The Bell Building 25 & 27 Auburn Ave, Atlanta, GA

Map showing the site
Sanborn Map showing the location of the Bell Building

Episode 1 Transcript:

Asha: [00:00:00] Hey guys, welcome to the bell building podcast. This, this is the podcast where we talk all about the, um, Southern bell building in Atlanta. It's located on Auburn Avenue in downtown. Um, today we'll be talking about the history of the building. My name is Asha MacDonald.

Kaila: [00:00:18] And my name's Kaila. Andino. So to start off by talking a little bit about the Southern Bell Telephone and Telegraph company, it was founded in 1879.

Um, and in 1898, they decided that they were going to start a new district of the company. And then in 1903, they decided to move the D- the headquarters of the district to Atlanta. So at this time, the telephone company was like expanding rapidly, getting a lot of new customers and the exchange buildings that they had at the time, um, could not keep up with the demand.

So in 1905, they announced that they were going to open up a new exchange. And they decided to purchase the lot at 25 Auburn Avenue for $26,000. And they chose a site because it was very close to the, um, business district in Atlanta. So it was very, very good location for a telephone exchange.

And It was good that they did this because by 1906, um, both the state and of Georgia and the city of Atlanta, um, led in the company for the number of telephone subscribers.

Asha: [00:01:47] So in 1907, the building at 25 Auburn Avenue was built. It was referred to as the Ivy exchange. Um, we're not entirely sure who the architect was.

Um, But it was likely Harry Nelson Tyler, because he had designed a few other buildings for the Southern bell company during this period, um, construction was completed in August and the building was put into service in April. It costs $120,000 and measured 42 feet by 142 feet. Um, the whole thing is designed in a Neo in a neoclassical style.

And it has three stories and a basement, but interestingly enough, it was designed to support up to seven stories. So even though only the first floor, the first four, excuse me, were built. The idea was that, um, the other three would be built as they were needed. So the building was designed for the other three floors, to be able to be built without interfering with the operations of the other four floors.

The building has a steel skeleton protected by hollow terracotta. And the front [00:03:00] of the building has made us sandstone, um, up to the second floor and then red brick with terracotta trimmings above that. So, um, all the walls, except for the public portion of the building have glazed brick and the public portion had tiled flooring, marble wainscotting and decorated ceilings.

So, um, so now I'm just going to break down, like what was on each floor. So the basement was the terminal room, so that's where they kept all of the complex equipment. Then first floor was cashiers and tellers and they had long distance telephone booths. Um, and the operators retiring room, which is like a, what we would consider a break room today.

Um, their locker room, kitchen and operators toilets in the rear of the first floor. And then on the second [00:04:00] floor, there were 9,600 line a and B switchboards and on the third floor, another 9,600 switchboards. So between the second and third floor, they had over 13,000 telephones. The fifth floor was supposed to be devoted entirely to a long distance operating room.

Um, even though it was never built and the sixth floor was supposed to be for the long distance terminal room. So the building also contained the Ivy switchboard, the training school, a branch of the local commercial office and the revenue supervisor's office. Um, And then also throughout its time, the company did a lot to try and boost employee morale.

Um, so they would do things like they established a library in the building and they would throw luncheons and parties for the operators and things like that. Just to keep everybody having a good time, uh, within the company.

Kaila: [00:05:07] Yeah. And an interesting fact about the library was that it was actually established to be an official branch of the, um, the main library at the time, which was like the Carnegie library, which is no longer standing. But, um, it, to me is pretty interesting that, and that they would do things like that to really kind of create this, um, uh, environment that, where they really tried to support the switchboard operators.

So then in 1919, because of course the company was still growing pretty except, um, exponentially Southern bell announced their plans to build an automated exchange in either 1921 or 1922. They hadn't established the, uh, specific timeline at that point, but they wanted to. Um, use some new technology called, uh, panel switching, which would replace the, um, the greeting that everyone was at the time used to hearing from, uh, one of the operators, um, to a dial tone, which is what we're all now familiar with, like as the standard.

So then in 1922, Um, the addition to the building, uh, at 27 Auburn Avenue was built and this exchange was called, uh, the Walnut exchange. So we have a little clearer idea of who the architect was for this building. It was P. Thornton, uh, Mayre or Mayre I'm not sure exactly how to pronounce it. And at the time he.

Um, was the official architect of Southern bell. So he, um, designed quite a few buildings for them and the costs that they estimated was $700,000. So it was quite a step up from what was already there in both size and costs. So. The building itself was built to the East of the Ivy building. And it's shaped like an L to wrap around the rear of the Ivy building.

And this create created a lightwell that is in the center of the combined building. Um, something interesting about the building is to how it was constructed, um, because. While they were, um, while they started construction and they were, um, digging for underpinning foundations at the rear of the Ivy building, they broke through the kind of solid crust as they were trying to, uh, uh, create a foundation for the basement.

And they broke through this crust into a soft mud that they at the time described as the consistency of bread pudding. And this was over 40 feet deep. So there was kind of no way around this. So they had to use a kind of unusual method of kind of laying the foundation. Um, they had to use a, uh, pile driver to put down groups of concrete piles for the foundation, um, that would reach under this, uh, bread pudding like mud.

And so, uh, uh, how they did this was they had these collapsible 30 foot long steel cores that they drove down. Um, they were encased in a sheet metal casing, so they drove them down into the ground and then this, uh, core was removed, leaving just the casing. And then they could fill that casing with concrete to, to create these, uh, these piles.

And over 200 of them were used for the Walnut exchange. But then, because obviously they're connecting this to another building. These piles couldn't be driven underneath the existing Ivy building. So what they had to do was, um, suspend, um, these, uh, cantilever beams or girders from like the piles. They were resting on the piles and piles close as close to the Ivy building as possible.

And, um, They use that to hold up like the back of the Ivy building. So, um, one end of these, um, beams were being held down by the weight of the Walnut building. And then the other end of the S the, the, um, the beams were holding up the back of the Ivy building. So it kind of created this balance beam type of situation. Which is kind of a unique, um, construction method at the time.

Asha: [00:10:19] Wait, can you, can you explain that a little more? I, I just got lost. I'm listening.

Kaila: [00:10:27] So, so they, they had all these piles, um, that they drove down into the ground, but because the Walnut building is kind of wrapping around the Ivy building, they were excavating.

Like right behind the Ivy building. So the back of the Ivy building was kind of no longer being supported because they were kind of buildings. And because the Ivy building kind of was already on its own system and you can't really drive piles underneath an existing building. What they did was they had these, um, these beams that went.

Like kind of across the kind of we're resting on these, the piles that they made for the Walnut building and kind of close as possible to the Ivy building that they could. And it kind of created this balance beam type of situation that, um, supported the Ivy building because one end was being held down by the weight of the Walnut bill and then the other, the other building kind of.

Uh, the Ivy building's kind of like being supported by these beams. So it was kind of this counterbalance type of situation, which I think is pretty creative. Um, that

Asha: [00:11:46] is that's really interesting.

Kaila: [00:11:48] Yeah. So the South, so full of buildings to connect the, um, South and the East facades of the Ivy building, and I had to be removed to make these connections.

And of course, because it was such a, a big construction. Um, and also because they had all these new types of machinery, um, and equipment for the automated, um, for the automated, uh, panel switching, um, the, just an interesting fact that like the electricity, the light and power installation was larger than any other office building in the city at the time.

And because of these things, like the construction costs, um, and the electricity and power installation, um, the cost of thebuilding, which as we, as I mentioned earlier, was estimated around $700,000. It wound up being over $1.5 million

Asha: [00:12:57] and that's in that's in 1922 dollars correct?. Yeah. Yeah. so an insane amount of money. Yeah.

Kaila: [00:13:05] So, you know, obviously they want a little bit over budget, but it was definitely necessary because, um, the company was growing so much at the time and Atlanta was such a center for. Um, communication, but, um, once the buildings were completed and combined, um, the Ivy Walnut building combined had an area of 15,000 square square feet per floor and could accommodate 36,000 subscribers.

So it's definitely a needed upgrade.

Asha: [00:13:40] Yeah, definitely. Um, So 1923 is when machine switching begins at the Walnut exchange. So, um, this is the largest telephone exchange to use machine switching at the time. And it really makes sense a lot of difference within the company. So, um, in 1929, another exchange was built just down the street at 51 Ivy street.

And the exchange was renamed the Jackson exchange just to avoid confusion. Um, so, you know, after this, the exchange wasn't really mentioned much in telephone news sources, um, because it was in use at a scale back capacity. So with all the machine switching. This, these like huge buildings that were just full of, um, switchboard mechanisms became a lot less useful because they didn't need as many people to run it.

