New Auburn Avenue co-working space aims to foster big ideasHistoric preservation developer Gene Kansas in front of the 135 Auburn Ave. building, which he and a group of investors have acquired to turn into a “Constellations” project on the second floor (Photo by Maria Saporta)
By Amy Wenk and Maria Saporta
As published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on August 4, 2017
An Atlanta developer is planning an innovative co-working space along one of Atlanta’s most historic streets — a project that’s already lured high-profile investors including top Home Depot executives.
Gene Kansas Commercial Real Estate plans to open Constellations, a $2 million project that will offer “culturally-inspired” workspace with the hope of bringing together great minds who care about making a difference in the city.
It’s coming to the second floor of the circa-1910 former Southern School Book Depository at 135 Auburn Ave., a building that was designed by famed Atlanta architect Neel Reid.
Constellations will replace the Southern Education Foundation, which is relocating to a new space downtown.
Construction is expected to start in December, with tenants moving in around April 2018.
Constellations, aiming to foster big ideas in community building, will offer two residency program offices to Georgia State University and Georgia Tech for free for two years.
It will also donate two field offices to community-oriented nonprofits for two years, and 25 memberships to local community groups for two years. In total, it will offer nearly $135,000 worth of space for free.
It will fill its remaining space with small companies and independent contractors.
“As our name suggests, Constellations will be a place for stars to come together and shine, informing the bigger picture by their nature and the crossing of paths,” Gene Kansas said of the project that will sit along the Atlanta Streetcar line. “More than shared workspace, we are interested in shared values.”
The project has already scored top investors including Carol Tomé, chief financial officer of The Home Depot Inc., and her husband, Ramon, who formerly worked for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and today is a board member with the Community Foundation of Greater Atlanta.
“Ramon and I love Atlanta and the state of Georgia,” Tomé wrote in an email to Atlanta Business Chronicle. “We believe in preservation … so Constellations was a perfect fit. We were able to invest in a project housed in a historic building that we intend to preserve, partner with creative and community-minded people, and bring us closer to the community we love.”
Other investors include:
- Mike Gandy, a consultant with Boston Consulting Group. The Atlanta native earned his MBA from Harvard Business School and volunteers with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metro Atlanta and the Young Leadership Council.
“It’s wonderful to be able to invest in the future of Atlanta,” Gandy said in a a statement to Atlanta Business Chronicle. ‘This city has invested so much in me growing up and I’m just really fortunate to have found a like-minded group of people to return the favor. Building a stronger community will help push Atlanta to the next level and I believe that Constellations will play a part by doing that.”
- Brad Shaw, former vice president of communications for Home Depot, where he worked closely with three CEOs in his tenure. Shaw also co-created and hosts a non-profit radio show called Crazy Good Turns with former Home Depot CEO Frank Blake.
- And, Ted Bradford, a long-time community leader who served on Neighborhood Planning Unit-W and as chief of staff to Atlanta City Councilwoman Natalyn Archibong.
“Our team is diverse, experienced, and talented,” Kansas said. “Constituted around a common passion for difference-making, we are impact developers with a strong track record in both business and philanthropy.”
The city’s economic development arm Invest Atlanta recently gave Constellations a $200,000 grant from the Eastside Tax Allocation District.
That will help fund the renovation of the building’s facade and its second floor.
Among its features, Constellations will include a variety of workspaces, a conference room, a podcast studio, the “North Star” library, and the “Milky Way” coffee bar.
To carry its celestial theme, Constellations is planning a big website launch on Aug. 21, the same day as the total solar eclipse.
Kansas is the same developer who saved the historic Atlanta Daily World building along Auburn Avenue, just a few doors down from his new project.
From 1928 to 2008, it was home of one of the oldest daily African-American newspapers in the U.S. But it fell into disrepair when a tornado destroyed its roof. Other developers wanted to tear it down.
But Kansas and his business partners acquired the building, turning it into a mixed-use building with two apartments and new locations of Condesa Coffee and juice bar Arden’s Garden.
The Atlanta Daily World project has since been honored by the Atlanta Urban Design Commission, The Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation, Atlanta Preservation Center, and National Trust for Historic Preservation.
In fact, a love of community and its preservation has long defined Kansas’ career — from being a long-time mentor with Big Brothers Big Sisters to creating and hosting Sidewalk Radio on AM1690.
His clients over the years have included the Atlanta History Center, Zac Brown Band and Atlanta Beltline visionary Ryan Gravel, among many others.
Amy Wenk covers the hospitality industry for the Atlanta Business Chronicle.