Panorama of my town

Panorama of my town

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

An Open Letter to Every Elected Official In The State Of Georgia

To YOU, every elected official in the State of Georgia, every Republican and every Democrat, in every city and every county;

YOU are responsible for making this state the Wild West it NEVER was before.

YOU are responsible for every death with a weapon in the hands of every nut case who now feels free to brandish one ANYWHERE, where once they were too ashamed.

YOU are responsible for every child shot and killed.

YOU are responsible for once safe streets and parks, grocery stores and movie theaters now overflowing with hand guns.

YOU make our schools a place of danger, rather than learning.

YOU are responsible for the fearfulness that haunts our minds and the clouds that darken our eyes.

YOU are the name on every bullet that becomes the nail in an innocent's coffin.

YOU are the cause of a mother's agony.

YOU are the destroyer of families.

YOU brought the senseless pain.

YOU are responsible for great suffering.

YOU are our shame.

The blood and tears are on YOUR hands.  The guilt is on YOUR head.

YOU, Mayor, City Councilperson, County Commissioner, State Representative, State Senator, Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, State School Superintendent, Commissioner of Insurance, Commissioner of Agriculture, Commissioner of Labor, are accountable.

NOW what will you do?


In pain,

Sunday, December 21, 2014

60 Days Inside Ponce City Market

Well, I'm sure you are eager to hear how things are progressing inside the world's most watched building.   Reports on redevelopment of this building are coming in from all over the place.  The Wall Street Journal just covered the redevelopment of this iconic structure.   CNN will be here on site on Monday (I'm being interviewed in Loki in a Box for a portion of the report about tenants life inside the building). This old Sears building has become a rock star among the adaptive reuse crowd, foodies and Anthropologie groupies - and its not even open, yet.

Loki and I have now been in our Flat (aka; Loki in a Box) for a little over 60 days and while progress is slow on the Residential side, things are moving right along in the corridors of the business Flats.  I recently got a tour and was very impressed with the progress.

Things from the street may look quiet but it certainly is hopping within our walls. We have about 92 of 259 Flats occupied with about 120 or so people living here. However, this is just a small fraction of who all is inside the building now.

The developer, Jamestown, consolidated its two Atlanta offices and now occupies a big chunk of the 7th floor and has all their Atlanta people working in the building.
Jamestown offices could win awards.
But the most fun for me was looking at all the  photos of the building and mechanical gadgets used as decoration throughout the space.

Slam is ensconced.
Cardlytics is trucking along.
AethenaHealth is happy.
MailChimp will have the largest staff in the building.

All total, by my not so scientific and not yet confirmed headcount, over 1,000 people will be working in commercial offices within the building (mostly on the Ponce de Leon side of the building).  Each of the office spaces I have seen are spacious, bright, hip and trendy - bubbling with the new office design concepts of open space and work cubes (instead of 10x10 office boxes) with collaborative work spaces (no longer called conference rooms) sprinkled throughout. Everyone has chosen to place work cubes in the center of their spaces and leave the windows, with amazing views, accessible to all.  

The morning inflow of cars is constant between 7:30 and 9AM, but employees arrive in all kinds of ways.  Some ride the PCM shuttle that runs to and from the North Ave MARTA station about every 15 minutes.  Others arrive by scooter or bike and I saw someone on a skateboard the other day.  It's awesome.  But, tenants who live here (and pay for parking) are already expressing concerns about the 'shared' parking arrangements in the building.  Watch for the construction of a new parking deck to be built right off North Ave and next to the Beltline near 'the shed'.

Other recent additions include an electric car charging stations at front door rock star parking location.  Walter Brown of Jamestown demonstrating below.

It looks like the rooftop fun spots are well into development.  This happy place on the '10th' floor, with big illuminated bubbles suspended from the ceiling, will be a restaurant with access to the roof.  

Work continues on the entrance to the Beltline but it's way too slow for those of us who have wanted to get out to enjoy this mild winter weather. Seems Jamestown has plans for 'the shed' and it needs to be farther along in repair before we can pass through to access the Beltline.  Right now, its in shambles and could be another 2 months or so before we can pass through.   Hoping the weather stays warm and allows for continuous work days to speed up progress.

When its finished I know the Shed will be a happening place for people walking the Beltline and I sneak down there from time to time to watch its transition.
GOOD NEWS:  The sign on top warning the hobo train riders to duck, will remain.