So in 1968, the Trust Company of Georgia bought the Ivy Walnut buildings. Um, but Southern bell continued to lease the space and they primarily used it for storage until the eighties.

Kaila: [00:15:05] Um, so, so an interesting fact about that is the Trust Company of Georgia was actually planning on knocking down the Ivy Walnut buildings.

Um, and then we're going to create some, some new structure that involved. I believe the building also next, next door to the Ivy Walnut buildings, but they never wound up doing that. So that's why Southern bell just kind of kept a lease on the space.

Asha: [00:15:33] So, yeah, so Southern bell was using it for storage until the eighties.

Um, and then in 1981, until like the early nineties, um, the building was turned into "The Mug" restaurant and at this time really only the front portions of the building were used. Um, and it was pretty much only the Ivy part of the building. So the Walnut. Was not really used as part of the restaurant nor was, um, a lot of the back areas or the higher floors.

Um, and then sometime in the early days, nineties, the mug closed and was replaced by "El Azteca", a Mexican restaurant. So most of while these restaurants were in business, Most of the building was used as storage by the trust company, which is now SunTrust bank. So it wasn't really being actively used as like people weren't using it is what I mean.

Um, from 1997 to 2006, the building was pretty much just vacant. Um, and then in 2006, SunTrust sold the building to Georgia State University. Um, Georgia State had plans to demolish the building and put a parking lot on the site, um, because it would be cost-prohibitive to, um, sort of renovate and reuse the building.

And with there, the building has roof damage that would cost a lot of money. They. They say they simply don't have the money to fix it. So they were planning on demolishing it, but in 2015, um, the "save the bell" movement was created to stop Georgia State from tearing the building down. Um, now you can access the, save the bell website.

If you'd like to, um, you, you might be listening to this podcast on their website, um, and in. Later episodes, we will be talking about some ways that we can possibly, well, he preserved the bell building and suggesting other adaptive reuse plan or the space. And, and I think it's important to talk about here that, um, this building is a place where a lot of women entered the workforce.

The switchboard operators were primarily women. And this was at a time when it was not common for women to be a part of the workforce,

Kaila: [00:18:26] um, um, with, with the kind of community that. The company created because they knew the value of these operators. They, like we mentioned before, they, um, events like, um, lunches and, um, And various parties and dances from the, um, operators.

And I think, I remember seeing somewhere that they had a, a lunch where all the, the operators invited their mothers. So it was, it was really like, uh, a good place, um, you know, for, for these women to be working and an important place in terms of like, Um, kind of just the history and like the when you think about obviously how many women are in the workforce now, which is, um, obviously a lot more than back then, but you know, you think about places like this, and this is where you kind of started or you know, where women could get jobs and they really kind of formed this community where they were.

Uh, respected or, you know, they,

Asha: [00:19:53] they, they had the opportunity to have a really great job where they were, [00:20:00] you know, welcomed and respected him to the workforce, um, that, you know, in there weren't very many career opportunities for women at the time. Um, and I mean, even today, the. Um, the pandemic women were mo- statistically women lost significantly more jobs than men.

Um, as the job market crashed. And then women who were working from home were still, um, expected to be in charge of the child, rearing in a lot of cases, you know, Um, they were expecting to do their job from home, but then also like school, their kids and feed them. I mean, obviously feed them, you got to feed kids, but

Kaila: [00:20:56] everyone needs to feed their child.

Asha: [00:20:59] If you have kids and you're listening to this podcast, feed them please. Um, but you know, they, they were typically expected to do all of the regular child rearing tasks. Even while working from home and a situation where, you know, normally the kids would be at school. Normally it would, someone else would be in charge of them.

Um, and obviously this isn't true for all couples, but, um, you know, in a lot of cases that. It's still hard today for women to enter the workforce, you know?

Kaila: [00:21:47] And, and also I imagine that like, um, because there were kind of, not a lot of opportunities for women to kind of enter the workforce in this kind of way.

I imagine that, um, you know, compared to some other opportunities, like, um, working as like receptionist or whatever, Um, uh, working as a switchboard operators was kind of, kind of a more unique experience where a bunch of women got to work together. And instead of it being maybe one or two or a few women working in one office, um, as like receptionists or secretaries, um, so, you know,

Asha: [00:22:33] Oh yeah, that's a good point that I've had proved to me when I hit most with them.

Yeah, no, some of it at the time would have been working with just all men probably, or maybe, maybe one or two. Yeah.

Kaila: [00:22:48] And you know, I'm obviously making some kind of generalizations based on what I know, but right. But like, it seems like, you know, obviously. The company tried to support them by like doing the library and doing these lunches.

And, you know, as much as kind of a company, um, can support their employees, but it was also probably pretty important to the, to the women working, um, in these exchanges to have this community of women that they were working with, you know, just. You know, things as simple as having friends you're working with, you know, not to say that women couldn't be friends with the men that they were working with, but, you know, it's, you know, I imagine was kind of a nice comradery, you know, within the switchboard operators.

Asha: [00:23:50] Yeah, absolutely. And I mean, even I feel. We can't like assume that these women were treated like, you know, the best, like I'm sure they weren't treated the way they would have been if they were men working at the switchboard. Right. Um,

Kaila: [00:24:15] I was going to say, or even like, you know, the, the, the newspapers and stuff that, that we, uh, Read a lot of this stuff in might've sugar coated a bit.

Asha: [00:24:29] Yeah, for sure. But like having that community of women who work with you, um, you know, instead of just it being one or two women, um, I imagine that must have helped a lot, you know, even, even if the workplace was. Less than excellent. Um, you know, being able to work with your friends and have other women around you, um, would like, I don't know.

I don't want to say make it easier because you know, historically women are not have not been treated the best and I don't, um, But I don't know. It might make it more, I want to say tolerable either. Kind of. What's the word I'm trying to find? Um,

Kaila: [00:25:35] I'm not sure. I think I get what you're getting at

Asha: [00:25:40] just like having, being in it with other people.

I feel like what help some.

Um, so I guess that is really all we have for this episode. Um, we've gone through all of our notes. Um, so join us for our next episode where we will be talking to Ian Michael Rogers, who is the acting executive director for. Easements Atlanta and a board member of the Atlanta preservation society. Um, he knows a lot about the bell building and also how, um, building preservation works.

And, um, so that's, that's going to be a really interesting episode. He's, he's a real expert, so we're going to chat with him. And then in our third episode, which will be. The last of the series, we're going to be proposing, um, some adaptive or use plans and just talking about different ways that we think, you know, the bell building might be able to be preserved and, you know, hopefully convince Georgia State not to tear it down.

That's the goal. So, um, thank you for listening. Join us next time. Goodbye.

Episode 2 Transcript:

Asha: [00:00:00] Hey guys, welcome to the bell building podcast. This is the podcast where we talk all about the, um, Southern bell building in downtown Atlanta on Auburn Avenue. Um, today we will be having a discussion with Ian Michael Rogers about preserving the building and, um, sort of what he thinks about it. I'm Asha McDonald and I'm Kaila Andino.

All right. Awesome. We'll get started.

Ian Michael: [00:00:34] Um, well thank you. Uh, both. Uh, my name is Ian Michael Rogers. I'm not a native to Atlanta, but I have, uh, come to appreciate and love Atlanta, um, for all of its challenges, but also its many opportunities. Uh, I moved to Atlanta in, gosh, what is it now? 2013. So yeah. And about eight years here.

Uh, I attended the university of Miami for undergrad, um, and then decided to, to pursue a master's in history, thinking that I was going to, uh, Become a professor at the college level, um, in history and decided that academia was not my, um, path in life. Um, so I took some time off and moved to Atlanta and Atlanta really, uh, created, uh, and instilled in me a desire to look at our cities or urban landscapes and see how we can improve better those, um, landscapes for all right.

Um, while also respecting the past and those that have come before us. And so through that, I, uh, first got involved, right? When I moved to Atlanta with the Atlanta Preservation Center right away in 2013 with their advocacy coalition. That was actually my first kind of foray into. Historic preservation at all.

And so I joined the advocacy coalition with the Atlanta Preservation Center in 2013 and, uh, became introduced to historic preservation. And in 2014, I started law school at Georgia state university. And so I did law school at Georgia state and a dual degree program. Uh, so law school at Georgia state and a master of city and regional planning at Georgia tech.

And so now I am an attorney, uh, that focuses on land use real estate zoning, um, and with a particular emphasis, uh, and really a passion on, uh, cultural management of our resources, historic preservation, um, with a focus on how can we balance, uh, thoughtful growth, um, With the preservation of our resources.

