Developer John Aderhold — key Atlanta business and civic leader — passes away

By Maria Saporta

Update: A celebration of John Aderhold’s life will be held at Peachtree Presbyterian Church, 3434 Roswell Road, Atlanta, on Monday, Aug. 15, 2011, at 11:00 AM. In lieu of flowers, contributions can be sent to the Carlyle Fraser Heart Center at Emory Hospital Midtown.

One of Atlanta’s business anchors — John Aderhold — passed away Wednesday afternoon after a long illness.

Aderhold helped shape Atlanta in several ways. He was instrumental in the development of the Georgia Dome, serving as chairman of the Georgia World Congress Center when the deal was being put together and the facility was built.

He was one of the pioneers in bringing residential housing downtown when he renovated several historic downtown buildings, including Muse’s, overlooking Woodruff Park. The residences were developed in time for the 1996 Summer Olympic Games.

Aderhold also was the developer behind the renovation of the Fulton Bag & Cotton Mill in Cabbagetown, a project he and his associates (including son, Tom Aderhold) began in 1997.

John Aderhold

That project gained national prominence in 1999 when the building caught on fire, stranding a crane operator dangerously over the fire. The dramatic rescue was captured live by television stations that broadcast the event around the world.

The project, now know as the Stacks, then was hit by a tornado in 2008, causing severe damage to several of the historic buildings.

Throughout all the ups and downs of his various business ventures, Aderhold kept his sense of humor and optimism.

After the tornado hit his Cabbagetown development, Aderhold said: “We called this the challenge of all challenges, and that was before any of this happened.”

But what mattered most to Aderhold and his family was the fact that no one died or suffered major injuries during either the fire or the tornado.

Aderhold also took on other challenges. His firm took over the controlling interest of Underground Atlanta, trying to stabilize the downtown retail and entertainment project just east of the Five Points MARTA station.

Then there was that time in 1998 when Aderhold gave his wife a $2.5 million gift. The gift actually was made to Georgia State University to name its new classroom building after his wife, a GSU graduate. It is now the Helen M. Aderhold Learning Center.

“You did WHAT?” Helen Aderhold asked her husband after he told her about the gift. “Where do you think you are going to get that much money?”

The Aderholds were one of the most delightful couples to cover in Atlanta because they were so playful with each other and those around them.

When they were celebrating one of their wedding anniversaries, Aderhold was asked how long they had been married. “Thirty-seven happy years. Out of 51, that’s not bad.”

Most of the projects mentioned above actually were developed after Aderhold officially retired from Rayloc, a Genuine Parts subsidiary, in 1992 — after decades that he had been with the company.

Aderhold, who would have turned 86 on Aug. 14, was a Georgia Tech graduate That contributed to the fun-loving, but competitive, give-and-take with his wife’s GSU roots.

As one example of the profound impact he had on Atlanta, Aderhold was given the first Dan E. Sweat Award by Central Atlanta Progress.
Throughout his life, Aderhold always kept one thought in mind — what would help make Atlanta a better place. And then he did everything in his power to make it happen.

Atlanta can never have too many leaders like John Aderhold. Unfortunately, they are all too few and far between. And now we have one less.

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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