Atlanta: Live-Work-Play in store for City Hall East

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 09/22/05

The next big redevelopment project in Atlanta took a huge step forward Wednesday when city officials unveiled plans to vacate City

Hall East and sell the old warehouse to a developer who intends to build a live-work-play community.  This deal has the potential to

change the face of Ponce de Leon Avenue near Midtown.

Ponce once was a seedy strip that has been retooled with new condos and restaurants, although its neon-lit sidewalks still attract

heir share of streetwalkers and hustlers and others down on their luck. City Hall East is to be rebuilt into a complex totaling nearly

1,600 residences, nearly 200,000 feet of retail and 155,000 square feet of office space. Nearly 3,500 parking spaces would serve

residents and visitors.

Today, the building that looms over Ponce seems to be lifeless. Only a fraction of its 2 million square feet is used by two main tenants

the city's Police and Fire departments and those officers complain of shoddy conditions.  The transaction proposed by Mayor

Shirley Franklin's administration calls for City Hall East to be sold for $35 million to Ponce Park, a five-member team headed by Gwinnett

County developer Emory Morsberger.  Atlanta has invested about $22 million in the facility since buying it in 1991 from Sears Roebuck

& Co.  If the Atlanta City Council approves the sale and the terms, construction could begin as early as March at a parking lot across

North Avenue from City Hall East. This phase of the project would open in mid-2008.

The development at the parking lot is designed around a green space that's about 2.5 acres, more than a third of the total site.

Plans call for one eight-story building and two four-story structures to provide about 415 residences and 12,500 square feet of shops.

The second part of the deal is slated to close in June 2008, when the developer would start work on the actual building called City Hall

East.  A parking deck and portions of the building are to be torn down, and the retooled structure will be complete by 2014.

Two painstaking years have passed since Franklin first proposed selling the building. Scores of meetings were held with area residents

to reach a compromise on the redevelopment. And now the council has to be satisfied the city is getting a fair deal.  "It's not at a

hallelujah point yet," said Councilwoman Debi Starnes, who represents the area. "It's such a huge project that people don't want to

make a mistake, and we realize we could because it's so multifaceted. But so far it's going well [and] I think the end product will be a

better project because of the neighborhoods' input."

From the city's perspective, a big sticking point was what to do with the Police and Fire departments, and the 911 call center.

Morsberger proposed moving them to a former bank building he owns in downtown Atlanta, but public safety officials balked at moving

into yet another building that was not designed around their needs.  Franklin's staff proposed moving the police and fire agencies into a

shared headquarters costing a projected $53.6 million. It would be built downtown, near the corner of Pryor and Garnett streets.

The location meets the desire of public safety officials to be near a MARTA rail station, close to the Downtown Connector and within

walking distance of Atlanta City Hall.  The 911 center would be moved to a site that has not been identified. The projected cost is $15

million and the facility could house a joint 911 center the city may create with Fulton County.  It also would be where the public goes

to get police reports and conduct other routine matters.