And I currently serve as the acting executive director of Easements, Atlanta, and as the vice-president of the board of trustees of the Atlanta Preservation Center. And I can speak more to easements or either one, but that's kind of how I got here to Atlanta.

Kaila: [00:03:09] Yeah, so awesome. The first thing we kind of had to ask is, can you kind of explain to us what easements Atlanta does and kind of what your role there is?

Ian Michael: [00:03:20] Sure. No, definitely. Um, I play a number of roles, um, with easements Atlanta. Um, I'll give a little background of what easements Atlanta is, and then I can speak more specifically to what I do with the organization. So Easments Atlanta Inc is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. We were established in 1984, uh, through a preservation Alliance between, uh, the Atlanta Preservation Center, the Atlanta History Center, and the city of Atlanta, uh, specifically the Atlanta urban design commission and what they recognized was a need to permanently protect historic resources. And saw the opportunity of using preservation easements and the creation of a nonprofit that could assist in those efforts.

And so in 1984, um, easements, Atlanta, it was established by those three organizations. And today easements Atlanta is qualified as a nonprofit to accept a historic preservation, easement donations of certified historic and cultural properties, uh, within Metro Atlanta. And. Uh, to date, we have accepted, um, let me get my number, right.

43 historic properties across the city of Atlanta. Um, and we hold easements on a number of properties throughout the city. Really diverse number of holdings, um, from high rises in downtown, such as the Healey building, um, or the standard building and the Haas Howell building where Georgia state school of music is to, uh, former warehouses, such as studio Plex, Fulton bag and cotton mill to single single-family residential homes, uh, even former schools, uh, the bass lofts, Kirkland lofts those were all former schools that were, uh, turned into residential. So we hold easements on those, um, particular spaces. And what an easement is essentially is it's a voluntary, legal deed agreement. It permanently protects the historic property.

And by doing so it, the owner places specific restrictions on the property that permanently protects it and transfers those restrictions to easements Atlanta, the nonprofit. So essentially the property owner gets to retain ownership of the property and then Easements Atlanta. Um, stewards of the property by holding those restrictions and the restrictions are in perpetuity.

So if the property has ever sold. So for example, if the Healey building has ever sold those protections that, uh, in the easement agreement, Uh, they travel with the land. Uh, so they are, uh, within the title for every subsequent owner. And so that's a really key feature of these in agreement is that it is in perpetuity.

Um, and so I can go into, I have some more I can go into, but that's kind of in a nutshell. What we do as an organization, I will say that the, the three big things that easement Atlanta provides is through our easement agreements. I, um, the first one, as I said, perpetual protection. So all of our easements have to be in perpetuity because they are per national park service standards. Um, we provide preservation stewardship, which I can talk a little bit about. That really goes to what my job description is, but really preservation old building stewardship.

Um, so when we take an easement and we. Uh, agreed to preserve it in perpetuity forever. We also agreed to provide stewardship of these spaces and then the third, uh, factor, um, or opportunity that these easements provide is the potential federal tax deductions. And that's the real key aspects, um, selling point of these easement donations, um, is that the property owner, the easement donor. Is eligible for a potential charitable tax deduction under the internal revenue code that recognizes their contribution to preserving a historic and significant space and they can take advantage of that tax deduction.

And so for some properties that can mean a significant amount of money, but in that money can really help rehabilitate a space that for example, has sat vacant for 20 plus years. Um, and several of our easements have, so that's a lot. Um, and I'm happy to answer anything in particular that I've discussed because we have a number of easements that are in progress right now. Permitting IRS. I'm happy to go into any of those details. Um,

Asha: [00:08:12] just for clarity. Um, the bell building is not under an easement agreement. Okay.

Ian Michael: [00:08:17] Correct. Um, it, the bell building is not under any easement agreement. It also does not have any, uh, local historic designation, uh, or protection. Uh, I'll clarify that for easements Atlanta to receive an easement donation, our baseline um, is that the building or space needs to be listed in the national register of historic places. So for IRS, uh, requirements, it has to be listed in the national register of historic places and that's to take advantage of that, uh, charitable tax deduction. Um, so that's our baseline. Um, and that also helps with the historic documentation on the site and really showcasing and recognizing the significance.


Awesome. Um,

Asha: [00:09:13] we just have kind of a list of questions. Um, um, so what was, what is your experience with the Bell with the Bell Building and how did you learn about it? You said you went to Georgia state, um, I remember you telling us you used to walk by it a lot, but just for anyone listening.

Ian Michael: [00:09:35] Sure. No, definitely. Um, my first introduction to the bell building was, uh, through the Atlanta Preservation Center and their advocacy efforts. It has been listed previously on the Atlanta Preservation Centers list of, uh, significant, uh, endangered spaces. And so that was my first introduction to it. And then I took a class at Georgia state.

Um, called natural resources law. And when you think about natural resources law, you don't necessarily think about historic preservation. You think of minerals, um, maybe some endangered species act, animal, you know, historic resources. How does that tie in? But the professor, uh, really was interested in how do we also bringing in cultural resource management. And so professor Ryan Rowbury at Georgia state university college of law, uh, really had us also look at the national historic preservation act and how that interplay with natural resource law. So for example, if you go into our national parks, there are historic resources that are within these parks that are also, uh, Within the boundaries of natural resources.

And so there's a lot of interplay there. And so he had us looking at, uh, what are the requirements under the national historic preservation act. If you have to do what's called a NEPA review under the national environmental policy act. How does, how do historic resources play into that section 106, if you're doing a transportation project and you have to look at the impact of your transportation project on a historic resources.

So you had us really thinking broadly of how historic resources come into, uh, not only natural resource law, but larger, um, Planning. Um, and so that kind of cultivated an interest in looking at the Bell Building because in one of the classes he goes and just down the street, we have the Bell Building, which is sitting there, um, empty and underused.

And so that really kind of cultivated in me an interest in, okay, I've walked by this. Several times. I know that the Atlanta Preservation Center has advocated for it, but I want to know more. Um, and so that was around 2014, the very next year in 2015, uh, Georgia State did file plans to demolish the building and, uh, the Atlanta Preservation Center and other community groups, um, advocated for the reuse and preservation of that space.

And. Since that time, uh, the building has remained, but there is no, um, specific, uh, reuse plan in effect. Um, so the,

Kaila: [00:12:26] the bell building has kind of sat pretty much vacant for a long time. Since I think, um, Southern bell kind of moves the operations to a different building. And, um, even when. The portions, I guess, of the Bell Building, uh, was used as a restaurant.

You know, most of the building was still pretty much empty. Do you maybe have any like insight as to why it kind of sat empty the whole time?

Ian Michael: [00:12:57] The whole time. No, I don't have specific, um, insight into why the building has sat empty. I know that, um, Jennifer Ball, of central Atlanta progress, um, as stated that there have been, you know, previous occupants, um, it is, you know, I think generally, and not specifically to the bell building, there is a challenge with retrofitting um, updating these historic spaces to modern uses. Um, so how, what do you do with a building that was built for manufacturing? It needs to be used for housing now, or was built for housing and now needs to be used for office space. Um, and so I think that getting to that, uh, conversation point is kind of the first test of preservation is how do you even start the conversation around preservation if you know the space isn't flexible, um, to the, to the needs and uses today. Um, so now I, I'm not sure what the uses were, um, after, um, the Bell company left the space. Um, but I am encouraged by other recent adaptive reuse projects throughout downtown easements. Atlanta holds I'm not going to get the number, right, but I'm gonna try.

I'm going to say between 14 and 17 easements in downtown Atlanta, uh, just down the street, we hold an easement on the Freeman Ford, um, lofts. It was a former car dealership. And now as its name States, it's a loss. It's a really beautiful art deco building. Um, just up the street, the Healey building, uh, formerly offices now uh, condos, uh, the Georgia state, as I said earlier, the Georgia state school of music is in the Hass Howell building. Haas Howell was an insurance company. So the school of music is now a former insurance company. Um, we have other ones that are residences, uh, the GSA, which is a governmental agency, um, which is probably the most, uh, Yeah, it's the general services administration.

They own a building next to the old federal courthouse and in the fairly popper district. And we hold an easement on that. And so there's a number of buildings downtown that have been thoughtfully reused and reactivated. And turned into new uses. Uh, we don't hold an easement on the flat iron building or the Candler building, but both have been repurposed in the last five years.

One into office, flexible office space co-working um, and another from a office into a boutique hotel. So I think the precedent is there. Um, but it does take a lot of creative, um, Imagineering, if that's the right word. I don't know if that's the right word, but you know, to really understand the space and think of what is possible, um, in these, in the historic space.


