An "Atlanta History Trail" entry for the L.P. Grant Mansion, headquarters of the Atlanta Preservation Center.

By John Ruch

Historic preservation and the real estate industry are often at cross purposes, especially here in Atlanta, as I’ve written about many times and will many times more.

But there are also moments of connection, like the new “Atlanta Legacy Trail” digital project created by the local division of the national company Compass Real Estate in partnership with SCAD students and the Atlanta Preservation Center (APC). It currently features galleries and information about 10 historic properties across the metro area, with unlimited room to grow.

Showcasing a disparate selection of buildings that are not actually connected by a trail, the project has the flavor and approach of the real estate marketing device it fundamentally is. But it is also a sincere effort at prioritizing history and relationship-building of a sort the APC said is crucial in an era of rampant development and loss.

APC Executive Director David Yoakley Mitchell said the project is a way “to start showing that the real estate component of Atlanta doesn’t always have to be in competition or in challenge with historic preservation.”

“So often when we talk about historic preservation, it’s either reactionary or in some way or another trying to prove that history matters,” Mitchell added. “And we’re constantly trying to elevate, validate and substantiate historic preservation, and here is a situation where none of that [tension] exists.”

Alexander Page, the Buckhead-based senior regional lead at the Luxury Division of Compass Atlanta, described the project as transformational on his side.

“I wasn’t sure how this project would develop long-term and never imagined meeting so many incredible people along the way,” Page said. “The Atlanta Legacy Trail is far greater than just me, Compass, and even Atlanta. Having this rare opportunity to connect with students from across the globe, numerous historic property curators, the Atlanta Preservation Center team and so many more have created relationships that have impacted me both professionally and on a deeply personal level.”

Creating community-focused websites that carve out a niche of local expertise is a longstanding marketing technique in the real estate agent industry. Sometimes, though, the efforts go beyond mere SEO gamesmanship into something genuinely community-building. One local example is, where broker Ben Hirsh’s blog evolved into a community news website and print newspaper. (Disclosure: I previously worked as news editor there.)

The Atlanta Legacy Trail has a similar approach, emphasizing the historic structures, their stories and their contact info. “The simple objective was to create a connection with the Atlanta community by partnering with historic and iconic landmarks across the city,” Page said.

About a year in the making, the project began with what Page called a “paid collaboration” with the art and design college’s “SCADpro” program, where students and professors work with companies on marketing campaigns. Page said it involved 15 international students in a 10-week course.

Compass also brought the project to APC for consultation and input. The company also became a sponsor of the APC’s annual “Phoenix Flies” program of historic preservation events.

The showcase at launch time this month includes several Atlanta landmarks — the Fox Theatre, the Trolley Barn, Wren’s Nest, Martin Luther King Jr’s birth home, Rhodes Hall (home to the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation), the L.P. Grant Mansion (APC’s headquarters) and SCAD Atlanta’s own Ivy Hall. Also featured are a few in other cities including Decatur’s 716 West, Marietta’s William Root House, and the Old Milton High School and Future Farmers of America log cabin in Alpharetta.

Page calls it “a hyper-local, interactive, digital campaign highlighting historic structures across Atlanta, promoting the hard work that goes into the preservation of these structures.” He said its “digital map” will be advertised around the city and that Compass is paying the tab.

Mitchell said that, aside from the relatively unusual work alongside a real estate company, the effort is a way to connect with other important constituencies. APC frequently works with Georgia State University students on research projects, but this was a new opportunity to introduce SCAD students to the preservation world. And, Mitchell said, the project may show new home buyers coming via Compass some “standards for benchmarks of respect” for the local historic legacy, so they can come in more like “citizens, not conquerors.”

“It’s still real estate. It’s still challenging. It’s still complicated,” Mitchell said, acknowledging that some people might be “leery” of such a promotional partnership. But he also relishes the opportunity to shake up old conceptions and ways of doing things. “I hope it’s highly unusual, unorthodox, and makes everyone nervous,” he said.

Page said he hopes the project will “grow and become as grand as possible, but more importantly, become a part of Atlanta’s legacy.”

“We have the potential and opportunity to keep adding to this,” Mitchell said. “And we will.”

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