Binders is open and is a awesome cool and its huge!  You can find it off of North Ave on the left as you enter the parking lot.  I'm told its the happening location for urban street artists to obtain their wares and supplied all the spray paint for the happy child-like mural on the side of Ponce Kroger.

The Food Court preparation is a priority and many of the spaces are already contracted by locally-based food entrepreneurs chomping at the bit to open and feed all of us (and  Looking at early Spring.....sigh.

Here is who is waiting to move in

So in the meantime, residents numbers are growing slowly and we are getting to know each other.  There is already a Bible Study group (I have not  and we are planning a Flats Progressive Party for early next year.  Many of us are just dying to see how the others have turned cold concrete lofts into warm homes.   We chat briefly, but enthusiastically, when we meet in 4th Ward Park with our dogs.  

We all recently attended a tenants holiday party breakfast to get to know each other better and tour the building. Many who live here had never seen the inside of this massive edifice.  They all came back very excited and slightly more tolerant to the constant construction noise and intrusion.  As I talk with my neighbors it does amaze me how many have moved in with very little knowledge of the history of this building.  They are here for its future, not its past, I suppose.

A reminder that some of the building is still a hardhat zone.

So life goes on and work continues here.  Loki seems happy and, of course, that's what really matters.

Behind me, if you count three windows in from the right and four down  you will locate the North Ave window of Loki in a Box.  All the apartments came with window shade and they make a huge difference in the apartments with south facing windows.

More soon.  Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

30 Days Inside Ponce City Market Flats

For about a year I have been writing about my 10 year journey to become the first resident to live in the 'old Sears' building.  Well, it's official, Loki and I are now completely ensconced into our new 655 square foot Flat at Ponce City Market.  Because I wanted to paint my unit before I moved in, I was actually the 3rd person to spend the night under the roof of this building, but close enough.

So here are the answers to all the questions I have been getting from friends and Facebook buddies about life in the first 30 days inside Ponce City Market.

Yes, it is as cool as I had hoped.

Yes, it is small (apartment is now officially renamed 'Loki In A Box').

Yes, the views are heavenly.

The units are for rent and come unfurnished and are painted white, white, white (yuk).  I have some awesome and creative friends (thank you Dolly and Teresa) who made my vision come true, but before I leave I'll have to paint it back to white.

Yes, the management team are wonderful.  On the day I painted, I came into the unit and found, to my complete surprise, several housewarming gifts from the Jamestown (developer) and Greystar (residential leasing) teams including spaghetti and sauce from Whole Foods to make dinner easy on that 1st night (and it did!), and a few branded keepsakes that I treasure.  The bottle of wine in this photo was a special gift from Walter and Annie - thank you, both - who came to welcome me on painting day.

But all that said, this is a work in progress, for sure, and there have been lots of ways that has been proven in the last 30 days.

Moving was everything you come to hate about it, but for me it came with the added stress of the 'making it up as you go alone' factor for all things related to this still-a-work-in-progress building.    What elevator do we use to haul in furniture and boxes?  No freight elevator - seriously, in a building that was a warehouse for 70 years!    Where does the moving truck park? In the parking lot - no loading dock -  uumm...ditto.  Where do I put trash and crushed boxes as I unpack?  Take it yourself down the hall (which are VERY long) to the chutes. What do you mean 'garbage pickup hasn't started yet'?  Too much stuff, where do I put it?  In the not-yet-ready-for-prime-time storage room.  What do you mean you don't know which storage unit is mine?  I just filled one up and put a lock on it!

I got lost twice learning how to get to the 6th floor parking deck to park near my apartment.  Seriously, it is THE most confusing thing I have ever traversed. I think I enter on the 1st floor then go thru 3rd floor then up to 5th floor then around inside the building and up to 6th floor, or something like that.  I still can't figure out how I lost the 2nd and 4th floors.  Its like magic.  Its confusing.  I park outside the building most of the time.

Yes, PCM is convenient to all things important to me (work, friends, shopping) and Loki (he is particularly happy to be walking in the 4th Ward Park every day).  I have all but a few modest boxes unpacked, and have had a few friends come over (2 at a time so we all have a place to sit- LOL).  

Yes, eventually I am going to hold an Open House (which we are going to call an Open Hall, because that is where most people will be standing) but not until the building is a little more 'stable.'

No, the development is NOT complete. In fact, it is VERY not complete.  Its an active construction site/village in the making.  Construction workers stream in around 8am and leave around 5pm, six days a week. Security guards zip around in golf carts and stand at the North Ave entrance looking for a parking passes as cars and trucks come and go.