Asha: [00:16:00] Yeah, that's, that's really interesting. And you know, like we know this building has major roof damage right now, and that, that would all need to be fixed for it to be reused. And that there is like a limited amount, amount of time to be able to do that before the building would have to just be demolished.

Right. Um, I don't know if you would know the answer to this, but do you have an idea as to how much time the building may have, um, before it would need to be demolished? How much time GSU might have to. Change their minds and do something about

Ian Michael: [00:16:36] it. Yeah. I mean, I, I can't say specifically to the Bell Building, but based upon, and this is a good way to talk about what easements Atlanta does with our stewardship.

Um, generally, um, A building, if you have water leakage, water intrusion, that's not good. Um, and if you have issues with your roof, that's even worse. Um, so that can really be detrimental to the foundation and stability. Um, of The building, not to mention the interior, um, and the interior components. Um, so the longer that that is allowed to exacerbate the issues, um, The worst off the building condition is.

And so that is probably of paramount concern. Um, one of the, the roles that, uh, easement Atlanta plays in our Eastland stewardship is we do yearly annual inspections. And so we do an annual inspection of all 43 easement properties, and we. Identify every building condition, uh, issue. And we provide specific guidance to all the property owners, property managers in a written letter that details specifically what the good things are and what items of need.

Everything from water is pooling near, you know, the North. Facade and we recommend extending the gutter and that's a minor fix, but it could have, you know, larger ramifications all the way up to sagging lentils window, um, to window repair, uh, which can be a big project to roof replacements. Um, and so we provide that kind of stewardship guidance, um, and partnership.

And to rehabilitate, uh, historic spaces, um, one being historic tax rates, um, both at the state and federal level. And so if you do a qualified, historic rehabilitation, you can take advantage of tax credits at the federal level. And I th I believe, and don't quote me on this, but I believe there are. 20%. And then 20 or 25% the federal level, and then 20% at the state level, it may be flipped and you can layer those.

So you can take both the federal and the state tax credit. Um, and those are huge. Um, so for example, Ponce city market, um, if you know Ponce city market. Um, and that, and that it's a large project, um, that sat empty large space that sat empty for quite a few years and required significant investment to right.

Restore every single window, every single window had to be restored to national park service standards. Um, but the tax incentives were worth over $40 million. So if you are able to bring in historic tax credits at a level of $40 million for a project of that scope that can really help balance out the financial investment required to rehabilitate one of these spaces.

Um, but. Ponce city market is one large example. We also see some smaller examples. The Atlanta Preservation Center recently, uh, partnered on a project in Virginia Highland. So if you're on Virginia Highland at Highland, and I think it's Amsterdam, um, it's called the V high building. Uh, it's where Paolo's gelato is.

It's a small commercial building, um, circa around, uh, 1920. And it's a historic tax credit project. It's one story. Three shops and it was a historic tax credit project. And the hisI was on a call last week with an HLA and coming up with a strategic plan of how to. Steward these spaces. What are the short term, um, items we were talking about? The gutter fix can be the short term medium term is kind of faking, fixing some of the stucco that's chipping. Um, and the long-term is window repair, a full window repair because that's time intensive and cost intensive.

But having a plan, I think is the biggest, um, uh, point that I would make for old buildings. Old buildings are. Take a lot of care. Um, but if you have a specific plan of action that addresses all of the, uh, necessary and routine maintenance, I think that can go a long ways in the building's longevity.

Asha: [00:19:16] We actually hadn't even considered that. We might. Bring that in as part of our project. Um,

Ian Michael: [00:19:23] and I'm happy to provide a sample letter, um, to both of you, of what one of our sample letters looks like as well as what our inspection checklist looks like. We work with the Georgia state master of heritage preservation program.

So we have a second year graduate student who performs all of the inspections and I'm happy to share a sample letter and the checkoff that she looks at, everything from like rising, damp. To, um, you know, this lintel is sagging too. Um, we have receding mortar on the East facade, um, and all of that information is sent.

Um, so we can really get a building conditions report on an annual basis.

Asha: [00:20:06] No, it'd be awesome. We really appreciate that.

Kaila: [00:20:10] Um, yeah, I think, I think throughout all my research, what, I've, what I'm seeing. Is that kind of the big, the biggest obstacle to, um, Georgia state kind of making a move towards, um, as preservation and adaptive reuse is just kind of the issue of like money.

And it would cost like millions of more dollars to actually repair the building than, um, just kind of demolished it. Um, and I guess like what I'm kind of wondering is, you know, if. Like since that's the biggest issue. Um, do you think that there maybe would be a place where that money could come from or, or like, where do you usually see that? Like, the money comes from towards like donations, um, to preserve buildings like this?

Ian Michael: [00:21:04] Sure. No, that's, that's an excellent point because, um, while the preservation of buildings is something I'm very passionate about, the financials required to preserve these buildings is what ultimately is going to decide what, whether X building is going to be preserved.

Um, is there money available to preserve it? You can have all the passion and the love for these spaces, but if you don't have the backing, um, financially to restore the windows to restore a foundation, um, it's going to be a tough road. Um, so definitely there are numerous, um, incentive programs, um, including easements that can provide these financial incentives. Um, I can't speak specifically to whether Georgia State or another, um, ownership group would be able to take advantage of these, but I will speak generally that here in Georgia and specifically in the city of Atlanta, there are numerous preservation, um, incentives available to, um, owners that are looking at.

toric tax credits allow that project to move forward and really helped finance that smaller project. So it can be used in different scales and different scope.

Um, and. What you can do is you can layer these tax credits so you can take the state tax credit, the federal tax credit, and then on top of it all, you can take an easement. And so after you do the tax credits, you can take an easement on the property. And so you can have three, um, financial incentives. And so many of the easement properties that we hold easements on, did a historic rehabilitation first and got the tax credits.

And then they took an easement with us and receive the charitable tax deduction. So for example, studio Plex, Uh, Piedmont and third condominiums in Midtown, Biltmore house, uh, in Midtown, um, and a number, uh, Fulton bag and cotton mill in cabbage town. All of those properties that we hold easements on were rehabilitated, um, under the historic tax credit program.

And then an easement was taken, uh, with the easement donation, uh, receiving charitable tax deduction. So yeah. You can do a lot of things. Um, and there's actually even a project right now in a Adair park, um, called the schoolhouse lofts, which is doing affordable housing in a former elementary school.

And they are doing historic tax credits, low income tax credits, and they also want to explore it. So there are a lot of. Um, significant financial incentives out there. They are, they can be complex. So you have to be very careful of how you time them, sequence them and apply for them. But if they are done correctly, they can be very, um, significant and impactful for a project.

So does that help, uh, answer a little bit, uh, of what can be out there for preservation?

Kaila: [00:25:58] Yeah, definitely does.

Asha: [00:26:01] Absolutely. Um, And you said that to get an easement, it would have, the building would have to be registered with the, um, national historic building registry. Is that what you said?

Ian Michael: [00:26:15] Yes, and I, I can give you a quick overview of how our donation process works.

Um, first you have to donate to a qualified organization. Uh, easements Atlanta is the principal, uh, organization in Atlanta that you can donate, uh, qualified easements to. Um, the second is that it must ensure a public benefit. This is the IRS regulations. So in order to claim a federal tax deduction, there must be some public.

Uh, visual access to the property. And this is usually gained by having the building on the public right away. And so, um, Where it's challenging if, if it's, if the property or the building is, you know, in a country lane and you can't see it, but in a, uh, highly visible space in a metropolitan, uh, area that is easily, um, uh, accepted, uh, the next part is a qualified appraisal must be done independently.

Um, that looks at the property and how an easement I'm going to get into the real nitty gritty here. How an, an appraisal is done, uh, is it's called the fair market value of the easement at the time of the contribution. And they look at it. It versus the fair market value of the property without the easement.

So they look at basically, what's the value fair market value of the property without the easement. And what's the fair market value of the property with the easement. And they look at what is the highest and best use of the property, um, at that location. So what, what could you do on that property? If it was just a clean slate property, what are what's the available zoning?

And so in a place like downtown or Midtown, what could you build there? 30 40 50 stories that will go into the calculation of what the easement's value will be. And so. When you're talking about some of these high density areas, that is a large calculation that goes into account for the easements value, because essentially easements Atlanta can accept development rights.

And so we can take and accept the donation of all of that airspace above the building as part of the donation. And so essentially when you're donating the easement, you're donating the protections on the facade, but you can also donate the development rights to easements, Atlanta to say nothing's going to be developed above it.

