The battle over Midtown’s Crum & Forster building wages on and will do so for at least another two weeks.
A hearing before the Atlanta Urban Design Commission concerning the fate of the Landmark building scheduled for Wednesday afternoon has been deferred to June 27.
It will come almost seven weeks after the Georgia Tech Foundation presented to the Urban Design Commission its contention that it was not economically feasible to restore the entire Landmark building located at 771 Spring Street.
Georgia Tech would like to instead remove the rear portion of the building, preserving the façade, in order to build a High Performing Computing Center, a potential 24-story, 680,000 square foot public-private development on the block. Preservationists to date have successfully prevented the demolition, but the battle continues.
In April, the Georgia Tech Foundation applied for a permit that would allow the demolition of approximately two-thirds of the building that is located within the block bordered by Spring Street, Armstead Place, West Peachtree Street and Four Street. At the May 9 Atlanta Urban Design Commission hearing, evidence was submitted related to the application.
The Atlanta Preservation Center (APC) has stated the Georgia Tech Foundation’s argument of unreasonable economic return is unsupported and that the partial demolition of a Landmark property undermines the integrity of the City’s Preservation Ordinance. Several other organizations, including the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Midtown Neighbors' Association, also oppose the demolition.
John Majeroni, executive director of Real Estate Development at Georgia Tech, told the commission in May that Tech has a history of historic preservation, citing recent restrorations to the Academy of Medicine and Old Civil Engineering Building.
But due in part because of the price paid by the Foundation almost five years ago for the Crum & Forster building, renovations would cost Georgia Tech north of $500 a foot, while “buildings like this is in Atlanta sell for 150-175, maybe $200 a foot. We cannot economically renovate this building,” Majeroni said.
But the attorney representing the APC, Robert Zoeckler, contended that Georgia Tech paid a “grossly exaggerated purchase price” for the building in 2007 when it shelled out $11 million. Zoeckler told the commission that county tax records at the time indicate the value of the property was $2.6 million. “We are seeing here a vast discrepancy,’’ said Zoeckler.
On behalf of the Foundation, architect Tom Ventulet, who is working on the project, explained to the commission that design requirements to build the High Performing Computing Center were the reason that only the front third of the building could be preserved.
“We don’t take this lightly,” Majeroni said. “We feel we’re doing the right thing here. We’re not demolishing the building; we’re keeping the most beautiful and prominent part of the building. We’d like to remove the back two-thirds of the building to allow for the economic development and further expansion of Tech Square. Taxes, jobs, people walking on the streets, eating at the stores – that’s what we want.”
Several people spoke on behalf of preserving the Crum & Forster, including Laura DePree, who is the granddaughter of one of the building’s architects.
“Let’s not let this architectural gem get away from us; it would be a loss to our city,’’ said DePree, who also added, “We encourage Georgia Tech to find a development scheme that would incorporate the whole building.”
At the meeting, two of three members of an “Economic Review Panel” were appointed to determine whether it’s economically viable to preserve the building that was designed in 1926 and opened in 1928 for the Crum & Forster Insurance Company. Tom Aderhold, president of Aderhold Properties, was appointed by the Georgia Tech Foundation to the panel. Scott Taylor, president of Carter & Associates, was appointed by the Urban Design Commission.
Later, Aderhold and Taylor appointed John Shlesinger, vice chairman of the commercial real-estate firm, CB Richard Ellis Group, Inc., to be the third member of the panel that is charged with reviewing and making recommendations to the Atlanta Urban Design Commission related to the unreasonable economic return aspect of the application for demolition.
On May 21, APC submitted a package of materials in opposition to the application Type IV Certificate of Appropriateness, Unreasonable Economic Return to the Atlanta Urban Design Commission. Georgia Tech also presented its materials to be considered by the panel.
Once the panel makes a recommendation, the Atlanta Urban Design Commission will choose to either accept or reject the panel’s findings. The panel’s suggestions were to come this week, but now will be presented on the 27th.
The Crum & Forster building was purchased by the Georgia Tech Foundation in December 2007. The Foundation applied for a Special Administrative Permit, a pre-requisite for applying for a demolition permit, with the intent to use the site for surface parking. This was denied by the Office of Planning in July 2008. The Georgia Tech Foundation’s appeal of this decision made it to the Board of Zoning Adjustment and was also denied.
The APC was involved in the effort to establish the building as a locally designated Landmark. The Atlanta Urban Design Commission’s process for this effort was followed and Landmark designation was confirmed by a unanimous vote of the Atlanta City Council on August 17, 2009 and approved by the mayor on August 25, 2009.
The Georgia Tech Foundation sued the City and the Board of Zoning Adjustment challenging the Landmark designation by the City as well as the Board of Zoning Adjustments decision. The case is still pending in Fulton County Superior Court.
The Crum & Forster building was designed and built by New York’s Helmle, Corbett and Harrison in association with Ivey and Crook of Atlanta. Ed Ivey was the founding student of the Georgia Tech College of Architecture.
The three-story structure is built in the Italian Renaissance Revival style. Its most striking architectural feature is a façade with three soaring arches, supported by two columns that accentuate the front entrance.
Built for the Crum & Forster Insurance Company, the site according to the APC is significant in establishing Atlanta as a regional center for insurance firms. Crum & Forster was the first national insurance company to open their own house in Atlanta.
- The Atlanta Preservation Center contributed to this report