Binders is open and there is a little early education center in the same building at Dancing Goat. So there is some public activity happening in that corner.

In the 'main' building there are about 50 residents scattered around the building on 6 floors and about 200 AethenaHealth employees on the 8th and 9th floors (I think). Residents know each other by the lack of a uniform or when there is a dog on a leash - we wave, and chat briefly, but have not yet coalesced. I have neighbors on either side of me...combined, their ages don't add up to mine.  Both both are very quiet.

Office tenants come and go in their cars but can't get to our residential parts of the building, so we just see them as they buzz up and down the parking ramps far more expertly then I.

The issues of living in a BRAND spanking new apartment community are what you'd expect  - not all the services had been nailed down as of the 1st of October when residents began to arrive.   Residents finally got keys to their mail boxes 2 weeks ago. Garbage pick up started almost 3 weeks after I moved in. Getting internet access was a nightmare.  The residential internet portal still doesn't work quite right yet, so we just email the leasing office with any issues and a couple of really great guys come take care of things (thanks, Tim!).

Of course, funny shit has happened in this still-figuring-it-out-as-we-go-along building. Someone mislabeled the 'Garbage' and 'Recycling' chutes so we spent the 1st week in October throwing stuff into the wrong reciprocals in the basement before they figured out we residents were not just a bunch of idiots.

No, there is no entrance to the Beltline from the building, yet.  But, I watch that 3rd floor breezeway like a hawk and while there is real progress, I understand it will be a few more months before we get to use it.

No, there are no restaurants inside the building.  I am beside myself with anticipation at the announcements of who is coming, but I understand it will be Spring before we see an occupied Food Court.  If you follow me on Facebook or read the news about PCM, then you have seen some of the names and you know what's coming will be amazing.

In spite of the 'growing pains' and getting lost in the parking deck, and garbage pick up and internet access confusion and constant noise from construction (or perhaps in some ways because of it all) Loki and I are quite content. We like the hustle and bustle. We like to open the window and listen to the trumpet player on the corner at the Masquerade in the evenings.  We like the staff who field endless requests and inquiries of one kind or another with kindness and a pleasant tone.  We like our compact space and are developing a rhythm of life in Loki's Box.

The fact is, when the building is complete and the construction is done and the Food Court is open and the business offices are filled, then the hustle and bustle will only really just begin, as thousands of people will come and go at all hours of the day and night, to live, work, eat, drink and play in this fine old building.  So Loki and I await it all in the relative calm, for now.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Time To Meet The Neighbors at PCM Flats

In the continuing saga to a new life in the Flats at Ponce City Market, the next logical step was to see the status of the new digs.  For three years Jamestown has been working on a massive renovation of the the nearly 100 year old Sears building (and by the way, one of the largest Sears ever built).   For three months the staff in the residential rental office have entertained 100’s of potential residents but, as expected, many had not yet signed a lease.  If you think about, who would sign a lease on something you can’t occupy for months?  I just discovered there has been a delay and I won’t be able to move in until early October.  

To reduce to growing anxiety of those of us who are already signed and chomping at the bit to get in and to reassure the more timid who have not yet agreed to sign, the Jamestown team have started throwing soirees and holding limited building tours and so we could see a completed model.

I have made a point to go to all the events and am beginning to get to know my (soon-to-be) new neighbors.  On the occasion of the first of these events, I pulled into the still in progress parking lot off of Ponce de Leon and carefully stepped onto the plywood boards over muddy sidewalks.   I wondered who I’d meet at this first ‘tenants social.’  Once my eyes adjusted to the dark cavernous space I took my first look at the soon to be the ‘food court’.  Right now it is only a dusty corridor with metal wall studs, dimly lit by the fading sun, however it was a magical space and I tried not to smile too wide and give away my almost childlike giddiness as I looked at the renderings that Jamestown had provided for the less imaginative.     

Paper name tags differentiated ‘us’ tenants from ‘them’ Jamestown staff in metal name tags, and one of ‘them’ quickly handed me a glass of Champagne and cheerfully advised that the tour would start soon.  

I made my way into the apprehensive but eager sea of paper name tags.  It was time to meet the neighbors!  What would they be like – my new neighbors?    After two hours of hiking up dusty stairs in single file, sharing gorgeous roof top views, helping each other traipse through littered corridors and in and out of freight elevators, telling each other our ‘how we got here’ stories, refiling plastic champagne flutes, toasting our new relationships and sampling delicious food from the, soon to be, food court tenants, I was ridiculously happy with the people I had met.    