And so that has a monetary value. Think of what's the value of a 30 story building. That's, you know, it's hard to wrap your mind around it, but I'll say that it's over a million dollars. Um, and uh, in Midtown, you know, it's, it can be a very significant, um, number. And so you hire a qualified appraiser. Um, sometimes to the easement organization is completely a separate independent from that, and that should, and that it has to happen.

Um, we cannot have any role in the appraisal whatsoever. Um, And so that's that step. If you do tax credits, um, you have to, uh, kind of be very clear about how you're sequencing the tax credit, um, process. And then essentially you have to have it certified on the national register of historic places. So it needs to be listed in the national register.

And then, um, after that we go through the easement donation process. Um, and really that's a lot of drafting the baseline documentation, photographs, plat surveys, all of that documentation and executing an easement agreement. And I can follow up after this call and provide a specific document that outlines our five step process, but that's essentially it.

Very cool. Thank you.

Asha: [00:30:06] Um, now into maybe the more, uh, fun part of this interview,

Ian Michael: [00:30:12] you, you don't, you don't think the IRS regulations, we can talk about that some more and

Asha: [00:30:20] not that, that wasn't fun. Very fun, but just. Just the, the more, um, I guess abstract part. Sure. Um, so as a former GSU student, um, what do you think might be like useful in this space? What would you like to see in this space?

Ian Michael: [00:30:43] For sure. Um, no, I, um, so yes, so as a GS, as a GSU alarm, so I'll speak as a GSU alum, not in my role as easements Atlanta, um, as a GSU feel, um, you know, I've seen the impact that Georgia state has had for downtown and downtown today, uh, would not be what it is without Georgia state it clear.

Um, That Georgia state has had a profound and positive impact upon downtown and everywhere. You look in downtown, Georgia state has brought new life vitality and positive growth to downtown. Um, I started my first year at Georgia state in the old building. Um, In the urban fellows, um, program down in the urban life urban fellows, urban life building down on, um, what is that?

Uh, Decatur street. And if you've ever been in the urban life building, I, I I've heard rumors that it was formerly a parking deck, so I, I really, um, You, you are the architecture students have, please check it out. It's the urban life building. I've heard that it was a parking deck, um, suffice to say there are very few windows and it was not a place of beautiful study and, um, learning, uh, for the law students.

But in 2015 we opened or the hospital opened a new building and it's right next to the. Uh, Candler hotel. And the Georgia Pacific, it's an all glass building that is across from the Candler building. So you have the reflection of his 1906, Beaux arts beauty, uh, reflecting on this glass building and the law school is this beautiful space.

And so I've seen what, how Georgia State has brought, you know, new, um, growth in life to all these spaces they have taken. Um, Uh, space in the Haas Howell building there in the standard building, the J Mack Robinson school of business, um, is in another historic building. On the other side of the bell building that historic parking garage has been kind of retrofitted in adaptively repurposed.

So. I have been very excited to see how Georgia state continues to grow and be a real partner in downtown success. So what, where do I see, uh, Georgia state? Uh, and what would I would like to see, uh, I'd like to see, you know, that, um, what they've done so far, continuing with the Bell Building. I think the Bell Building is an excellent opportunity to blend the new and the old.

Um, recognizing that you don't have to preserve every building and every space as it was in 1905, 1910, 1920. Right. You don't have to preserve it in that specific era, but recognizing our roots as a city, um, as a state, as a country, um, I think it is important. It does ground us in a, um, sense of who we are.

And especially as you walk on Auburn Avenue and you connect to the other spaces, uh, I think having that tangible connection of those spaces does provide not only, um, residents of the city of Atlanta visitors. But students like myself, a connection with the city we call home and the space there at the Bell Building is one of the last historic spaces or that era that would have been walked that people would have walked by now, we're headed to Sweet Auburn, um, the most important African-American neighborhood of its time. And if you had just down Auburn Avenue, you're going to head to where the Atlanta Life Insurance building is where the Atlanta Daily World building is first black newspaper in Atlanta.

And we're very lucky to have those buildings, um, remain. And those are part of the MLK King landmark district. Um, and so having those tangible connections I think is really important to our city. And so I would be really excited to see how we can build on that legacy in a thoughtful way. Um, recognizing that growth is necessary, especially in a downtown core area, but we've seen, um, how these buildings, not the Bell in particular, but how old buildings can be reused. Um, there is a way, and so I'd, I'd love to see how, uh, different organizations, partners, companies can all come together and reactivate this site. So that in a nutshell would be my goal and vision for this space,

Asha: [00:35:35] even um, just like what sort of reuse, um, Plan do you think would work well in that area? Um,

Ian Michael: [00:35:47] like, no, definitely. Um, so the area on Auburn Avenue there, it, when you walk down Auburn Avenue towards, let's say the Atlanta life insurance building, uh, to Cortland and, uh, street when you get to that part of Auburn Avenue, there's a lot more street facing retail.

There's a lot more pedestrian. Facing, um, environment, but that part of Auburn Avenue from a, is it Peachtree place to Cortland? I, that that segment is not a pedestrian friendly environment. Um, it's mostly now fronted by parking garages. Um, and what was originally. Other buildings have now been replaced by parking garage.

So the Bell Building is kind of the last holdout of our historic, um, development as a city. And there are a number of people that walk that every day, whether they're going to dorms, whether they're going to work, um, from the Marta station. And so that space can help ground. Um, the reactivation of that streetscape as we continue to, uh, create a downtown that is walkable, livable, um, and thriving for all uses biking, pedestrian cars, straight car, you know that, um, so in terms of the specific use there, I think it really.

Throw all the ideas out there. Um, the other building on the other side is you still as a parking garage, but then to my knowledge, it's also creative media center. So. I think that where this kind of space is going to benefit the most is from students like yourself. Um, I think we need your ideas. Um, we've tried with ideas in the past and, you know, we can only do this here and we can only do this year.

It was used for a commercial, so it can never be housing or was used for office. So we can never do housing. I'd love to see what, what can we do here? Um, it's a historic space, but. W, you know, is there opportunity for live work units? Is there opportunity or, um, startups space for young graduates of the university that are starting their own businesses that could have shared coworking space that, you know, maybe they're not ready to lease a full office, but they want to have office space that they can call their own with appeal box.

Um, You know, I really, you know, um, like to see, you know, let's put all the ideas out there. What are the needs, what are the goals of the university or are we looking to build, um, the university's strengths? I think one of the strengths of Georgia state is diversity, um, and not only, um, of who we are, but what we represent.

And so. Uh, you know, I'd like to see, you know, uh, are there student groups that need space? I think that's always something. So I I'd love it to be a community space for the university, not just another classroom. Um, so it's a big, big space. So I think throwing all the ideas out there, I just love to hear all of them.

Um, yeah.

Asha: [00:39:11] All right. Um, we've been having. A little bit of trouble. I'm trying to think of ideas that might be financially worth it to the university. Um, instead of just demolishing the building since that is obviously, um, the cheapest choice at this point. So

Ian Michael: [00:39:35] let me,

Asha: [00:39:35] I don't know. I don't really have a question.

Ian Michael: [00:39:37] I have a thought on that. Um, have you thought of partnerships with a. Developer that would repurpose it. That could take advantage of all those historic tax credits so that it wouldn't be incumbent on the university or other to do the actual project, but a developer that's interested in taking advantage of all those opportunities.

If they knew those opportunities even existed. Um, I, I point to, um, the summer Hill area and what Carter is doing over there, they've repurposed all of the buildings on Georgia Avenue. They're breeding a Publix student housing. Now some of that's on private land, but that's all near the new Georgia state stadium.

So, you know, I think that this kind of project got to think broadly, you know, are there other entities that would want to be involved, um, that are interested in, um, collaborating on this development? So.

Asha: [00:40:49] Well, it's an interesting thought for sure. Oh, sorry. Go ahead. I

Kaila: [00:40:53] was just gonna say, um, uh, Georgia, state's like their current plan that they've been sitting on for a while is to demolish the building and then turn it into a, uh, parking garage, which I think would kind of be a shame because it's one already next to the parking garage, but it's also kind of.

In a great location where it's like very close to, um, multiple Marta stations and it's the streetcar kind of passes right in front of it. And it's right behind Woodruff park. So I think it's like, you know, even when you like, look, I guess past just like the value of the building itself, it's a really good location.

And I'm wondering if maybe there's, um, Kind of a, a better use even if, um, Georgia state does kind of decide to go through with demolishing the building, if there's kind of a better use for the site than just building a parking garage, right?

Ian Michael: [00:41:58] No, um, I, you know, first off I'm definitely an advocate for preservation.

Um, second and I. Have conversations. I'll say that with David Mitchell about parking in downtown, um, there is a study from 2014 that I will try to locate for you. I'm going to write that down right now. Um, that identifies parking in downtown. And that was actually one of the things that I looked at.

