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MNA: Do Not Demolish Crum and Forster Building

The Midtown Neighbors' Association respectfully recommends the AUDC reject The Georgia Tech Foundation’s application to demolish two-thirds of designated Landmark structure in Midtown.

The following position paper from the Midtown Neighbors Association's Land Use Committee is a formal response to the filing of the Georgia Tech Foundation to demolish two-thirds of the Landmark Status Crum and Forster Building. This Application will be heard at the AUDC on May 9, 2012. The applicant was not required to present to the Land Use Committee of the for recommendation.

Applicant seeks a Certificate of Appropriateness Type IV Unreasonable Economic Return for the purpose of acquiring a demolition permit that will allow the demolition of the rear 2/3’s of the historic structure for the purposes of an expansion of its Technology Square project.

The MNA Opposes the Certificate of Application

INTRODUCTION/ HISTORY

The Midtown Neighbor’s Association finds the Georgia Tech Foundation’s recent application for a Certificate of Appropriateness on 771 Spring St. a.k.a. the Crum and Forster Building upsetting on many levels particularly given the history of the applicant relevant to this property. In May of 2008 the Georgia Tech Foundation applied for a demolition permit on the Crum and Forster building that prompted: a major public outcry to protect the historic structure one that included an online petition containing over 3000 signatures in opposition to the application, a public rejection of the application by the Faculty and Alumni of the Architecture Program at Georgia Tech, and recommended votes to oppose by both the Development Review Committee for SPI-16 and the Midtown Neighbors Association. That public opposition prompted a reactivation of a previous filing for Landmark status of the Crum and Forster that resulted in its designation as an historic landmark three months later on August 25, 2008.

In the 2008 recommendations both the DRC and the MNA noted that Historic preservation was at the heart of the SPI-16 zoning (sec 16-18P.002) that includes as part of its statement of intent to “preserve and protect the city’s historic buildings and sites.” At the time, both bodies remarked on the buildings significance, not just in terms of the structure itself, which is one of Atlanta’s last remaining Italian Renaissance-inspired structures, but also its history: Georgia Tech’s Architecture program was actually established in part by the building’s architect, Edward Ivey of Ivey and Crook. Their respective recommendations sighted the historic and cultural value of the Crum and Forster building as follows:

1. The Crum and Forster Building while not currently on the historic register was in fact at one time designated eligible but its designation was turned down by a previous owner.

2. Original Blueprint midtown/Midtown Alliance survey teams in partnership with Georgia Tech College of Architecture, the Atlanta Preservation Center, the Georgia Trust for Historic

Preservation and the City of Atlanta Urban Design Commission surveyed the Buildings in Midtown. The net results of that survey in 1999 identified the Crum and Foster Building as one of 15 buildings recommended for local designation as a Landmark building.

3. The Crum and Forster Building has the support of both the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation and the Atlanta Preservation Center.

4. The 1926 Crum and Foster Building is significant both for its Italian renaissance-inspired architecture and for its contribution to Atlanta’s stature as a regional headquarters town and corporate address of choice.

5. Development of the Crum and foster Building marks an excellent example of an Atlanta design firm partnered with a noted world-class firm. The unique partnership of Helme, Corbett & Harrison, Architects, NYC and Ivey and Crook, Architects, Atlanta. This is also part of an on-going legacy of architectural partnership between local and world-class out-of-town firms that continues today.

6. Not only were the architects of the Crum and Foster Building, architects Ivey and Crook, graduates of Georgia Tech’s College of Architecture, but Ivey actually helped to establish the school as a student by writing a petition to the university president to start the architecture program 100 years ago this year.

7. The Crum and Foster Building’s history and architectural significance have been documented in significant publications: Atlanta Urban Design Commission’s Atlanta Historic Resources Workbook (1981), Atlanta’s Lasting Landmarks, (1987), Lewis Edmond Crook, Jr. “A Twentiethcentury raditionalist in the Deep South” (1984) and The American Institute of Architects Guide to Atlanta (1992).

8. The Crum and Foster Building was integrated into the early strategic planning of Georgia Tech’s award winning Technology Square development. Architects, TVS & Associates incorporated references to this building and the adjacent Biltmore when making material choices and height/scale decisions.

9. By its very presence, the Crum and Foster Building reminds us of a time in our city’s history when architectural design, human scale, and relationship to the street were important to promoting institutional excellence.

