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City did not err in issuing demolition permit for historic building in King district, but preservationists still hope it can be saved

By Maria Saporta

The Atlanta preservation community was put on high alert this week through social media.

The City of Atlanta had issued a demolition permit for an historic building in the Martin Luther King Jr. Landmark district , and it did not appear that the permit had been issued by going through the proper channels, according to Kyle Kessler at Atlanta Preservation Professionals.

But Anne Torres, a spokeswoman for the city, said the demolition permit was approved by the staff of the Atlanta Urban Design Commission, which is responsible for reviewing applications to tear down historic buildings.

The staff approved the demolition permit in June after an inspection and written findings by Anthony Carter, assistant director of the Office of Buildings, in November 2013.

Carter identified “immediate hazardous conditions to the neighboring properties and the general public.” Torres said Carter declared the structure to be “unsafe” and ordered that it be “demolished.”

City has given demolition permit for historic building in the owned by the Atlanta Housing Authority in the King Landmark District (Photo: Terry Kearns)

City has given demolition permit for historic building owned by the Atlanta Housing Authority in the King Landmark District (Photo: Terry Kearns)

The building is at 20 Hilliard St. SE, and it is owned by the Atlanta Housing Authority. The preservation community, however, thought a demolition permit had been issued in error without a case being made to the full Urban Design Commission as to why it needed to be torn down.

Terry Kearns, a preservationist and photographer, posted the alert from Kessler on his facebook page, urging all concerned parties to call or write someone at City Hall to put pressure on getting the demolition permit withdrawn.

“The City has been notified of their error in hopes they’ll issue a stop work order,” Kessler wrote in his original alert. “Please make a phone call or send an email to any relevant contacts you have so this mistake doesn’t get swept under the rug! So far they’ve only removed a portion of the roof and some of the interior so it’s not too late to salvage this building.”

When it began hearing from the preservationists upset that the building was going to be torn down, the city quickly tried to correct the “misinformation” that was being spread.

But the preservation community still was concerned that the city had not tried hard enough to save the historic building.

Even though Carter issued his findings in November, the Atlanta Housing Authority waited seven months to apply for a demolition permit, which was signed off on by Urban Design Commission.

“The “immediate hazardous conditions” were reported in November 2013 but a demolition application wasn’t applied for until June 2014,” Kessler wrote in an email following an update from the city. “I don’t see why the City couldn’t have waited a little longer and gone through the normal Certificate of Appropriateness process.”

It is ironic that as the city is about to launch the Atlanta Streetcar to help revitalize the historic King district — to highlight the corridor’s significance in the history of Atlanta and the South — that the very same government would allow further deterioration and erosion of that historic district by issuing a demolition permit for one of the contributing buildings.

And it’s also sad that another public entity — the Atlanta Housing Authority — did not see the value in doing what it could to preserve this piece of the city’s history.

In the seven months between Carter’s letter and the application of the demolition permit, the Atlanta Housing Authority could have been working with any number of preservation leaders and developers to see if there were any opportunities to save the building.

Perhaps either the city or AHA (or both) would be willing to give the preservation community a window of time so it can try to come up with a solution to save the building before it is gone for good.

Maria Saporta

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.



  1. Carl Holt August 20, 2014 4:36 pm

    What are they building there and is someone else willing to buy it now?Report

  2. Kyle Kessler August 20, 2014 4:38 pm

    Thanks for providing the update.Report

  3. SaportaReport August 20, 2014 5:07 pm

    Good questions Carl Holt. We are keeping our ear to the ground on this oneReport

  4. Matthew Jones August 20, 2014 5:44 pm

    Looks to me to be in imminent safety of continuing to stand. And if it’s been about to fall down for months, why have I been able to park within a few feet of it after that wad known?
    Seems several errors to me.Report

  5. Paul Winston August 21, 2014 8:17 am

    Anyone have an idea what this building was used for and when it was constructed?Report

  6. Kyle Kessler August 21, 2014 11:27 am

    The Atlanta Housing Authority is demolishing the existing building. As far as I know there have been no plans presented for the construction of any new buildings. Yes, there are people who are interested in purchasing the property.Report

  7. SaportaReport August 24, 2014 8:51 pm

    UPDATE: Maria shares the latest on this building & the movement to save the property https://saportareport.com/blog/2014/08/its-time-for-atlanta-to-demand-design-excellence-lets-save-20-hilliard-st/Report


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