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L5P project slows for more talks after Star Bar demolition outrage

The Star Community Bar at 437 Moreland Ave. in Little Five Points as seen on its Facebook page.

By John Ruch

Developers are tapping the brakes on a proposal for a massive mixed-use project in Atlanta’s Little Five Points that would demolish the legendary Star Community Bar amid outrage over the impact on a countercultural capital of the Southeast.

The team of Point Center Partners and Third & Urban have canceled a planned appearance next week before the Candler Park Neighborhood Organization (CPNO), according to that group’s president. And talks about possibly saving the Star Bar — with or without its unique home in a former bank — that were already underway before the project’s announcement are intensifying. The proposal, which spans 2.5 acres at Moreland and Euclid avenues, has a lot of moving parts that could move some more.

Point Center Partners’ Scott Pendergrast, who is the bar’s current landlord, told SaportaReport that one option is giving the bar space in the rear of a new building, roughly where its lower-level Little Vinyl Lounge operates today.

“We are looking at creative ways to keep Star Bar here as part of the neighborhood and we are continuing to have conversations with them about potential options,” said Pendergrast in a written statement to SaportaReport. “We would like for them to stay.”

“We ain’t dead yet,” Star Bar’s ownership team said in a written statement posted on social media on Sept. 12 in response to SaportaReport stopping in for comment. The owners include Chris Jackson, Luke Lewis, Bruce McLeod and Dusty Mumma.

“Saving the building and preserving the history is the preferred option, but that may not be possible,” the bar’s statement said. “They have offered us a place in the new development, but we have not made a decision on what the future may hold for us. Talks are active and are amicable for all involved. Even though we may not be pleased with the current situation, we are looking at options, having talks, and determining the best path forward.”

Founded in 1991 at 437 Moreland, Star Bar is a landmark in every sense of the word — except in literal historic protections from demolition. It’s a significant venue for national and local musicians and other performers. It’s a neighborhood bar attracting rockers and subculture misfits of every flavor. And it has a unique home in the quasi-Art Deco 1950s bank whose vault still stands, now used for one of L5P’s signature attractions — a shrine to Elvis Presley.

When word of the demolition got out in news reports on Sept. 9, regulars at the Star Bar that night reacted with outrage and anxiety. Some scorned Buckhead-based Third & Urban as cultural invaders while others talked about protests and buy-outs and such broader concerns as neighborhood traffic impacts. An online petition against the “soulless development” was launched by a fan — not the bar — this week and had more than 5,400 signatures by Sept. 14.

Joining the opposition is the Little 5 Points Business Association, according to president Kelly Stocks, who said both the bar and its building should be saved.

“The current Star Bar ownership has endured the many challenges of the recent pandemic, and is focused to preserve this integral live music venue in our community,” said Stocks. “The Star Bar is a nationally renowned music venue and one of L5P’s greatest attractions. Our hope is that new investment will not permanently remove the identity of our neighborhood. The L5PBA stresses that the presence of institutions — like the Star Bar — exemplify the significance of both L5P and our neighborhood.”

Most of the bar’s current owners bought the business in 2019 and reopened it in 2020 after renovations, guiding it through an extremely rough restart in the COVID-19 pandemic. The bar is reportedly profitable and the owners’ statement says they are “up to date on all lease obligations.”

The bar is not the only historic building affected by the plan. A cornerstone is the Point Center building on the corner of Moreland and Euclid, a series of storefronts that dates to 1925 and would be preserved because it is protected by an agreement with the nonprofit Easements Atlanta that prevents its demolition. Also in the mix is the International Montessori Academy, housed in a 1950s-era former church at 1240 Euclid, which reportedly will relocate. A large surface parking lot between the school, Point Center and Star Bar also would be redeveloped.

Shifting plans

Many of the details still remain unclear and the developers declined to provide SaportaReport with their site plan, saying the proposal is too preliminary and did not directly answer whether a need for zoning variations is anticipated.

The proposal became public last week after the developers made an advisory presentation to CPNO. Apparently, in response to growing community discussion, they issued a Sept. 9 press release that gave a fall 2023 construction start and a 2025 opening among other details, but they did not mention the Star Bar demolition.