LANDMARK STATUS

The MNA maintains that the historic and cultural value of the Crum and Forster building has not in any way diminished since the time of its designation as a Landmark in August of 2008. The MNA would like to note that the designation of Landmark status conferred on the Crum and Forster building in 2008 by the AUDC identified it as a building “of exceptional importance to the city, state or nation and whose demolition would represent an irreparable loss to the city.” Furthermore, such designation meant that the Crum and Forster building met the criteria for Architectural significance set forth in the Ordinance (Sec 16-20.004- Categories of Protection) including:

(1) A building or site which is an exceptionally fine example of a style or period of construction that is typical of the City of Atlanta.

(2) A building or site whose design possesses exceptionally high artistic values.

(3) A building or site which has an exceptionally high degree of integrity.

(4) A building or site which has virtually all character-defining elements intact.

(5) A building or site whose original site orientation is maintained.

The MNA views the designation of the Crum and Forster building to have been consistent with the Purpose (Sec. 6-4041a) of the City’s Historic Preservation Ordinance that calls for the standing of the city to “be maintained and enhanced by preserving the historical and architectural heritage of the city and by preventing the destruction of such cultural assets” through the “timely exercise of judgment in the public interest”.

PURPOSE AND PUBLIC POLICY OBJECTIVES OF THE ORDINANCE

The MNA notes the Declaration of the Policy (Sec. 6-4041b) and Chapter 20 HC Historical and Cultural Conservation Districts (Sec 16- 20.001) identifies the public policy objectives of the ordinances to include the following:

(1) To effect and accomplish the protection, enhancement and perpetuation of such buildings, sites and districts which represent or reflect special elements of the city’s cultural, social, economic and architectural history;

(2) To safeguard the city’s historic, aesthetic and cultural heritage, as embodied and reflected in such buildings, sites and districts;

(3) To foster civic pride in the beauty and noble accomplishments of the past;

(4) To promote attention to sound design principles in areas of new development and redevelopment;

(5) To raise the level of community understanding and expectation for quality in the built environment.

THE CURRENT APPLICATION

It is the stated intent of the City's Historic Preservation Ordinance that any changes which occur to a designated property be in keeping with the historic character of the building or district. The current application (CA4ER-12-68) put forth by the Georgia Tech Foundation calls for the demolition of 2/3’s of the Crum and Forster building to make room for a development of the city block. The MNA views the demolition of 2/3’s of the Landmarked building to be inconsistent with keeping the historic character of the building.

The MNA notes that under the Ordinance (Sec 16-20.002- Definitions) such a request for demolition is classified as a “major alteration” defined as an alteration that “does affect the historic, cultural, or architectural integrity, interpretability, or character of a building, structure, site or district.” The MNA therefore views such application and its proposed ‘major alteration’ as inconsistent with the Public Policy Objectives of the Ordinance.

The MNA recognizes the Georgia Tech Foundation’s right to apply for a Type IV Certificate of Appropriateness based upon Unreasonable Economic Return, but notes that the burden of proof rests with the applicant and is based upon demonstration of meeting all of the following five (5) criteria:

(1) The applicant's knowledge of the landmark designation at the time of acquisition, or whether the property was designated subsequent to acquisition.

(2) The current level of economic return on the property

(3) That the property is not marketable or able to be sold, considered in relation to any listing of the property for sale or rent, price asked, and offers received, if any, within the previous two (2) years, including testimony and relevant documents regarding:

(4) The infeasibility of alternative uses that can earn a reasonable economic return for the property as considered in relation to the following:

(5) Economic incentives and/or funding available to the applicant through federal, state, city or private programs.

The MNA cannot comment on (2) the current level of economic return on the property, or (3) the marketability of the property as it does not have access, nor does it wish to gain access, to the private business finances of the Georgia Tech Foundation. But the MNA takes issue with the Georgia Tech Foundation’s assertion in response to criteria (1) notably its assertion in the application that “The applicant and its affiliated entities acquired the subject property prior to any proposed designation. The designation was proposed and adopted over the applicant’s objections after the applicant's acquisition of the property.

The MNA acknowledges the objections of the applicant to the landmark status in 2008, but notes that the field work and original application for landmark status did occur prior to the acquisition of the property by the Georgia Tech Foundation. The MNA would also like to note that it is well documented that Georgia Tech was actively involved in that documentation and in the pursuit of Landmark status for the Crum and Forster when it was in the possession of the previous owner. That documentation was complete and ready for approval but was placed on hold by the previous owner whose intention at the time was to sell the property. Therefore, it is the MNA’s position that the Georgia Tech Foundation was well aware of the status of the Crum and Forster’s standing on a list of buildings eligible and being pursued for Landmark status prior to its acquisition.

