The spirit of many legendary performers continues to course through the auditorium of the Boisfeulliet Jones Atlanta Civic Center like a constant, but comfortable breeze.
The artists who performed here traverse the entire spectrum of entertainers and events. Everyone from Aretha Franklin to Snoop Dogg to the BET Hip Hop Awards, attracting thundering throngs who caused the roof to rattle inside this iconic 4th Ward edifice dedicated to arts and entertainment.
But soon, no more legends will grace the stage of this beloved arts and performance center that straddles the edge of downtown Atlanta.
The prospect of selling the 47-year-old arts and entertainment venue in the Old Fourth Ward has circled around the Atlanta City Hall for years. Mayor Kasim Reed has been trying to free up cash for a $250 million infrastructure bond package, and city officials and others needed to relinquish control of the 16-acre property.
Atlanta City Council voted 10-4 to give Invest Atlanta, the city’s economic development arm, the power to sell the property. Councilman Kwanza Hall sounded optimistic that” a new project could create up to 2,000 jobs in the heart of Old Fourth Ward,” he says. But it’ll take some creative thinking to find the ideal use for the site.
“What else could we do with it? What could be done creatively to position the property to create more jobs?,” Hall said. “We could offer a new retail and restaurant experience, maybe some housing or hotels, and ideally an improved or new events facility. We’d still keep the film and video industries active and maybe expand to include digital and gaming.”
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Invest Atlanta is already fielding offers from developers and is charged with choosing the winning bid. It sounds callous when you consider the many unforgettable memories that were created there, but the bottom line is that the sale of the property will be a quick cash infusion as well as potential tax revenue. Fulton County property records show that the Atlanta Civic Center is worth an estimated $21.9 million.
Hall’s proposal, which lays out an 18-month timeline to complete the deal, will now work its way through Council’s full legislative process. But officials said the property could be sold as early as this summer.
Some people are uncomfortable with how the process proceeded.
Council President Ceasar Mitchell said Thursday the council “came up short” in quickly approving the deal without being 100 percent comfortable with its role in the process. “The council on this particular real estate issue related to the civic center was not interested in being in the loop in a structural way in which it has some say,” he said.
The legislation, however, sparked accusations from some council members that Mayor Kasim Reed has not been as forthcoming as he could be. Mitchell said the council has the power to define certain terms of a deal before it approves legislation. “You can’t point to the administration and say ‘big, bad, mean administration,’ when you have the power to say to the administration, ‘No, this is how the process is going to go,’” he said.
Mitchell said he’s reached out to council finance committee chair Alex Wan to set up a meeting with Reed’s administration and the council on its plans for real estate sales.A
As for the calls to develop a system for handling future land deals, Mitchell says he’ll continue to advocate for the council to be a strong legislative body.
But for now, that wondrous venue which was once the largest stage in the Southeast, and the place where so many residents and visitors enjoyed magical concerts and dream- like theatrical productions will be shuttered and stand as another testament to another era.