On Tuesday while area residents were left speculating as to why a local man was gunned down Monday afternoon outside a Poncey-Highland apartment complex, others were left still believing the Ponce de Leon Avenue corridor will succeed in its evolving urban gentrification in the face of some recent violent crime.
Lee Lowery III was shot and killed by a lone gunman shortly after 5 p.m. Monday while attempting to visit the Ford Factory Lofts, located in the Poncey-Highland neighborhood next to the Ponce City Market development.
Late Monday morning, Atlanta police released this video showing the moments that led to the fatal shooting of the 20-year-old young man in the breezeway of the apartments. Police investigators are asking that anyone with information regarding the crime contact Atlanta Police Homicide Investigators at 404-546-4235 or Crime Stoppers at 404-577-8477.
Information is still forthcoming about the victim, who by some accounts here at Patch grew up in the Highlands area of the neighborhood and attended Grady High School. At the Facebook page for the Southerner, Grady’s newspaper, a Tuesday post mentioned that Lowery was a member of the GHS Class of 2010.
A sampling of the comments at Patch about Lowery included these:
"Lee was a great kid working hard for a future as a pharmacist. He was a kind, well mannered young man. It is a tragedy that he was taken so early, he will be missed."
“Lee was an absolute great KiD! He played sports in our community and was friends with all of our sons. I drove him to play soccer and loved for him to visit our home.”
“Lee was a good buddy of mine…. He was a good man, with a kind heart.”
“Lee had such a big heart and was a great person. He was always smiling and laughing.”
Virginia-Highland resident Jay Malloy was making a late Monday afternoon run to the Kroger store that is in The Shops of Ford Factory shopping center that also includes the apartment complex. He had just driven into the parking lot from the Ponce entrance when he “heard a pop.”
“It was unmistakable, it was a gunshot,” Malloy told Patch. “So as I was trying to park, some guy comes flying by me trying to exit onto North Avenue. He almost hit me.“
While not knowing if the driver was the suspect in question, Malloy did give a quick description to police of the black male and the "white or cream" colored car he was driving. The APD released video appears to show a black male as the suspect.
Ford Factory Lofts officials are working with authorities as the video released by APD came from the building’s owners, who expressed their sympathy to the victim.
“Whatever we can do to assist in finding out who is responsible we will do,’’ said Matthew Hicks, vice president of DEL Development Corporation, which has owned and operated the lofts complex for almost 15 years. "This is an isolated incident. This is not a function of Ford Factory Lofts."
The building was the first auto assembly plant in the southeast and is on the registry of National Historic Landmarks. The recipient of many design awards when it was converted from a factory in the early 1980s, it currently is at 96 percent occupancy.
Property manager Lindsey Gehm confirmed that neither the victim nor suspect was a resident. “This situation has never happened before,’’ she explained. “All day I’ve been receiving emails, phone calls from residents seeing what they could do to help. This is a close-knit community.”
The apartments entrance shares the same parking lot that contains the local landmark Kroger grocery store that has a not-so-endearing reputation due in part to a murder that took place in the parking lot a decade ago.
On Tuesday, several Ford Factory Lofts residents approached by Patch remarked that the idea of a brazen crime committed during the weekday afternoon hours was a bit unsettling. The very popular Cameli's Pizza is just a few feet away from where the crime occurred.
But others said that living amongst the “culture” of this part of the city just comes with the territory. The area is speckled with the homeless and others who spend time for whatever reason on the streets of Ponce at all hours of the day and evening.
“I’m not OK with it, but this is Atlanta,” said Ford Factory Lofts resident Eddie Flores, who indicated he had lived in the building for two years. “Things like this can happen anywhere you go.”
But unsolved murders in the neighborhood have for whatever reason made their way into the local headlines too much of late. Last month, a daylight shooting at the busy Ponce/Moreland Avenue intersection shocked many in the community.
In August, closer in proximity to Monday’s murder, the much-liked owner of the ATL Food Mart at 730 Barnett Street between St. Charles Avenue and Ponce, was shot and killed outside the store. None of the shootings would appear to be related, but the senselessness of each has many continuing to call for an end to all and nearby violent crime.
“It’s kind of scary,” said Malloy, who also happened upon the ATL Food Mart shooting in late summer. “I was coming back from the Kroger and turned on my street and saw three police officers with AR-17s drawn. They told me to get back in my house. It’s getting crazy.”
In spite of the recent shootings, the feeling among many hopeful locals is this area of Ponce, including the Old Fourth Ward and Poncey-Highland neighborhoods, along with pockets of Midtown and Virginia-Highland, will continue along a successful gentrification path.
While consistently warning people about staying alert and aware when out, and also being smart about not leaving valuables exposed in vehicles, APD has reported throughout the year that violent crimes have been down in the area. Still, as it is in numerous locales across metro Atlanta, the threat of armed crime must be respected in this area.
A century ago, Ponce was where many of Atlanta’s elite lived amongst one of the city’s leading residential neighborhoods. After the middle class fled to northern sections of the city in the 1950s and 1960s, Ponce morphed into an area that was known for eclectic character and nightlife, but along with that came crime, prostitution and drug use.
The reality is that all of those elements remain to an extent, but there are real signs that are signaling a change that continues to come. The nearly two-decade old transformation of the former Ford assembly plant at 699 Ponce de Leon is a part of the rebirth of this historic section of the city.
So is the Ponce City Market, scheduled to open in earnest in 2014. Last year, the private-equity group Jamestown Properties purchased City Hall East and along with Green Street Properties is in the midst developing it into Ponce City Market, a two million square-foot complex with retail, restaurants (Dancing Goats Coffee has already opened), boutiques and offices, with residential housing to come.
Also in 2011, the Georgia Department of Transportation announced it would implement pedestrian safety improvements along Ponce from Piedmont to North Highland and Moreland – a stretch of about two miles. The area is moving forward with enhancing its walkability.
The Year of Boulevard from City Councilman Kwanza Hall was announced this past January as an organized and determined effort to clean up the nearby Boulevard corridor. This initiative includes crime prevention, job training, education reform, and more and even a new APD mini-precinct has been opened off Boulevard in 2012.
And the Atlanta BeltLine’s Eastside Trail, which runs adjacent to Ford Factory Lofts and Ponce City Market, has only been officially opened a few weeks and already is drawing lots and lots of daily foot and cycling traffic.
There are many other smaller organized initiatives in motion, too, as there is a community participatory effort being made to produce change for the better in this eastern portion of the city.
“Relative to what the neighborhood was like 12 years ago, 10, 8, 5 years ago, it’s obviously in a recovery situation with what is a great neighborhood,” said Hicks. “It’s exciting what we’re seeing with Ponce City Market and the opening of the BeltLine. You look out the window and you see bikes and people pushing strollers. It’s been a long time coming.”
But tragically for Lee Lowery and all who loved his 'big heart,' he won’t be around to see it.