Writing it down, um, that I'm going to try to quote these numbers and then they may be a little bit off that 66 or 67% of all parking in downtown is never occupied at any one time. And that like 31% of all land use and downtown is parking. It was something like in that there were 91,000 parking spots in downtown.

It was that we were dedicating an absurd amount of parking or a land to parking and was there a better way, and that's basically what the central enter progress parking study looked at a, was there a better way to manage our land use practices, whether for, from shared parking, uh, emphasizing, uh, carpooling, Marta, um, and just looking at that a little bit more holistically.

So I think that plan is a really good launching point for this conversation of. Not looking at site-specific, but in the broader context of downtown and Atlanta as a whole. And as we think of, uh, of our transportation and, and how we design spaces, are we designing it for this specific site or to your point?

Uh, Kaila like, are we thinking of in the larger context of downtown, we have Peachtree center, like a block away, five points, a nice to walk away. 15 bus routes, bike lanes, streetcar we're in this ecosystem of transit access. Um, and it's one of the highest walk scores in Atlanta as well. And so I think being very site-specific is, is important, but also site context is important and where the site is.

And so, yes, I, I think that, um, Understanding the parking limitations of a site is important, but also the general, uh, parking opportunities. I don't know to say it like that for downtown and I'll provide that study. Cause I think it was really informative and illustrative of kind of how the zoning and land use policies have influenced how.

The design has occurred in downtown or how how development hasn't occurred. Um, that it's more, um, it's more beneficial to keep a property as a surface parking lot. You get more money having a surface parking lot than developing it.

Asha: [00:45:01] All right. So we have one last question on our list. Um, so let's say worst case scenario. Um, GSU decides they don't want to do anything. They just want to leave it until it's until the building is too damaged to preserve at all. Um, is there a way to have the space preserved anyway, like, um, if GSU were to just.

Not continue with an adaptive reuse plan at all. Like, is there a way to, um, make sure they can't tear the building down?

Ian Michael: [00:45:46] So that's a good question. Um, zoning controls, um, are, so it's not a locally designated space. And there is no easement protection on it that says you cannot demolish it. Um, so if it were to be landmarked by the city of Atlanta, there would be some complications because it is a state owned property.

Um, and any time that, uh, the state owns property state does not have to follow cities. Um, and that has to go with, um, uh, Zoning law and that's a whole other topic. Um, but there really, it is, it is a, um, tough conversation because how do you protect a building that, um, does not have any protections right now?

And there isn't a lot of movement right now toward, uh, preserving the space. Um, and so, um, Yes. Um, there was some conversation about, uh, you know, how do you landmark a space such as that? Um, I will defer to, you know, the city, uh, in, if they were to initiate a landmark, uh, um, designation, I think it'd be very interesting to see how that would play out.

Um, but I think it is complicated because you have it as a state. The university owned space. And could they landmark, um, a state owned property? Um, I think the, from the Atlanta Preservation Center, Easements Atlanta perspective, we support preservation, adaptive reuse of the space. Until it's until it's gone, where we're here, ready and willing to support these conversations. Um, building, um, is never too, it's never too late to save a building, um, in any capacity. Um, and we recognize that some buildings may not be able to be preserved to the same extent that others are preserved. And so at the Bell Building or other buildings, generally, if a part of the building has to be lost or, um, Has to be retrofitted in a certain way. Um, that is present ration. There are degrees of preservation and you see that throughout the city. Um, some buildings have more modern, um, updates, whereas, um, I have been restored, um, meticulously to its original condition. Um, but. We're here to support those conversations, um, through and through.

But yeah, it is a difficult question to answer how it could be legally, um, protected. And there isn't a specific answer because of the ownership structure.

Asha: [00:48:47] All right. Well, I think that's everything we have. Um, thank you so much for talking to us.

Ian Michael: [00:48:55] No, wonderful. It's been my pleasure. I, I. No first started my interest back at Georgia State. And so I'm really excited to see, um, both of you interested in this space.

Interestingly is not even the right word. I'm really excited to see your work on this space and see what your contributions are going to be to the preservation of this space and see how new ideas, um, can be brought to this conversation. I think that's what, uh, these spaces need new ideas. Um, To really elevate the conversation toward a positive resolution.

So thank you. Thank you.

Photos of the front facades

Episode 3 Transcript

Kaila: [00:00:00] Hello, welcome back to the Bell Building podcast. Um, I'm Kaila Andino

Asha: [00:00:06] and I'm Asha McDonald.

Kaila: [00:00:09] And, uh, in this episode, we're going to be talking about, um, the possibilities of an adaptive reuse project for the Bell Building. Um, and if that's possible and what that might look like.

Asha: [00:00:24] Awesome. So I guess first we we'll talk sort of about the history of, um, Georgia state acquiring the building and, um, their plans for it, just for context, for anyone listening. Um, so currently Georgia state wants to demolish the building to create another parking lot, which obviously we don't want that to happen. Um, So the project would be bankrolled as part of a grant from the Woodruff foundation.

Um, so that is going towards re-purposing the SunTrust building next door, um, and that replaced the historic equitable building. So the Robert w Woodruff foundation is giving the university $22.8 million. To transform the three-story building that used to serve as the SunTrust bank lobby at the corner of Edgewood Avenue and Park Place into a media production center.

Um, the Woodruff gift will not only pay for this transformation of what they're calling the cube. Um, but also for two other like nearby projects. Um, so the enhancement of the lobby and the facade of the annex building, which houses. Incubator space for companies with university ties and to tear down the building at the other end of the block, um, which the building at the other end of the block is the bell building.

So, um, essentially this project is going to pay to have the bell building demolished. Um, So the Woodruff foundation and agreed to give Georgia state $3.5 million on top of that for the cube, but they held back the money after the university decided against the demolition of the Bell Building, which they did, um, after the save, the bell campaign began in 2015.

Um, so they have halted plans for demolishing the Bell Building for now, which is great. Um, but that is not permanent. I just want to make that clear. They, those are not like permanent plans to keep the Bell Building.

Kaila: [00:02:51] Yeah. So as of the last time, I guess they spoke about it, Georgia State and said they don't want to restore the building because it's cost prohibitive, but they hadn't really elaborated.

They've kind of declined to elaborate on, uh, Kind of what these costs are and why they're prohibitive to them. Um, the estimate for restoring the building is close to $30 million, which as Asha mentioned, the Woodruff foundation gave Georgia state $22.8 million for, um, some other projects, including tearing down the Bell Building.

And this $30 million, uh, uh, price tag. It is more than, um, all of that combined now toward the Georgia state spokeswoman, Andrea Jones in the past has said that renovations could cost anywhere from 18 million to 22 million. So that, you know, it's not exactly sure how much it would cost. So either 30 million or 18 to 22 million, those are both huge numbers.

And obviously, I guess Georgia state does not have it in their budget. Um, now there is some question as to whether or not the building actually can be restored, um, but. Seems to be more of a question of how much someone's willing to pay to restore it instead of if it's structurally possible. Um, so some other kind of roadblocks in how much are kind of adding to the cost of restoration, is that the building probably partially because it has been sitting empty and for so long, most of the building, um, it has a lot of contains a lot of hazardous substances, such as mold growth, pigeon droppings and PCBs, which are a hazardous chemical that were once used as coolant fluids and electronics. Um, and so, you know, these hazardous material cleanups have been estimated to cost around $400,000. So that is also a big kind of price ticket for. Um, kind of why Georgia state might not want to restore it.

Asha: [00:05:28] And it's like a lot of hazardous materials, like, like the lights have, are contained mercury. Um, we're talking like 10,000 square feet of mold growth and like 12,000 cubic feet. Of pigeon droppings. Um, well I guess it's a lot.

Kaila: [00:05:51] Yeah. Yeah. Well, at first I was, when I read that I was kind of shocked by the 12,000 cubic feet of pigeon droppings.

I was kind of like, how does that even happen? But you think the building isn't in great shape, uh, when we went and visited the building, a lot of the windows in the front were kind of broken. So it's entirely possible that pigeons just kind of flew into the building and either just thought, no, one's here we'll, we'll kind of use this as our house and you know, obviously pigeons don't know how to clean up after themselves. Right,

Asha: [00:06:25] right. I'm not blaming the pigeons I get it. Yeah.

Kaila: [00:06:30] So, so these kinds of, um, costs on top of like, Things like at a representative of Historic Atlanta has said that, you know, the building is definitely able to be restored, but the roof is a big problem for the building.

