Margaritaville, hotel development slated to demolish two historic buildings

By Maria Saporta and Amy Wenk

Two historic buildings will be demolished if the proposed development of a 21-story hotel and Margaritaville resort and restaurant overlooking Centennial Olympic Park is approved.

The Downtown Development Review Committee met Thursday morning at the offices of Central Atlanta Progress where architects described why the developer is seeking six zoning variances for the proposed design.

DRC meeting Margaritaville

Mark Timbes and David Sickinger of the Garvin Design Group present plans for a 21 story hotel and Margaritaville restaurant to the Downtown Development Review Committee Thursday morning (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Those variances included encroaching on the wide sidewalk area along Centennial Olympic Park Drive, having mid-block driveways for valet and loading docks and having only 21 parking spaces for bicycles instead of the required 50 bicycle parking spaces.

The DRC discussed the proposed variances in details, making recommendations to reduce the number of loading docks, relocate a generator and seek ways to improve the pedestrian experience around the project.

The architects said they would consider those recommendations, and the DRC would then vote on the project and submit its non-binding decision to the City of Atlanta.

When asked about the plans to demolish two 1920-era buildings –141 Walton and 152 Nassau St. – the architects for the project deflected the question.

“We are not here to speak to that,” said Mark Timbes, a principal with the Garvin Design Group, which has been hired by Strand Capital, the current owner of the property and proposed developer of the site. “We are not in a position to speak to that.”

Originally, the City of Atlanta had sought to give both of those buildings a landmark designation, which would have protected them from being demolished. But the city put those designations on hold.

Then on Nov. 6, the City of Atlanta entered into an agreement with the developer that would allow the demolition of the buildings if the development was worth at least $100 million and at least 10 stories tall.

The current development proposal would meet those criteria.

152 Nassau

The city originally had planned to give 152 Nassau St. landmark historic designation (Photo by Kyle Kessler)

A city representative at the DRC meeting also said he could not talk about the status of the two historic buildings, which were part of Atlanta’s early film history. There were well-known film exchanges on Walton Street during the 1920s and 1040s, which included Fox, MGM, Pathé, United Artists, Universal, and Warner Brothers, according to Kyle Kessler, a member of the DRC who has studied the historical significance of both buildings that would be demolished.

Downtown representatives were unhappy about the looming possibility that the two buildings would be demolished.

“Everybody I’ve talked to wants to keep the buildings,” said Kevin Maher, an architect who represents the Atlanta Downtown Neighborhood Association on the DRC.

Kessler, a downtown resident, also believes the developers are missing an opportunity.

“You would think that in a project like this, these buildings could be major assets to make a music-themed restaurant and hotel even more valuable,” Kessler said.

When asked if they could design the proposed development so that it could incorporate the historic buildings, the architects were non-committal.

141 Walton

The building at 141 Walton St. NW was one of the two buildings in Fairlie-Poplar that would have been protected by the city and now will likely be demolished (Photo by Kyle Kessler)

“We wanted it to be more a modern, contemporary urban feel,” said David Sickinger, also a principal with the Garvin Design Group.

Timbes added that a reason the two historic buildings would have to go is because the site is so small and the proposed development is trying to maximize the site.

One person who is especially distraught by these turn of events is Taylor Owenby, who leases both of those buildings and has been restoring them to be sound stages – a throwback to their initial uses and a possible tie to the Margaritaville restaurant.

“The value of the restoration was $350,000,” Owenby said. “I’ve made multiple offers for the property.”

But his offers to buy them for $5 million or even $7 million have been rejected. The owners bought the buildings for $2.25 million a couple of years ago. They told Owenby he could buy them for $15 million, which Owenby said was out of the question.

“I would love it if the buildings could stay,” said Owenby, whose lease on those two buildings will expire at the end of the year.

Amy Wenk is a reporter with the Atlanta Business Chronicle.

Walton Street buildings

The building on the left would be demolished for the new development while the building on the right would remain. The DRC urged to keep the courtyard between both buildings (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

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.

8 replies
  1. Scott chapman says:

    It’s sad that so many times citizens must have to fight like this so the city will do the right thing. Downtown and brutal architect enthusiasts came together for the library. Is it time to fight again?Report

    Reply
      • Erin says:

        The article addresses that question in part—historic ties to the film industry. I might also add that this area is popular for current movie shoots, which brings quite a lot of money into the city. But equally to the point: the proposed development is out of scale and character with the neighborhood, adds nothing of value to compensate, will constrict sidewalks and pedestrian areas, and further congest traffic. The developers are requesting 6 zoning variances—ones that will impact the neighborhood in significant ways and negative ways.Report

        Reply
        • Chris Hohnston says:

          Then by all means keep it as it is, for good or bad. As Brother Dave Gardner said, “Let them that want none have fond memories of not getting any.”Report

          Reply
  2. Jon says:

    Currently most of the proposed site for the new building is parking lot. I can’t imagine that brings much character to the area. I’m not a fan of “Margaritaville”, but I can’t see how a high rise building is out of scale or character for downtown. It seems like the project would bring more residents to the area which is what downtown needs.
    Also, the project doesn’t appear to constrict sidewalks; the encroachment is merely an overhang (seen at the Biz Journal’s site). Sidewalks will be at least 10′ wide plus a 5′ planting zone.
    And, an off-street valet zone should help traffic by keeping drop-offs/pick-ups of passenger out of traffic.Report

    Reply

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