Yes, the Peters Street bars are closing, but read this firstAlphonso Cross, owner of the buildings on 249-259 Peters St including the corner parking lot. Photo by King Williams
By King Williams
Late last week, a Facebook post shocked many with the news that the bars and restaurants at 249-259 Peters St. would all be closed by Dec. 31. The post sent people into a frenzy as they shared concerns about the fate of those establishments.
That row of businesses includes: Spin; 255; Off the Hook Barbershop; the craft cocktail bar Parlor; the former home of Boxcar Grocer as well as the Tex-Mex restaurant Blu Cantina.
A selling point of Castleberry Hill for the last 20 years has been the “cool” factor with its connection to artists who have made the area home. This has been noticed by those outside of the arts community and has made Castleberry Hills a flashpoint for gentrification in the city.
That arts scene was crafted in large part by the Black-owned tattoo parlor City of Ink, black-owned Zucot Gallery and its adjoining relationships to the bars and restaurants on Peters Street.
Despite these establishments, media coverage of Castleberry Hill for the most part has focused on the non-Black owned-business establishments, such as No Mas Cantina or the Castleberry Arts Stroll, which doesn’t include City of Ink.
The bars and restaurants at 249-259 Peters St. are part of a rather unique battle of gentrification in Atlanta. That gulf between Black-owned businesses, with a majority Black customer base in contrast with White renters and homeowners, who do not frequent these establishments.
It is part of a larger gentrification movement underway in Southwest and Westside Atlanta. Castleberry Hill straddles downtown and the Westside in the shadow of the $1.5 billion dollar Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Several nearby projects are underway – including the proposed redevelopment of the Gulch into an “entertainment” district, a new Hard Rock hotel residential concept “Castleberry Park,” and Brock Built’s “city living” Castleberry Station, with -entry condos going for $400,000…
So, I spoke with Alphonso Cross, the co-owner of the buildings that house the businesses at 259 Peters St., as well as an adjacent parking lot. Cross owns one of those businesses – Parlor, the only Black-owned cocktail bar in Atlanta.
Alphonso Cross: This world is not going anywhere this year. My sister and I are working really hard to develop this piece of property for the first time. This property is three-quarters of an acre in size, 15,000 square feet of retail space, including the parking space.
We are developing the only Black-owned boutique hotel in Atlanta over the coming years, which will go vertical over one portion of the property with the rest remaining, street level.
Saporta Report: What was the impetus for going with the boutique hotel in the first place?
Alphonso Cross: Our father purchased this property in 1984. He passed away in 2001 and we’ve been owning and operating it ever since. We certainly wanted to hold on to the property and remain culturally purposeful. We think we can have culturally purposeful development.
We are not renewing leases for our current tenants. The only tenant we are renewing is Off the Hook Barbershop, because it is our firm belief that the cornerstone of any Black community is the barbershop.
As we move forward, we certainly want to stay in a storied lane with this community. The concentration of Black-owned land is very high. That goes back to Herman J Russell. What he was able to do with this community was monumental at the time. (We’re) paying homage to him, paying homage to other African Americans prior to that.
Our hotel is named the Cato Hotel, named after the first celebrity bartender Cato Alexander, who was African-American. [Cato] who moved from the Midwest to the East Coast, opened up a saloon (with) a hotel on top.
Saporta Report: How do you feel now, knowing that the narrative has gotten away from you?
Alphonso Cross: I think that people are only fearful. Let’s be real specific, black folks are fearful of development because usually involves our communities that we don’t own the dirt in. We need to understand that this community [Castleberry] is widely Black-owned.
This is one of the largest concentrations of Black-owned land…in the continental United States. I don’t think people really understand the depth of what’s happening in this community because of the thought process that African-Americans don’t own land. It is time for us as landowners to step up and be counted.
Saporta Report: Was this move to get in the hotel space a reactionary move or was this always the plan?
Alphonso Cross: We knew that in order for the building to be sustainable for a longer period of time, the building needed to operate at its best use. We thought about apartments, but apartments require a minimum parking space per unit and that’s really challenging. We thought about maybe single-story commercial, so we ran through different scenarios of doing a hotel.
We talked to Invest Atlanta about the building in 2014. While we didn’t get laughed at, we did get smiled at and was told that wasn’t a good idea. Vision gets you laughed at. Two years the stadium gets built, then two years later, the people at Invest Atlanta said now is a good time.
Saporta Report: What is your relationship to gentrification?
Alphonso Cross: Gentrification [to me] means that one person is helpless to another person. The problem with that process is that Black folks are not helpless. We have to get to the point where were not standing on the railroad tracks waiting to get run over. Do not get me wrong, I am well aware of our past.
We’ve had communities that we built with our hands that were burned to the ground. Atlanta needs to understand that it’s the last major American city to not have its urban core developed. While folks are concerned, this was bound to happen. We need to pay attention to our communities but we have to get in the game, because without that we can’t win.
It is important that we hold on our communities, dig our heels in and understand that we too have a say.
What I say to gentrification is…enough with that conversation…How do we get in the game and see the change we want to see in our communities?
Saporta Report: Is there any misnomer you want to correct?
Alphonso Cross: [Laughs] That we’re selling the building! Or that we don’t live here. My sister and I are here every day. Parlor is open four days a week.
I’m proud that we’ve been a space for incubation. 255, MBar, Boxcar Grocer…we’ve launched products here on our shelves. We’re here every day making sure that these businesses succeed.
As much as people want to complain that these businesses harm the community, which is widely false, if it wasn’t for these businesses here, this place would’ve been a ghost town. They are the true blood and heartbeat of the community.
Saporta Report: You’ve birthed a lot of businesses, relationships and brands here. Do you think that people recognize how much you’ve birthed in Atlanta?
Alphonso Cross: In my opinion, there is not enough support for this community, for these businesses, for my property. People in Atlanta don’t understand. This building, 249-259 [Peters Street], once Buckhead got shutdown, really provided a social space, which became a community space for Black folks in Atlanta.
Don’t get me wrong there are a few places, but I speak for this community.
There has been so much outgrowth from this community that I think it’s taken for granted.