In its response to criteria (4) the infeasibility of alternative uses for the property the Georgia Tech Foundation notes “the building is structurally sound” and the MNA concurs. The Crum and Forster is a reinforced concrete structure originally designed as office space and maintains its structural integrity.

The MNA notes that the redevelopment plans for the city block contains a tower to the east of the Crum and Forster and a base building occupying the rest of the site. (See fig 1 in attached document) This lower density development contains retail on the ground floor along Spring Street and 10,400 square feet of office space on the second floor along Spring St. The rest of the property between this and the tower is labeled Data Center.

The MNA views the Crum and Forster as a prime candidate for adaptive reuse. In point of fact the architecture programs at both Georgia Tech and Southern Polytechnic State University ran design studios doing adaptive reuse on the Crum and Forster. The MNA believes that a competent and innovative design would be able to relocate the office space into the Landmark structure, shifting the Data Center over the retail and possibly including a central light well to make the natural daylight available from the south to the Crum and Forster. The Georgia Tech Foundation claims that such adaptive reuse is unfeasible but does not present the economic data or design investigations that would conclusively demonstrate this position.

Furthermore, The MNA would like to note that the current Ordinance was designed to foster the preservation of Landmarks structures in the face of such economic disincentives through the use of the provision for the Transfer of Development Rights. The proposed 680,000 square feet is less than the maximum allowable for the block and the 24 story tower is lower then what is possible in the district. For this reason the MNA believes that the TDR provision in the ordinance is viable and could assist in this endeavor. The MNA does not comprehend the Georgia Tech Foundations claim in its application that such “Incentives for retention of the existing building are antithetical to the intentions of the owner and  applicant in their acquisition of the subject property.” Additionally, the MNA views such a statement as confirmation that the Georgia Tech Foundation is disinterested in pursuing a viable solution that would preserve the Landmarked structure consistent with the Public Policy Objectives of the Ordinance and the Public interest.

RECOMMENDATION

The MNA notes that according to the Ordinance (Sec. 16-20.008d) the demolition of all or part of a designated Landmark structure, such as the Crum and Forster building, constitutes “an irreplaceable loss to the quality and character of the City of Atlanta.” To that end, the MNA implores the AUDC in its review of this application to uphold both its conferring of Landmark Status on the Crum and Forster building in its entirety and the City’s Historic Preservation Ordinance whose Purpose (Sec. 6-4041a) calls for the standing of the city to “be maintained and enhanced by preserving the historical and architectural heritage of the city and by preventing the destruction of such cultural assets” through the “timely exercise of judgment in the public interest” in its evaluation of “the design of proposed new developments or redevelopments within the city.”

We respectfully recommend the AUDC reject The Georgia Tech Foundation’s application CA4ER- 12-68 Certificate of Appropriateness Type IV Unreasonable Economic Return to demolish 2/3’s of the Crum and Forster Building at 771 Spring St.

 

MNA Board:

Tony Rizzuto- LUC Chair

_ Greg Guhl- President

_ Geoff Rodgers- Vice President

_ Mary Cobb- Treasurer

_ Nancy Reynolds- Secretary

_ Graham Balch

_ Terry Bond

_ David Harman

_ Sharon Just

_ Dana Persons

_ Marcia Rubensohn

_ Kendra Taylor

Teyeger May 07, 2012 at 04:10 PM
"The MNA would like to note that the current Ordinance was designed to foster the preservation of Landmarks structures in the face of such economic disincentives through the use of the provision for the Transfer of Development Rights. " Yes, but the problem is the MNA has historically approved rezonings without encouraging transfer of development rights first, so there was for a long time no incentive for developers to buy rights from historic problems, and hence no market to sell them. I seem to remember the Crum and Foster debacle starting almost immediately after the MNA recommended approval for two high-density rezonings, which could have come from TDR, but the MNA wasn't interested. Maybe all rezonings to higher density should, by principle, be recommended denial by the MNA until developer can show proof that they attempted to buy development rights from historic properties.
Teyeger May 07, 2012 at 04:27 PM
Z-07-59 and Z-07-77 are the two I was thinking, both times developers asked for higher density zonings, both times the MNA recommended rezonings without doing anything to first encourage TDR (even though it was pointed out several times that TDR could be used instead of rezoning). Then a few months later GT wanted to tear down Crum and Foster, and the MNA is in an uproar.

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