block, all fronting on Peachtree. The street numbers and year of construction are: 489 (1936), 493 (1920), 495 (1920), 505 (1920) and 511 (2006).

In the RSC video, Howett said that sustainability and resilience are major new fields of study in American universities. The Emory version is a “think-and-do tank” that will address a broad range of topics, including “climate, race and health disparities,” she said, and will work in direct collaboration with community members and groups. Some virtual programs are underway, but the RSC intends to have a physical location.

Howett called the location a “really a fantastic site” in part because it avoids the hurdles of “getting the community to [the main Emory campus in] Druid Hills — I mean, that’s just not realistic.”

A view of the Pine Street frontage of 477 Peachtree. (File Photo by Kelly Jordan)

Referring to a former barber shop and a former nightclub at 493 and 495 Peachtree, Howett said Emory hopes to “repurpose [them] into theater space, gallery space, so that we can bring in our faculty engaged in theater studies and visual arts and other areas to work on the Collaboratory and its projects.” She also noted, without specifying a future use, that 489 Peachtree is the former headquarters of the Peasant restaurants, a once-famous Atlanta chain that broke up 20 years ago; co-founder Steve Nygren went on to create the environmentally centered planned community of Serenbe in southern Fulton.

The soccer field in the plan is intended to be part of “StationSoccer,” a program that creates fields at MARTA stations and runs youth leagues. The program is operated by a nonprofit called Soccer in the Streets. “Whilst there is no agreement between Soccer in the Streets and Emory, there have been exploratory and conceptual discussions about the site,” said Sanjay Patel, the nonprofit’s director of strategic projects, in a written statement. MARTA is aware of those discussions but not directly involved, according to a transit agency spokesperson.

The video presentation indicated that the RSC has a large number of corporate, nonprofit and governmental “partners,” ranging from Google to the City of Atlanta to Trees Atlanta. The exact role of partners was not explained by the presentation.

Correction: A previous version of this story referred to the location as Midtown rather than northern Downtown or, as some now call it, SoNo.



  1. jennifer brooks October 1, 2021 11:22 am

    “It’s definitely an important building in that part of upper Midtown,” said Mark McDonald, president and CEO of the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation…

    How can 477 Peachtree be considered “upper Midtown”? If anything, this location, well south of North Avenue, is “upper Downtown”. It is no mystery as to why Emory named the Crawford Long location “Emory Midtown” rather than “Emory Downtown”. Isn’t it time to right that socio-geographic misnomer?Report

    1. Virginia Ubik October 1, 2021 8:05 pm

      Thank you for pointing out that “Emory Midtown” is actually located Downtown. Let’s hope that whatever 477 Peachtree becomes is recognized as a Downtown location.The Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation and the Atlanta Preservation Center surely know that Downtown’s northern border is North Avenue.Report

    2. Richard December 15, 2021 3:45 pm

      It’s Midtown now. Get over it.Report

  2. Steven Lindsay October 1, 2021 11:41 am

    OK so we kick out all the poor brown unwashed and install a bunch of clean white academics so they can polish their solar panels. Is it any wonder the chronically under-served ‘undeserved’ are not engaged with the ‘environment’ movement?Report

  3. David Yoakley Mitchell October 2, 2021 8:15 am

    Ms. Ubik –

    The Atlanta Preservation Center is aware that this property is part of downtown. Please feel free to contact me directly to have a larger conversation about our advocacy for this area.

    david@preserveatlanta.com / Thank you!Report

    1. Virginia Ubik October 2, 2021 6:21 pm

      Thank you for the clarification, Mr. Mitchell. It is the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation that seems to be misinformed about the boundaries of Downtown.Report

  4. David Yoakley Mitchell October 2, 2021 10:02 am

    Ms. Ubik –

    The Atlanta Preservation Center is also an advocate for the “THE STITCH” – https://www.atlantadowntown.com/initiatives/the-stitch .

    Please feel free to contact me directly to discuss further – david@preserveatlanta.comReport

  5. Richard December 15, 2021 3:47 pm

    Texas wasn’t part of America at one time. It is now. So too the land prior to the connector. It’s Midtown now. Just get over it.Report

  6. Russell A Cannon January 16, 2022 11:14 am

    man I remember working at hard rock café it was a cold night I stayed out where I needed the train in a bus in I missed the last train in I remember walking around downtown could not get home in when I did what would be left it was weird when I walk up the peach then I reach pine I said what happening here it the night shelter you have to have proof your work night man you think I found a pot of gold for me it was the night before when I got home that morning it was nothing running got to the house in my girl was a control freak had a car but would not come to get me e had all my clothes in everything that could now was put in dumpster became a leader going then met Todd join Atlanta labor pool worker union already been a fool at labor pool I was almost buried alive, almost slide off a four-story house Mathew so it was m.ad in would have done it for free I love the Emory university on all are event we would start to do a newsletter in we was growing I started to grow to come heard the labor ready was send in men on dangerous job so to my surprise soon as i walk in guy said last call what this the job would forever be remember my no tolerance this guy was a sailor in he got that nod i swear first job we went on job was on the hanging sign now this second it was up in we suited up went up latter i flew back down bee killer yellow bee these bee was no regular bee he say come on if you don’t bother them they wont bother you next thing i knew this guy said I’m be back manIi was not sure he had a pack of been on his butt man i never seem a white boy running for dear life they got his ass but he came back with 3 can of spray so we hook up in it was tea m work two more too go in i feeling good that next job i was ready for any thing this next job you would we was over the biggest tree a knew one wind was SHAKEN IN when he say no harness so no harness man i was for the first time scare not no regular praying for my mama i was i was going to be eagle food about to going to fly down our catch a branch our we would need a helicopter then i realize i was not going to be no use i could hook my harness on the floor that day those 20 minute i was so relieve it was so high up in unsafe to high up to be it made me a better spoke person for change in i went from a boy too a man determination i the labor pool at this time was breaking record Atlanta worker were hated in that was we would work for cigarette in i found out we were not being taken serious in i knew we needed a new strategy no one like the union we took away lunches in cigarettes’ that when i start to really get to know were i was but could not figure out why we were then i me Sandra Robinson this lady was total package nice in vocal a real go getter in i would learn state minimum only 1.71 cent a hour how could that be now m all in getting sSm
    brain after working all money noReport

    1. Russell A Cannon January 18, 2022 5:08 pm

      There was a learning process when I first got there my Baby mom was nothing nice in short fuse about working night so this is how that journey labor pool our labor fool me in her both was a fool at first with my daughter Daija Coming I would in I had no choice but cook at night in workday labor I would need the Peach in pine there to wait on the next bus our next day job peach in Pine became a way of making sure I got to sleep in it gave me in a lot of guy option we talking the myth that we were drug addict was crazy we were survivor if you came to mess up like me my baby mom threw everything I own in the dumpster because I work late night, I see guys stacking when I meet Emory Student they could take your frustration, in turn, it too something readable would be good memory 20 years later but then. If I was a president I would give them a purple heart they were on the front lineReport


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