We had already bonded on this hot, muggy Atlanta evening, we adventures, we pioneers.  We each identified our apartment numbers and locations and tentative move in dates.  We strained to see out of dust covered windows and point in the approximate areas of our apartments in process.  We laughingly agreed that, with such fantastic food in the building, the only purpose for our tiny refrigerators would be to hold leftovers. 

To my delight, the ‘firsters’ were not all 20-somethings just starting their professional life and wanting the ‘hip’ Atlanta intown experience, although I certainly met them.  Many were surprisingly like me.

As we munched on yummy samples offered by food vendors who had already signed on, I met my new neighbors and they were all of Atlanta.   I met young and old(er).  I met white and black.  I met work from home and work OTP.  I met single and married or heading that direction.   I met native and new comers.  I met people living in the homes of family or friends, with everything in storage, waiting – just like me and Loki.  I met retiring and moving to a new phase in life.  I met fresh out of college and starting a new life.    I met adventuresome souls with spirits longing to live in a new way.  I was pleased, but not surprised, to learn that PCM Flats ‘firsters’ would come from an adventurous and hardy stock.  Like me!  It had been an evening of pleasant surprises, but I had one more to go. 

I wasn’t expecting Annie’s tears as she thanked us tenants for coming.  As she tentatively held the microphone and welcomed us on behalf of the Jamestown team, she confessed she had been wondering for three years what we would look like, who we would be and where we would come from.   When she finally saw us standing before her, a sea of happy faces, she was moved to tears.   I could hardly contain my own emotions.    I wasn’t prepared for this.  I wasn’t prepared for the depth of pride and commitment felt by the redevelopment team.   How about that?   The women and men who work day in and out to restore this historic building, breathing its dust, living to see it transformed into a new glory, had been thinking about us, too!  Then it hit me, of course, this team had spent years thinking about us.  Who would be taking the keys to this dream house they were building?  I was confident they had seen what I had seen and like it as much as I.  We were in good hands.    So I had another scoop of gelato.    More firsts for me and Loki as we prepare for our new life inside the PCM Flats.  

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Downsizing for Life

This blog edition, accounting my journey to live in the Flats at Ponce City Market, is dedicated to all my friends and family who helped me with one important and life changing transition - to shed myself of a life time of 'stuff'.   As I write this, I am thinking specifically about a friend, 20 years older than I, who sighed heavily as she cast her eyes around her own beautiful home, filled with 50 years of collected memories and ‘stuff’ and confessed she knows it’s time for her to go on this same journey.  I felt her pain. 

When does someone decide they have reached that time in their life when they are no longer ‘collecting stuff’ and pivot to a life of reduced consumption and less material things?  How does someone take count of a life time of collected holiday. wedding and birthday gifts, chachkas picked up on vacations, boxes of carefully files papers from a club, work, or school, books accumulated over decades of reading, enough kitchen pots and pans to start your own restaurant, and art brought back from all over the world and begin to pare it down for the next stage of life? 

How would I transition my life from a home of over 3,000 square feet with furniture for multiple bedrooms, formal living room and dining room and porches and decks and playroom, to an apartment of barely 655 square feet?  The task seemed daunting and a little scary.  The example of a 'small living space’ offered at my local Ikea made me weak at the knees with dread – I had closets at home bigger than their floor samples!   The idea, however, of cleaning fewer bathrooms, vacuuming less carpet,  mopping smaller floors and dusting less ‘stuff’, was most attractive.  Well, I did it, and I gotta tell you, it was even harder than I thought it would be but far more inspiring than I could have ever dreamed it would be.    

My family had owned this home in Poncey HIghland for over 40 years when we sold it in 2013.

My goal, I told myself two years ago, would be to ‘live a simpler life’, reduce the clutter in my life and stop collecting stuff I can’t take to my grave anyway.    My child was preparing for college and would be leaving the nest soon (I kept telling my much reluctant son).  My home was for sale and there was no way I was going to be able to pack all the stuff accumulated over the decades and currently housed in a 4 bedroom and 2 ½ bath edifice, into the much smaller apartment of my new life.

