The future of the Midtown Landmark Crum & Forster building continues to rest in doubt.
Preservationists thought they had scored a significant victory in early August when the Atlanta Urban Design Commission (UDC) voted unanimously to reject an Economic Review Panel’s recommendation to side with the Georgia Tech Foundation Real Estate Holding Corporation’s (GTF) application to demolish the rear two-thirds of the building.
GTF would like to build a High Performing Computing Center, a potential 24-story, 680,000 square-foot public-private development on the block.
As first reported by Atlanta Progressive News on Sunday, early last week City of Atlanta attorneys settled a lawsuit previously brought by the GTF against the City and the City’s Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA).
By signing the Consent Order just before the October trial was scheduled to be held in Fulton County Superior Court, the Sept. 24 decision gives the BZA the option to permit the GTF to demolish the building or go against a court order.
The Consent Order, which is attached to this article, states: “At its next regularly scheduled hearing, the BZA shall order . . . the Director of the Office of Planning to grant SAP-08-024 within 10 days of its hearing.” The next BZA hearing will be held on Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012, beginning at 1 p.m. in City Council Chambers on the 2nd Floor of City Hall, 55 Trinity Ave. SW.
The Crum & Forster, located at 771 Spring Street, was built in 1926 and is positioned across the street from the Georgia Tech Hotel and Conference Center. The GTF purchased the building in 2007 in an effort to expand nearby Technology Square.
The GTF applied for a Special Administrative Permit (SAP), 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 GTF’s appeal of this decision made to the Board of Zoning Adjustment was also denied.
The Atlanta Preservation Center (APC) was involved in the effort to establish the building as a locally designated Landmark. The UDC's process for this effort was followed and Landmark designation was confirmed by a unanimous vote of the city council on August 17, 2009 and approved by the mayor on August 25, 2009.
The GTF sued the City and the BZA challenging the Landmark designation by the City as well as the BZA decision. The APC provided defense in support of the City’s decisions, but with regards to last week's Consent Order, no evidence was presented from the BZA hearing that upheld the Office of Planning staff’s denial of the GTF’s SAP or from any other source.
As Matthew Cardinale writes at Atlanta Progressive News:
“It is not clear where the City of Atlanta now derives the legal authority to override a BZA decision--or more precisely, where the City’s Law Department got the legal authority to tell the duly appointed members of the BZA what they “shall” do--seeing as how the BZA is granted the sole and unilateral authority to grant or deny appeals of zoning decisions made by the Executive Branch of the City.”
Midtown Patch asked Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed about the Consent Order Monday morning at a Turner Broadcasting event in Midtown. The mayor declined to elaborate, saying “I haven’t been briefed on that … anything I would say right now would not be well informed.”
In an email to Midtown Patch, Midtown Neighbors' Association Land Use Committee Chair Tony Rizzuto said the City does not have the authority to dictate to the BZA a ruling, so it sets a precedent and is "very disturbing" for its impact beyond the Crum and Forster.
"I think that there can be no question that the decision by the City to disregard the recommendation of its own AUDC in this important preservation case is very troubling," Rizzuto wrote. "It calls into question the commitment the City holds its own institutions, advisory boards and its Community Partners Review Process. It was through community and shareholder participation and feedback that the City’s zoning, CDP and overlay districts were created. The Community Partners Review Process, that ensures all SAP’s, SUP’s and variances are evaluated by those same shareholders for conformance to the sprit and legal structures that they helped to formulate, is a clear and transparent means of evaluation for compliance. In the case of the Crum and Forster that process, review and recommendation has consistently come to the conclusion that the demolition of the landmarked structure was inconsistent with the law and that the request for the certificate of appropriateness sought was insufficient to warrant its exception. This position was upheld by the AUDC. For this reason the residents of this city should be very troubled that a backroom closed door agreement was signed by lawyers other than the City lawyers who have been working on the case for the last four years. This action by the City demonstrates wonton disrespect not only for preservation, but also for its institutions, zoning ordinances, and citizens."
If the previously denied SAP application, which showed the Crum & Forster completely demolished, is issued, it “could allow the rapid application for and issuance of a demolition permit,” according to the APC.
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.
If the High Performance Computing Center for Modeling and Simulation is to become a reality, the 24-story, 680,000 square-foot private and public development would begin construction in 2013 and would be anchored by Georgia Tech and built and programmed around high performance computer modeling and simulation:
- Institutional academic research needs
- Financial modeling by banking and investment companies
- High performance data and network applications by computing and communication services firms
- Genetic modeling by biotech and medical firms
- Computational and actuarial modeling by insurance firms
According to Georgia Tech, it will facilitate development of the project by entering into a long-term lease for not more than 50 percent of the space with a private developer who will construct and finance the project, subject to Tech’s approval, and lease the remaining space to commercial companies whose uses are supportive of the project's objectives. The project will be located in Technology Square in Midtown.
Some project objectives according to Georgia Tech:
- Support the economic development of Atlanta and the State of Georgia through creating jobs, new tax revenues and a technology cluster.
- Further the promotion of Technology Square as Atlanta's most desirable neighborhood for technology- and scientific-based companies.
- Enhance Georgia Tech's position as a thought leader in development and use of technologies to solve the grandest scientific and engineering challenges of the 21st Century.
- Drive anticipatory innovations in High Performance Computing to best serve a diverse research community by converging industry, research and educational leadership in a dynamic, world-class environment.
- Enhance scientific modeling and simulation at Georgia Tech by providing a cost effective, sustainable and long-term home to high-performance computing.
- Provide effective (access, layout), attractive (space, stacking, views) and flexible academic and educational support space to Georgia Tech at an efficient cost of occupancy.
- Strengthen Georgia Tech's competitiveness in recruiting students, faculty and staff, Tech's development efforts with alumni and the general reputation of the University by keeping campus and its adjoining neighborhoods a great place to learn, live, work and visit.
- Strengthen the urban environment of Technology Square by increasing the work-day or 24-hour population and providing appropriate street level retail.
- Exemplify high standards of planning, design and sustainability.
- Employ innovative high-performance computing design, engineering and technology.
- Provide an exciting and unique HPC showcase element that makes the project an Atlanta destination.
- Provide high-performance computing and data center space to commercial companies and become the de facto center for excellence for high performance computing in Atlanta.
- Highly leverage existing telecommunications network infrastructure with a signature expansion in one of the most desirable areas in the City of Atlanta.
- Redevelop an unsightly neighborhood adjoining the Tech campus.
- Give preference to the identified site, but consider other sites that can access the W. Peachtree St. fiber network.
- Create a development that is financially sound (concept, marketability, fiscal strength of developer, proposed financing, rates, reasonable assumptions, will compete in marketplace) and provides an appropriate risk/reward to the projects owners.
- Create a new ecosystem based around a unique facility modeling high-end computational/network/data-intensive hosting defining the future in trans-disciplinary research, eco-friendly practices, and public/private partnerships.
- The Atlanta Preservation Center contributed to this report