CPNO President Emily Taff said her group has no comment on the plan, as “it seemed they were still working out some details of the development.” And, she said, the developers “have decided to take things a bit slower” and are not making a previously planned Sept. 19 appearance before the group.

The version of the plan described in the press release included rehabilitating Point Center, replacing the Star Bar building with a retail and office building and constructing housing on the parking lots and “interstitial spaces” that would include “attainably priced micro units and walk-up apartments that engage the street.” An unspecified amount of shared parking spaces would be “largely hidden underground.”

Pendergrast’s statement early this week said the Star Bar replacement concept at that time was a three-story building with two ground-floor restaurants, “community-oriented office space overhead,” and a “purpose-built lower-level space” that could be the bar’s new home.

The press release also spoke of preserving the “signature corner” while also claiming it needs better safety, “street-level experience” and “daytime energy.” The developers said they work under values called “CAST: Community, Arts, Sustainability and Transportation.”

“We love spending time in Little Five Points and recognize how meaningful this place is to the community,” said Third & Urban co-founder Hank Farmer in the press release. According to the company’s website, he is a Morningside resident.

Third & Urban specializes in adaptive reuse of older buildings like warehouses. The website touts their dedication to being “‘White Hat’ developers” whose work “retains context, history and experience, not just tenants; and that creates culture and connection, not just ROI [return on investment].”

The obvious concern is that the L5P project will do the opposite in a community renowned for the countercultural and bohemian, with such other institutions as Criminal Records, the Variety Playhouse and Junkman’s Daughter. In part, that’s due to a previous generation of developers — Pendergrast among them — who 50 years ago preserved the buildings, sought out such commercial tenants, and offered rents affordable to small businesses rather than seeking top-dollar national chains. Just three weeks before the project’s announcement, some of those developers were honored at an L5P event where Mayor Andre Dickens praised the neighborhood as “a very special place in the city of Atlanta” for “that quirkiness.” Among them was Don Bender, another Point Center Partners member.

The bigger picture of development pressure

The bigger picture of the Moreland/Euclid proposal is that it surely won’t be the last in the neighborhood as Atlanta enters another era of gentrification and mega-development.

While Point Center is protected by the historic easement, none of the other similar historic buildings in L5P have such restrictions, according to David Yoakley Mitchell, an Easements Atlanta board member who also heads the nonprofit Atlanta Preservation Center. Many are eligible for such easements, where the owner agrees to permanent preservation of the building’s exterior and becomes eligible for tax credits and other significant benefits.

“Easements Atlanta is a phenomenal vehicle to preserving our communities through the craft of historic preservation,” said Mitchell.

As for Star Bar, it is arguably eligible for official City landmark or historic building status under criteria of cultural and architectural significance, but it currently has no such protections. Mitchell says that puts advocacy in the hands of a new generation to decide if they want to sustain such an unofficial landmark in what he calls “really a cultural moment of Atlanta’s history that we choose to keep or lose.”

Or as the bar owners said: “Please make a point to come visit, we haven’t given up and neither should you!”

 

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2 Comments

  1. Jane September 16, 2022 11:47 am

    Subculture misfits? Where does that come from? You are making no friends for the Saporta Report with that kind of sloppy labeling.Report

    Reply
  2. Chad Polazzo September 17, 2022 10:18 am

    This proposal seems like it will be the first major investment in L5P in as long as I’ve known it (back as a wayward teen in the late 80s). Seems like the owners have been very careful about how they have approached this and I, for one, applaud their efforts.

    Change is hard but it always comes. It’s especially hard when you consider a place ‘home’ and it’s part of the creative destruction process. But it’s not often that we see people with the power to make big decisions who are so invested in the community they are changing. That bodes well for this project and for the preservation of L5P’s unique flavor and character.

    Once the dust settles and the people of L5P/CP/IP settle back in, my hope is that we will look back and see that the benefit of providing housing, office, updated historic buildings, converted surface parking, and new viable commercial spaces offsets the things that will inevitably be lost in the process.Report

    Reply

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