So, to prepare, I stood in the middle of my living room and closed my eyes and breathed deeply.  I took myself to my ‘perfect living space.’   What would it look like, how much light would be coming through the windows?  What furniture did I absolutely need?  How would I ‘feel’ inside the space? How would it smell?  I was shocked to realize that it was a very well lit, very old, very small place.  I saw myself in a space with a large southern exposure window where light softly flooded into the room and across the floor, and the view would always make me pause and smile.  It felt cozy and comfortable.  It smelled of baked bread, brie and a bottle of freshly opened wine.  But, I did not see a lot of ‘stuff’ around me in the space.

i knew at that moment that what I wanted was a place bustling with activity and noise and people and energy.  I wanted a place that was welcoming and joyous and filled with friends and family.  I wanted to be able to walk to anything I need.  I wanted everyone to know exactly where I live when I described it to them (and feel slightly envious).    I realized I wanted my family home of over 40 year, but on a MUCH smaller scale.  Then I realized, with great joy, that divesting 2/3 of the ‘stuff’ I had accumulated over ½ a century was NOT going to make any difference when it came to giving me what I really wanted.  So I let the shedding begin.

It took two yard sales in less than one year, dozens of trips hauling bags and boxes to the Salvation Army and local Thrift Shop, a large truck filled by Kidney Foundation staff and many, many friends and family who took whatever trinket meant something to each of them.  

As I decided what would go and what would remain I picked up or touched everything in my house, one thing at a time, and felt it in my hands and in my heart and then I asked myself ‘do I want to lug this around for another 50 years?’  I did this repeatedly over the course of a year, until the majority of ‘Yes’s’ became a majority of ‘No’s’ and slowly a weight began to lift, then an energy began to build and the fear of loss and separation began to dissipate.

This entire metamorphosis was made easier by the support of dear friends who listened to me processes over and over again and family members who finally came to get their own 'stuff' that had been accumulating in the family home for decades.  But mostly, it was guided by my mother, who had just gone through this very exercise the year before as she prepared to transition into a senior living facility and a tiny efficiency unit of her own.  I had listened to her as she processed and watched her eyes as she touched each thing in her home that walked her gently back through years and precious memories and then I watched as she let it go.    If she could do it, so could I.  And so I did.

I am now prepared to occupy a space that at one time would have fit inside my living room and dining room.  My son is launched with a few important pieces of furniture and kitchen supplies appropriate for a kid in college.   I have ‘corrected’ my thinking about my ‘stuff’  (well I kept all the art, I confess) and have resisted temptations to start 'recollecting.'  

In preparation for the next phase of my life, I carefully packed each remaining precious thing into boxes, and then shoved it all (the most important remnants of a glorious life so far) into a 10x10 storage unit and happily moved into my (wonderful) friend’s home in Candler Park where Loki and I are awaiting our September occupancy of a tiny, but wondrous, 655 square foot Flat at Ponce City Market, with great expectations.

I have made space in my new home for what really matters;  Living. 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Are Ponce City Market Flats Ready for Prime Time?

Loki and I received our invitation to come into the soon-to-be-opened leasing office of the Flats at PCM a month before the office ‘grand opening’ and so we set our date to talk with a leasing agent for May 15 at 10am.  Our appointment was actually set for an hour BEFORE the doors open because, as I told you before, I was #1 on ‘the list’.  Almost a year earlier I had asked the residential developer to make a ‘waiting list’ so I could be on the top.  I was so obsessed with living in the 'old Sears building' that I felt like the women in the TV commercial banging on the glass doors of some retail store demanding ‘open, open, open.’    

By email, I was thrilled to find our leasing agent at the Flats was the same young woman who had been my leasing agent at the Amli apartment directly across the street, which I had now inhabited for almost a year.  She had taken a position in this new organization because she knew from the press, and the buzz around town, it was going to be the ‘happening’ place.  On the phone she told me she recalled my story (read obsession) from our conversation in early 2013.  She remembered that Amli at Fourth Ward was just a stopover as I waited for PCM to give me a call.  And when I arrived for our appointment at the Flats on May 15, there she was my lovely Carrie, all smiles and hugs and demanding to see Loki (you might recall from earlier blogs that he’s 6 ½ lbs of the cuties dog ever). 

Now, from years of experience, I know nothing goes smoothly when you open any new business.  It can take days, weeks, even months to get the flow rolling in a new office, make the computer programs all work right, insure the staff has learned all the rules, get IT to work out all the technical clinches.  Naturally, that applied to the Flats, as well.    But when your profile is as big as Jamestown and Ponce City Market, when the press reports on the replacement of every brick and window, and when each newly signed commercial tenant make headlines, if you mess up, even a little, its news and it’s big. 