The roof is deteriorating. Um, and you know, there are some leaks and over time, more, more water kind of leaks into the building right now. And so there's a little bit of structural damage. Um, from the building so that, you know, is another kind of reason as to why kind of restoring the building would cost so much.

And why Georgia State thinks that these costs are prohibitive because there's kind of quite a lot of these, um, issues that cost money to fix.

Asha: [00:07:23] Um, and I think we should also point out that this building has been vacant really since. Uh, 1997. So that's, that's a long time. I mean, that's longer than I've been alive.


Kaila: [00:07:40] We're revealing all our secrets now.

Asha: [00:07:42] Yeah. Um,

Kaila: [00:07:45] so, you know, also that kind of brings up just like day-to-day maintenance of the building. Cleaning kind of keeping up with, you know, various electronics or, or, um, building systems just haven't been kept up with past 20 plus years. So, you know, it makes sense that the building would cost some much to restore.

Asha: [00:08:12] Yeah. And, um, if you haven't listened to the previous episode that we did with, um, Ian Michael Rogers, he talks a lot about different ways that, um, we, that the bell building might be able to be restored and, um, ways to get it like historic protection, not perfection. That's the wrong word. Um, so, uh, if you're interested in the end, those options.

He definitely explains them better than I think either of us could. So go listen to that episode if you haven't yet. But, um, then, so moving on in 2015, the commissioner of planning and community development, Tim Keane said that Georgia state's request to demolish the building would likely be declined anyway, which that was in 2015.

If the building gets so. Um, rundown and damaged that it has to be like there was no other option than to demolish it. Um, it probably would be able to get that permit in a few years. Um, that was also in 2015, which was six years ago at this point. Um,

Kaila: [00:09:40] and it was kind of in the, the time when, you know, the whole save the bell kind of campaign.

Asha: [00:09:47] Yes. That was when the same campaign was like at its height.

Kaila: [00:09:52] Um, and of course at that point they had over 2000 signatures on a petition to save the building. That kind of put a lot more attention on the building, um, than there is now. So, and there was a lot of pressure on Georgia State not to knock it down.

But now, now that we're in 2021 at pressure has kind of been lifted. There's not as much attention. So who knows if the, the city would, you know, kind of keep, keep to that kind of word of, um, declining, the requested to demolish the building?

Asha: [00:10:38] Yeah, absolutely. Um, And so the building has had at least one prospective tenant, um, Central Atlanta Progress looked at the space prior to moving out, out of Hurt Plaza.

Um, when it was trying to Decide to relocate its new home elsewhere, um, after GSU his plans for the building as the. CAP vice president of marketing Wilma Sothern recalls, "were not clear". Um, so two other vendors have also expressed interest in the building. Um, one has approached GSU. So I mean, that's, that's a possibility here.

And then the Atlanta chapter of the American Institute of architects. And the Georgia chapter, um, they sent a compelling letter to save the building to GSU saying that like "on behalf of the 2100 members of our organization, we asked you to reconsider the GSU foundation's plans to demolish the Bell Building, um, AIA Atlanta and AIA Georgia are ready to stand with you in the GSU community and exploring options for the preservation of the Bell Building before the decision to demolish this structure is finalized." Um, so th these are like for anyone who might not know, these are major architectural, um, institutions and both the city of Atlanta and the state of Georgia, it is pretty much composed of like all of the architects.

Um, in the city slash state, um, and director Richard Laub of Georgia state's heritage preservation program said he thinks the impending demolition of the bell building is short-sighted unfortunate and a terrible decision. Um, and Georgia state has a really great preservation program at the school, which is ironic, um, because you know, they want to tear this building down.

Um, and other preservationists argue that while the infrastructure is antiquated, the brick building and large windows are well-suited for adaptive reuse, which I think is true. The, I mean, there's a gorgeous lightwell in the middle that, I mean, it would be great for something like an office building or classrooms or anything like that. Um, Laub who I mentioned a minute ago said that the building could be used for offices or classrooms, or even renting out the first floor for commercial tenants.

Um, so in the longterm GSU has plans to build an additional academic facility on the side of the bill building, but that won't happen until the university completes its next master plan. Um, So we might be stuck with more asphalt for the next few years. Uh, we are, we're not sure when they will finish their master plan and when they do, it's possible that the Bell Building won't even be suitable for renovation anymore.

Kaila: [00:14:18] Um, now Georgia State. You know, has done other reuse projects in the past.

Um, some of these include really Piedmont North, which was a motel and they kind of converted it into a dorm building. Um, the, uh, school of music buildings, the Haas Howell building, the Standard building and the Rialto theater, kind of some, uh, Historic buildings that Georgia state bought and kind of are now using as, um, academic facilities.

And then, um, there's like right down the street from the Bell building, there's the, uh, collabtech research labs, which, um, are it's an incubator for like former students, like new companies. Um, Or people kind of closely associated with the school, um, kind of to kind of allow them the space to kind of create new companies.

And this is all built in a, uh, converted 1930s, art deco, uh, parking garage. And it's a really cool project. Um, they've done, um, You know, the thing about Georgia State is that because of their location, they're kind of uniquely suited for buying up historical buildings and kind of converting them into classroom buildings, because there's not a whole lot of like empty space to expand into.

So, you know, the university is kind of done. Uh, what I think is a pretty good job. Oh, kind of buying up buildings. Um, you know, other buildings that you kind of mentioned a couple already, but some other buildings they bought or like one park place, um, 55 per place, 25 park place, a lot of buildings on park place.

Um, the, uh, 75 Piedmont Avenue. Um, they, you know, a lot of their buildings have come, um, bought up to kind of convert into, into classroom buildings or, you know, office buildings for employees. So, you know, it, that just kind of shows that Georgia state, they, they know what they're doing or they, and they've done this in the past that they kind of, um, encountered these adaptive reuse projects.

In the past. So, you know, they have kind of the, um, means and the, the facilities to kind of do these projects. It's just kind of finding maybe what the right project for this space is.

Asha: [00:17:17] And sorry to interrupt you, Kaila. But if you're listening, if you're not listening to this on our website and you want to see photos of all of these places, we've mentioned.

Um, go to our website. We will have them there along with a bunch of other visual aids for all three episodes, if you're interested.

Kaila: [00:17:40] Um, cause some of these, you know, I am a fan of a lot of these kind of historic buildings.

Asha: [00:17:47] Oh yeah, absolutely. Um,

Kaila: [00:17:50] I think they're worth checking

Asha: [00:17:51] some of them are very cool. Yeah.

Kaila: [00:17:53] So I think that there's kind of like two sides of this coin, you know, there's the side of like the bell building is kind of such an important building, is it, um, it means a lot in, in like the history of Atlanta and like how it, how it grew and, and, um, kind of Atlanta is this communication hub and, um, You know, with the telephone building. And so the building means a lot, and it's kind of at least on the block that it's on kind of the last of like these, the buildings of its era.

Um, so, you know, in terms of, history, I think it's an important building to preserve, but you know, we have to keep in mind that the building. Even before Georgia state had it has been kind of sitting empty and not in the best of shape and you know, if they want to use their money wisely and like, and they've decided that,

Asha: [00:19:12] I mean, I could understand why they might want to knock it down. If they, you know, didn't have the money or a good use that they could put it to. Um, which I think is a good segue into our idea for what they should use it for. Um, so GSU use current master plan or their most recent master plan, I guess. Says that they want to increase the number of student life buildings or student facilities on campus.

So Kaila and I were thinking, well, why not make this building sort of like a library annex? You know, it's already owned by Georgia state. They obviously students want a place to study that this building has those great. Um, that great lightwell and big windows and high ceilings. Um, that one, I guess,

Kaila: [00:20:16] who doesn't want to study in a cool old historic building that

Asha: [00:20:20] I know, right.

But you know, they could even rent out some of the space on the first floor for maybe not a coffee shop. There's a coffee shop right across the street, but, um,

Kaila: [00:20:33] there's a coffee shop, on every block,

Asha: [00:20:36] Right? You're not too far from a coffee shop anywhere in Atlanta, but, um, you know, maybe have like a little cafe or something.

And, um, printers study rooms dedicated one of the floors as like a quiet study space. Um, because this, this building has a lot of space for students. Um, And, you know, printers would probably be good. Kaila was telling me that, um, when she went to Georgia state, she, they, they didn't have -you tell it.

Printers were kind of always an issue there. I went there for, for a year, um, and this was only a few years ago, so I doubt like that much has changed, but, um, uh, the, the issue with that. There's really only one place you could print on campus unless you were part of like the honors college and had access to the honors building that had printers in it.

