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Yes, the Peters Street bars are closing, but read this first

King Williams
Alphonso 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.

Peters Street row of bars. Here is the home of Tex-Mex Blu Cantina, which is undergoing renovations due to a fire.


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, owner of the buildings on 249-259 Peters St including the corner parking lot. Here in his own craft cocktail bar ‘Parlor’ on Peters St. Photo by King Williams

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.

Alphonso Cross, owner of the buildings on 249-259 Peters St including the corner parking lot. Here in his own craft cocktail bar ‘Parlor’ on Peters St.
Photo by King Williams

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.

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King Williams
King Williams

King Williams is a multimedia documentary film director and author based in Atlanta, Georgia. King’s documentary “The Atlanta Way: A Documentary on Gentrification” will be released this Summer. He is an associate producer on the upcoming Sara Burns (daughter of documentarian Ken Burns)/Dave McMahon’s 2019 documentary – ‘East Lake’ – on the former East Lake Meadows housing project. King can be reached at king@saportareport.com or @iamkingwilliams on Instagram and Twitter. His number is: 470-310-1795.

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9 Comments

  1. Avatar
    OWEN B. Grown April 30, 2019 7:43 am

    King Williams, great interview with a stand up guy, Alphonso Cross. I like the interview-style column format. I do believe it is just Castleberry Hill.Report

    Reply
  2. Avatar
    Alphonzo Cross April 30, 2019 5:03 pm

    First of all, I would like to take the time to thank King Williams for listening to our story. It was a pleasure. Second, I did want to clarify that Blu Cantina has moved to East Atlanta Village and the unit that they once occupied isn’t being renovated for them but is actually being renovated / updated in general. Also, that unit WAS NOT involved in a fire. Just a point of clarification.Report

    Reply
    1. Avatar
      Montrael Harper May 2, 2019 9:13 pm

      Couldn’t agree more with your comments about gentrification. Enough with the complaining and see it as opportunity. We MUST get in the game and start centering the conversation around the solution. It can be done because it was done before. Atlanta’s African American presence and history needs to be taught in a transcending way to bridge that community. I’m with you brother and congratulations on your new endeavors.Report

      Reply
    2. Avatar
      Maurice hubbard May 4, 2019 10:10 am

      Hi Alphonso. Great interview. Hearing about your plans, and understanding your passion, I see an opportunity for us to help each other out. Starting with this: http://www.syncpark.net. We need to get a prototype built, and you need to have a way to maximize the land your family owns. We should talk.Report

      Reply
  3. Avatar
    Ursula Brown May 3, 2019 8:31 am

    I am so excited about the changes to come on Peters St.- most especially that this development will be black owned. However, this article doe not tell the full story. As an African American loft owner that lived across the street from 249-255,et al for 9 years, to characterize the issues as black and white, and gentrification is wrong. Some of those bars changed the quality of life for Castleberry Hill residents in a major way. I know this because I was impacted and tried to work with Alphonso, his sister, the establishments, the city. Things improved somewhat, but I never felt the respect for the neighbors- the loud music, garbage, vent cleaning with the use of loud generators in the middle of the night. Never expected to hear birds chirping 24 hours a day- I knew that I lived in the city. But let’s tell the full story. I wish Castleberry the best! It’s a fantastic community.Report

    Reply
  4. Avatar
    Carrie Salvary May 3, 2019 4:46 pm

    Great interview. Serves as an education for me as to the nuances of life in Castleberry Hills.Report

    Reply
  5. Avatar
    Josh calvin May 5, 2019 7:38 am

    City of Ink and Miya Baileys newest project Peters Street Station are very much part of the Art Stroll, as was Alphonzos spot Studio 249 where parlor is now when they are doing shows. The CraftTrap events at Peters Street Station are probably some of the most highly attended events during the stroll.
    Habanos Lounge, another black owned Peters Street business also shows work by local artists during the stroll.
    The misconception is that Art Stroll is an event thrown by one group that runs it. It’s an event that started in the hood over 20 years ago when all the neighborhood Galleries decided to open their doors on the same night for tours. As the area became the entertainment district that it is that grew to include restaurants, pop-up galleries, and any business who wants to show art. We’ve had lawyers on Peters Street hold shows in their offices and open their doors that night. It’s not regulated or controlled by any one entity.
    Everyone throws their own unique event. It’s simply a way for all the businesses to throw an event and promote on the same night.
    At this point about half of the businesses participating in Art Stroll on a regular basis are Black owned.
    Zucot Gallery is a cornerstone of the Stroll, and along Nelson St. Blu Bisque and Iwi Fresh are both black owned as well and have been holding an Artists Market outside during the warmer months. They are usually joined by a couple of other black owned businesses along that block which also hold events during the stroll as well.
    All this info is collected every month and then promoted through the 2nd Friday Facebook page. The page is open for use by any business in the neighborhood who wants to promote their event during the stroll or any arts related event happening in the hood at anytime.
    Castleberry can be as divided as you want to make it sound. It can also be the biggest melting pot in the city depending on how you spin it.
    More info can be found at the link below. Art Stroll is the second Friday of every month, rain or shine.
    https://www.facebook.com/CastleberryArtStroll/

    Alphonso has worked his ass off to make this neighborhood a better place, sometimes while facing major pushback.
    This project is going to be fantastic for Castleberry.Report

    Reply
  6. Avatar
    Bruce Gallman May 5, 2019 10:07 am

    I would welcome the opportunity to discuss the origin of Castleberry Hill (not hills) with anyone interested.
    Castleberry Hill was placed on the National Register as a historic district in 1985. I know this because I was the sponsor the nomination.
    In 1983 the Castleberry area was mostly made up of vacant warehouses and industrial buildings that were no longer economically viable.
    I developed the first lofts in Castleberry Hill in 1983 in a four building complex which I named Castleberry Square.
    I was involved in the conversion of seven additional historic and/or outdated industrial buildings into loft and mixed use properties.
    I consider Al Cross a friend, but Castleberry Hill was not a black or white area. It was an industrial area that had outlived it’s usefulness.Report

    Reply
  7. Avatar
    Adtian Salvary May 27, 2019 10:04 am

    May God guide and protect. Stand firm black people !Report

    Reply

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