Within days of opening, the Flats had been roundly criticized in the press and on social media for their pricing model and Ponce City Market’s adoring public have been pretty vocal (and rather incredulous) about what appears to be above market pricing for a tiny unit in a development with virtually no typical apartment community amenities (no pool, no gym – but hey, a putt-putt golf course on the roof!) in a building located in Old Fourth Ward (up and coming neighborhood for sure, but it’s no Buckhead).   I too experienced ‘sticker shock’ when I was handed the lease paperwork.  The base price seemed a bit steep but the shock really came with the ‘add-ons’ and they were many.  

First, the base price posted on the web site was not the price for the unit (a legitimate, and oft mentioned, issue).   Of course, there was a pet fee (expected, and Loki is worth it) and pest control fee (still unclear why that was not included in the base price – could I have ‘declined’ that add-on?  Doubtful).  Trash and recycling pick-up fee.  Internet Fee (for limited bandwidth wifi, but you are welcome to get Comcast or some other provider, but they don't know who yet).  On sight storage fee (because, really, who can put a life time of stuff into a 655 sq ft apartment?).  Good news:  the stovetop is gas.  Bad news:  one more utility to turn on (and the leasing office was not sure if that would be covered in the rent or if I was on my own).    To add insult to injury, a parking space in NOT included in the base price.  Yes, I was stunned.  I even baulked out loud to my dear Carrie.  I needed a little time to process the dollar amount printed on the page in front of me. 

What could possibly justify a lease amount for a 655 sq. ft. 1 bedroom/1 bathroom apartment that was almost the same as what I was paying across the street for a 1200 sq. ft.  2/2?, I asked myself, repeatedly!!

But I already knew the answer, even as my brain was reeling and mouth was forming the words. I’ve known from the beginning.  I knew it 10 years ago when I first professed to my friends that one day I’d live in that building.  Loki and I are going to live in history.   Anyone who wants to live in PCM Flats won’t be expecting a pool or a parking space.  They will be expecting an experience unique in Atlanta.  They will live in a Jamestown development.  They will have the Atlanta Beltline at their front door.  Anyone living in PCM Flats will be part of a community that will probably never be duplicated anywhere else, ever, in Atlanta.   It will be in the news, all the time.  There will be life and energy coursing through the building 24/7/365 as people work and live and play in this amazing space. 
As tenants in the Flats, we’ll walk down our own corridors to some of the best food in Atlanta and shop in some of the finest stores.  The experience will go beyond the amazing skyline views and convenience of ‘intown living.’  Tourists will make it a destination stop.  Our friends will visit on the pretense of hanging out with us, but really will just want to see the inside of this amazing, historic building. [Fair warning to my friends, bring a bottle of wine if you want the tour.] 

Further, not all units will be priced at these rather steep market rates.   I know there are 259 units in the building and 20% of the units must be offered at ‘affordable’ pricing because that was a requirement of the neighborhoods and included in the City’s development plan for the project.  These units are reserved for anyone making less than $50k per year.  Many people, who desire to live in the Flat, but would not otherwise have the financial resources, might now qualify and their base rent will be about 20% less than market priced rent.  There will be a diversity of all types of people from all walks of life.
As for paying for a parking space, I had to laugh out-loud when I realized that it was my own damn fault I had to pay this fee.  After all, I was part of the community-appointed team insisting this transit-oriented development, sitting inside the Beltline zoning overlay, not be required to comply with the City’s prerequisite number of parking spaces, specifically in order to draw urban-oriented tenants who would chose to use transit and other alternative forms of transportation.  Sigh.

So, as I looked at my lease again, this time the dollar amount on the page had a new meaning to me.  It hadn't changed, but now it had perspective and symmetry. Right, they are still working out the 'kinks' for this new business, however PCM is in fact delivering on what it promised.  No one ever said that Jamestown would be offering cheap apartment living.  This ATLGal does think Ponce City Market won’t be a home for everyone to live in, but it will be a unique and inspirational place for anyone to enjoy.  So I signed on the many, many, many (wow, the lease was longer than the closing documents on my last house – really Jamestown, what is with that??), many dotted lines and Loki and I are now preparing for our September occupancy date.

Follow Loki and me on our journey to become the first residential tenants in The Flats at Ponce City Market here on my blog and ATLGal in The Patch; Midtown, VaHi and East Atlanta.  