But if you wanted to print, you had to go to the library. And there was like one station that had about like four computers hooked up to like. Two or so printers. And that was kind of like, where were you printed or where everyone printed. So like, you know, busy, busy times, you know, there, um, there would always be like a line for printing, which, you know, seems kind of like a, um, insignificant thing, but, um, It's a big deal when you have you have to print something for class. Cause we always have those professors that are like, you must turn in your paper, print it out, you can't submit it online or email it, you know? So that was always an issue. So, you know, things like printers and stuff like that. Um,

which, um, yeah. Absolutely. Yeah. I think every college campus needs more printers.

Kaila: [00:22:38] Yeah. Yeah. Always printers are always in high demand. Um, and then, you know, that the idea of like, uh, a cafe, um, I was thinking it was also a very good idea because, um, also from my experience, I don't want to like, be like, uh, relying on my personal experience too much, but yeah. Um, I remember that, um, kind of like on campus kind of dining was mostly located on kind of the other side of campus, kind of where more, where like the, uh, the freshmen dorms are.

And then, um, you know, there was a kind of dining, you know, places in the student center, but like on this side of the campus, um, There's really not. Um, there's not really any like on campus dining places, so students kind of resort to eating at you know, one of the many restaurants that are, um, nearby, which is not a bad thing, but a lot of students who are like, kind of on the freshmen, um, dining plan, it's kind of like you're already paying for the, um, for the for the dining halls. So, you know, maybe there's a possibility that there could be a small little cafe that students could use, like their dining , uh they're they're dining plan for. Um, and also when I think about it, the, um, I sorry, I just spaced out for a second. Sorry, where it happens. This building did used to have like, kind of a lunchroom area so, you know, I think that would be like a perfect place for a little cafe.

Asha: [00:24:35] And I mean, I don't, we don't know for sure. We haven't been able to go inside the building, but there were two restaurants, um, that have rented out those sort of. Front area of the building. So I'm sure they have the infrastructure to be able to support some sort of restaurant and that could even offset the cost of renovation a little bit, but, um,

Kaila: [00:25:05] yeah,

Asha: [00:25:06] just sort of recruit some of that money

Kaila: [00:25:10] if it wasn't like a, uh, um, kind of school dining place they any sort of like cafe or anything that, um, that they could rent the space out to would definitely help mitigate the, the high cost of, um, restoration course, you know, rent would, you know, rent in that area pretty high. So I'm sure absolutely could make at least a dent. And

Asha: [00:25:44] then, so go ahead.


Kaila: [00:25:47] Um, like we mentioned earlier, like, um, we did say like Georgia state has tentative plans in the future to build an academic facility on the site of the Bell Building. So, you know, they have plans in the future for a building. I'm sure they envision a much taller building there, but, um, Why not kind of kickstart that and kind of skip the step of knocking down the building and, um, kind of start the plan of doing sort of a, uh, student center slash cafe on this site.

Asha: [00:26:27] Yeah. And the original Bell Building is, um, designed to support seven stories. Um, So, I mean, that might even be an option, um, to, you know, keep what's there now and just kind of expand on top of it if they were, if they wanted to include classroom space.

Um, you know, so you've got like study space and printers and maybe a cafe on the first floor. The basement is used for storage primarily in this scenario. Um, and then on the second floor, maybe you have like more the study space, then third for maybe a quiet study space. And then above that have classrooms, or, I mean, I guess, I guess Georgia state wanted to, they could put it in whatever order they wanted.

And, um, but I think, I think that's, um, a concept that makes sense. To me. Um, like there are a lot of things that Georgia state could do to reuse this building. Um, and even if they didn't want to, they could sell the building to a developer that like would want to reuse the building and, um, refurbish it. Um, because, I mean, obviously it's, we're talking about an extremely expensive project.

I mean, just restoring the building, like we said, would probably cost like 30 yeah. $30 million, which is an insane amount of money. Um, so I mean, selling the building to someone who already wants to do that is a great option.

Kaila: [00:28:34] There, there is definitely, probably at least, you know, a few, um, parties that would be interested in availability.

Um, and also, you know, I'm not sure if the number of how much towards the state, like the building for, but I. Can assume that it's probably like, at least the land that the building is on is probably worth more than what they bought it for. So potentially they could get some money from that

Asha: [00:29:16] especially in downtown.

I mean, like that land, there has gotta be worth a lot of money. Um, so if we also wanted to talk about some other sort of reuse projects that are near the bell building, because there are several.

Kaila if you want to-

Kaila: [00:29:45] Yeah. So, um,

The first building that kind of, we came across was the Olympia building, which is just down the street. I mean, most of these buildings are kind of just down the street, but it's, it's just down the street from the Bell Building. And it, I, I think was kind of a S made in like a similar era kind of twenties, maybe thirties.

I'm not exactly sure on the history of this building. But, you know, it was kind of in, in a situation where it wasn't being used . And then, um, different, you know, different, uh, parties. I kind of looked into, you know, buying and restoring the building, but ultimately Walgreens, um, kind of stepped in which they've done this in many other cities, from my understanding, they kind of stepped in and they, you know, had the budget because you're a large corporation coming in and, um, Uh, restore this building.

And it's a very important building, I think, for the area, because, you know, downtown Atlanta is kind of sitting in a food desert. So like the Walgreens kind of plays a part. Um, you can't get like a lot of you can't really get fresh food there, but you know, like the first build or the first floor of the building, definitely they sell food.

Um, you know, and then like a lot of, you know, regular like Walgreens stuff, like, you know, greeting cards, stuff like that. And then up on the second floor is where you have like, kind of your beauty section in your pharmacy, things like that. Um, so you know that to me kind of shows hopefully a trend of, um, Kind of these adaptive reuse projects, another building kind of close by as the flatiron building, which, um, was, uh, went through a $12 million renovation.

And now it's like at technology hub, um, another building, um, or another few buildings or like the Atlanta Daily World building the Candler building. The Ellis Hotel. So there are many buildings, um, in Atlanta and they're more than even that, that are starting to kind of, uh, adopt these adaptive, reuse and historic, uh, retrofit type of projects.

Um, then I think Atlanta kind of needs to, to be, um, doing so. Yeah, absolutely. We would like to see the Bell Building kind of, um, you know, join those ranks of, you know, beautiful old historic buildings that are restored and still being used. Now, while you

Asha: [00:32:53] were talking, I was thinking about how cool it would be if that building got turned into like a Publix or something.

Like how, how fun would it be to go grocery shopping and. In a building though, like from the twenties? Yeah.

Kaila: [00:33:11] Um, that'd be pretty cool.

Asha: [00:33:14] Anyway. I mean, I don't think, I think if Georgia state wants to keep the building. They should use our idea, but if they want to sell it, they should sell it to Publix. If, if Publix wants it.

Kaila: [00:33:26] I mean, yeah,

Asha: [00:33:27] because so far mine would, I would drive over there.

Kaila: [00:33:33] Yeah. A grocery store in general would be much needed for the city, whether it's right for the site.

Asha: [00:33:40] Yes absolutely.

Kaila: [00:33:42] Okay. But you know, like I said, um, there, there are a lot of buildings, you know,the ones that Georgia State has already bought is using as classrooms and offices. and housing buildings quite a few buildings that are just not

not owned by Georgia State but really good projects that, um, kind of show an example.

Um,of what the bell building could be.

Definitely a lot of, a lot of potential for the bell building and we definitely don't want it to be knocked down.

Asha: [00:34:30] Yeah. Yeah. If you, if you didn't take anything else from this podcast, um, you should take away that we think the bell building needs to stay. Yeah.

Kaila: [00:34:43] I've spent countless hours looking at pictures and, uh, Uh, reading about the bell building.

Asha: [00:34:51] Yeah absolutely

Kaila: [00:34:53] you know, and would become a little bit, you know, important to me. I was, you know, aware of the building when I went to Georgia state. Um, um, and I, I looked it up and I was kind of aware of the save the bell kind of thing. Um, but you know, now I, I really feel like. Uh, I kind of understand, and hopefully everyone listening also understands kind of the importance of this building and why it should, should stay.

Asha: [00:35:33] Absolutely well. Um, so that brings us to the end of our last episode of the series. Um, if you haven't yet go listen to the other episodes, we talk about sort of the history of the building and also some possible ways to preserve it. And

Kaila: [00:35:53] so, yeah. Thank you. Check out, check out our website. We have, um, pictures of kind of outside of the building inside of the building then and now definitely checking it out.

Asha: [00:36:09] Some drawings of the facade. Um, so yeah. Thank you for listening. Yeah. Just thank you for listening, I guess.

Kaila: [00:36:19] Thank you for listening.

Adaptive reuse projects GSU has already completed
Other adaptive reuse projects in Atlanta