By Maria Saporta and Doug Sams
Published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on February 27, 2015
Manuel’s Tavern, Atlanta’s signature gathering spot for journalists, politicians and community activists, is being sold.
But don’t panic.
Manuel’s will remain — in a refurbished condition — and it will still be operated by the Maloof family.
Manuel’s Properties is selling about 1.6 acres, including the Manuel’s building — a Poncey Highland landmark — to developer Green Street Properties.
“The plan for the tavern is to refurbish the building,” said Green Street Properties President Katharine Kelley, who left the developer Jamestown last year to re-launch Green Street and focus on smaller, mixed-use projects in walkable neighborhoods.
“The building is over 100 years old,” Kelley said of Manuel’s Tavern. “We are preparing it for another 100 years. It is very important to us to preserve the look and the feel and the authenticity of the building.”
Brian Maloof, owner of Manuel’s Tavern and the youngest son of its namesake — the late Manuel Maloof — said the family has been approached countless times to sell the property and the building.
“It never made any sense until recently,” Maloof said. “The timing just seems to be right. [Green Street] brings so much to the table. We sell beer and hot dogs for a living. We are not developers.”
Kelley, and her business partner, Walter Brown, said the new mixed-use project will be based on the Poncey Highland community’s redevelopment plans.
“The neighborhood master plan calls for a four-story building in that location,” Kelley said. “We plan to work with that — street-level retail with residential.”
Kelley said that the existing parking on the site would be incorporated into the redevelopment.
“We are looking at a whole range of options,” she said. “It’s in all of our best interests to make sure that parking is addressed, and we are looking at how we can deal with it creatively.”
The property, however, will need to be rezoned so Green Street can develop the project according to the neighborhood’s master plan.
“The neighborhood has a vision of what it wants,” Brown said.
The property is under contract. The sale is contingent upon the rezoning.
Kelley and Brown said they want to work with the surrounding neighborhood before creating plans to redevelop the site. Green Street expects the rezoning to take place sometime this summer. Construction could begin in the first quarter of 2016.
Manuel’s Tavern will close during the renovation, and it is not known how extensive the work will be or how long it will take.
Brown, however, said the goal would be to reopen the tavern in 2016 — the 60th anniversary of when Manuel Maloof opened it.
Brian Maloof said when they had been approached by potential buyers before, “there were a lot of bulldozers involved.” They were even approached by Hooters a few decades ago.
None of those offers were ever seriously considered, said Steve Maloof, whose father, Robert Maloof, was Manuel’s brother and a co-owner and manager of the tavern.
“We are a neighborhood in a community,” Brian Maloof said. “And we want to co-exist. If we were only interested in the checkbook, we wouldn’t be sitting here right now.”
The project aligns with Green Street’s desire for projects that feature strong connectivity and a sense of community. Kelley has been a leader in the push for new urbanist development principles throughout her 25-year career, which included key projects for Post Properties Inc., founded by John Williams.
Kelley turned an 85-acre site in Cobb County on the banks of the Chattahoochee River into Post Riverside, a project lined with trees and sidewalks. Kelley also led the development of Post Parkside by Piedmont Park along 10th Street.
In 2008, after Jamestown acquired Green Street Properties, Kelley contributed to the redevelopment of the former Sears, Roebuck and Co. building in the Old Fourth Ward. The mixed-use project was renamed Ponce City Market and has become the biggest catalyst for redevelopment in the historic neighborhoods.
Manuel’s Tavern is surrounded by several other rapidly growing neighborhoods and civic and cultural landmarks.
To the west, Ponce City Market is transforming the Old Fourth Ward. To the south are both the Carter Center and the new restaurants and residential projects of Inman Park.
“This is Main and Main,” Kelley said of Manuel’s. “It connects all of that activity.”
The Freedom Park Trail, which links to the popular Atlanta Beltline Eastside Trail, also crosses Highland Avenue just south of the tavern.
Green Street’s project would help weave the neighborhoods and amenities together — and preserve a cherished landmark.
“The area including the Old Fourth Ward, the Beltline and Ponce City Market is on fire,” said Josh Goldfarb, managing partner of Multi Housing Advisors. “Several developers have been trying to get into that area. It is an extremely desirable area of town. I would think, with the lifestyle folks are seeking today, where they can live, work, walk and be entertained, that this area will continue to grow.”
The project also reflects the reverse migration back to American cities, a trend that started more than 15 years ago in Atlanta following the 1996 Olympics.
Buildings with strong ties to the past, including Manuel’s, have caught the imagination of today’s younger workers who are more likely to reject the look and feel of modern buildings and seek a connection with a city’s history.
“People crave authenticity and places that are real,” Kelley said.
Few places in Atlanta are more authentic than Manuel’s — a stomping ground of presidents, governors, senators, mayors, writers, activists, policemen and misfits.
“We are so deeply honored to have this opportunity,” Kelley said.
“We view Manuel’s as a cornerstone of this city.”
Even Brian Maloof said he doesn’t always appreciate how deeply people care about Manuel’s Tavern.
He is surprised at the outrage when an item on the menu is changed or a portrait is moved.
“What is this place? I don’t always understand it. It’s much bigger than me,” Maloof said.
And then when thinking about the change about to take place, Maloof said: “It’s a very scary moment, but we are in the very best hands. We are not doing this lightly. It’s preservation for the future.”