Thursday, May 1, 2014

…and so the journey continues

Since 2004 I have been telling anyone who would listen (and many who wished they did not have to) that one day I’d live in the Sear’s building on Ponce de Leon, when it was renovated.  I wanted to be the first tenant in the building so badly, I insisted the current redevelopment team start a ‘waiting list’ of potential tenants so I could be #1 on the list.   I have been captivated, to almost distraction, with the possibility.    I even reminisced about the building when I wrote my ode to the parking deck, as it was being demolished in There Once Was a Sears Parking Lot

Living four blocks from the building most of my life, it was ubiquitous.    My parents shopped in the basement for my school clothes for most of my childhood.  I loved the catalogue center, particularly at Christmas time.  Later, when the words ‘Sears, Roebuck and Co.’ were covered with the words ‘City Hall’, I enjoyed touring the poured metal art of our family friend and GSU art professor, George Beasley with my father.   Once, I had to file a police report at the Police Precinct (that was an experience for another blog).  Ultimately, I played a small part in the disposition of the building in my role as neighborhood activist. See my previous blog Remembering the Sale of City Hall East for some insight as to how it all began.

So, as development plans progressed and I discovered there would one day be residences inside that building, I got stuck on the idea that I would do that, too.   I have lost count of the number of times I have been inside that building during my life – hundreds, perhaps.  I have toured it with various City staff and developers at least 8 times over the last 10 years (I remember one distinct tour with Walter Brown that was hysterical and I had to promise him never to write about….sorry, Walter).  I have seen the building in virtually every stage one could, since the early 1960’s; retail, City offices and art gallery, meeting space, demolition site, and renovation site. I have been on the roof, in the basement and every floor in between.  I have ridden the big and the small elevators.   For decades I walked along a kudzu lined path on its East side once reserved for urban campers and ridiculous neighborhood kids like me (its now called the Atlanta Beltline).  I have seen crumbling and faded blueprints of multiple ‘stages’ of its previous life.  I have argued with potential redevelopers over design schematics for its possible future life. The building feels as intimate and familiar to me as any relationship I have ever had. 

In early 2013 I sold the family home (where I was raised and then raised my son) after 43 years on Linwood Ave., just off of Ponce de Leon, and moved into an Amli apartment
complex off of North Ave., in Old Fourth Ward, with a perfect view of the Sears building under renovation.  I have spent the last year watching and documenting its progress on Facebook and awaiting the day I’d get a call to come pick out my apartment.

Well, I got that call in April of this year.  So starts a series of blogs that will chronicle my journey, as the nation watches Jamestown bring new life to the largest structure Sears ever built, as Atlantan’s wait with great anticipation for the opening of Ponce City Market food court, as the Beltline designs an ‘off-ramp’ just for the building, my Blog will follow my trials and tribulations, joys and amazements, lessons learned and people well met.  Join Loki (the world’s cutest toy poodle and unofficial mascot of PCM Flats) and me, as we make our new home inside one of Atlanta’s most iconic building.   

I have signed a lease on a tiny (no joke, 655 sq ft) one bedroom/one bath unit on the 6th floor of the 1960’s addition, facing North Ave, with a view of Historic 4th Ward Park and downtown Atlanta.  With a September occupancy date, I can barely breathe in anticipation of the next stage in my relationship with this building.    Follow Loki and me on our adventures as we prepare for, and then become, the first tenants in the Flats at Ponce City Market.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Remembering The Sale of City Hall East - A Ten Year Anniversary

Ten years ago, on January 11, 2004, then Chair of NPU-N, Judy Clements, sent a group of neighborhood leaders an email announcing we had been selected by four NPUs (M, N, E & F) to represent the community immediately surrounding a massive complex on Ponce de Leon for the purpose of developing a list of priorities that we would communicate to potential developers interested in purchasing and re-developing the old Sears Building, at that time called City Hall East.

Then on January 14, the four seated NPU Chairs, David N. Patton (M),  Judy Clements (N), Randal Lautzenheiser (E),  Dianne Olansky (F), penned a joint (and boldly presumptuous) letter to the City advising that  "The four NPU’s have created the City Hall East NPU Committee dedicated to working with prospective developers who will be creating proposals in response to the City’s RFP. Through early collaboration and cooperation, together we can shape proposals that are profitable for the developer, financially acceptable for the seller and that have community support. The Committee is available to meet at your earliest convenience and as often as necessary." 

To our surprise, the City agreed to work with this committee.   It was an historic moment, because as far as anyone could remember, never in the history of the City had a Mayor agreed to work so closely with residents on the disposition of such a substantive piece of City property.

Everyone was flying blind, but we were all excited about the possibilities and anxious about the future of this historic building with its footprint in Old Fourth Ward but its shadow stretching across many more neighborhoods.  Our stated goal was to prepare a document that would act as a unified voice of the community and would be used to inform the City, and potential developers, of our tolerance level and our lines in the sand.  To my knowledge, this also had never been done before.  But these were extraordinary times and the leadership of these NPUs had developed a reputation as level-headed representatives for their communities and respected by City leadership.  I expect that served us well. 

What followed over the next few months was a flurry of emails, mis-communications, loss and regain of trusts, endless meetings with neighbors and City Hall staff.  Old buried bones and cultural fears attempted to derail the process but successes in leadership and shared vision ultimately got us a document we could all stand behind.  

Then, with far more bravado than actual authority, we insisted that document be included in the RFP issued in March, 2004 – and it was.  Every potential developer received our two pages of carefully constructed words in bullet point format filled with our concerns, our years of experience, our hopes and dreams for our communities, our line in the sand.

And then we waited.

On August 4, a few of us were invited to a meeting at City Hall where Mayor Franklin, along with Greg Pridgeon and Dave Edwards, quizzed us…how much is ‘enough’ green space?  Can the City sell the property with enough developable land to make some money for the City while preserving enough open land to satisfy the neighborhoods?  How could the City get the needed  $25mil plus for that property if we demanded so much open land?   More importantly we were asked the stupidest question I have ever been asked by any public official, 'don't you think we have enough parks in Atlanta, already?'  

We knew this ‘financial strain’ conversation was coming - we'd seen the article and had heard about the issue - the City was in financial stress and wanted to include the south parcel in the sale for development.  We had cleverly met 2 days before to prepare.  Doug, Liz, Dianne, Derek, Cedric, and I.  Were we all on the same page?  Could our very different neighborhoods with unique needs stand together and avoid being manipulated into conflict with one another?   A pivotal moment.  The Park was a non-negotiable - we agreed.  There MUST be a park in Old Fourth Ward.  We asked for 6.5 acres.  Everyone was prepared to stand strong for Old Fourth Ward.

The message came through loud and clear to the City; there must be a substantive park, if not there then somewhere near, was our answer.   End of discussion.

And then we waited some more.  More emails.  More meetings. More push and pull from other unexpected places; The Atlanta Beltline, the Sewer Consent decree. 

In the next of what was a series of incredible steps of inclusion by the City, we were advised (by Dave Edwards, I think) that there were three development teams and we’d get the opportunity to meet with each one.  Shock and joy!

Then came the charrettes (intimate conversations with each development team to review their proposed plans and offer suggestions and concerns).  Three in quick succession.  And after, we were asked to provide our #1 pick.  Almost unanimously, we picked the same development team as had the City.  

Now I ask you to stop for a moment and think about this historic moment. 

WE, citizen representatives from our neighborhoods, with limited experience in commercial development, design or zoning  were asked to provide input on the selection of the redevelopment team for one of the most substantive land deals in the City's history.  Our concerted opinions were provided, after careful consideration by all the citizen participants and then meticulously drafted into a response to insure clarity around why we made the selection we did and any continued concerns.  Our opinions were accepted by the City and acted upon - many included in the final development agreement; affordable housing, traffic control, surface parking limits, new streets through the property, and more.  Historic.  Brave.  The right thing to do that does not always get done.

There are a hundred more stories that can (and should) be told by dozens of volunteer neighborhood leaders who participated during that time, to completely illuminate this historic tale, this historic year, this historic transaction.  The ups and downs.  The work, diligence, commitment, string pulling, prayers, fear, tears and joys expressed by all of us.  

I reflect on this now, at the 10 year anniversary simply to remind us of the great good done by everyone involved.   I don’t have to tell you what wondrous and amazing thing has come of this work  (despite the economic drag that slowed it down).  Just look at what will open this fall as Ponce City Market.

I am confident that most of this City's citizens who will soon work and live and visit and shop in Ponce City Market and play around the waters of the 17.5 acre park just across the street, will never know about the hard work and commitment by scores of dedicated Atlanta residents and local business owners in four NPUs, combined with the lucky confluence of the design and development of The Atlanta Beltline and the pain of compliance with a water/sewer consent decree and how it all resulted in the revitalization the Historic Sear Building.  This year, I suspect, many names will be put on many plaques and walls and public records of recognition for having gotten the project 'over the finish line,' but I am remembering the names of those who raised it up off the ground to begin a great journey 10 years ago.