While Georgia State administration plans to demolish the historic Bell Building, the city has banded together against the initiative.
The university has held the Bell Building since 2007, and recently decided to use the Woodruff Foundation’s $22.8 million grant to tear it down and build a $2.5 million parking lot, according to Atlanta Magazine.
Andrea Jones, Georgia State’s associate vice president for Public Relations and Marketing Communications, said the building is a component in the university’s next campus master plan.
“The goal is to build something that adds value to the university and the surrounding business community,” she said.
Beating the wrecking ball
Georgia State’s Facilities Management Division predicted the price for renovating the historic building would be between $18.9 million to $22.3 million based on past restoration projects, according to Jones.
However, ATL Urbanist blog, Savethebell.org creator and Downtown resident Darin Givens, said if the university cannot use funds to restore the building, then they should sell it.
Two vendors have expressed interest in the building, and one has already approached Georgia State, according to Givens.
“We would rather see them spend the money needed to renovate the building and use it and turn it into a great adaptive reuse project similar to some others that are going on nearby, such as the Flat Iron building,” he said.
Givens isn’t the only one who is against the building’s demolition. His Save the Bell petition has 2,020 supporters as of Sept. 3, and the Mayor’s Office also voiced opposition to Georgia State’s plans for the building.
“Planning Commissioner Tim Keane has previously said that the City would deny any request for a permit to demolish the Bell Building. This 108-year-old building is a precious and historic part of Downtown Atlanta that we can’t afford to lose,” a Mayor’s Office spokesperson said.
Givens said numerous Georgia State students and alumni have signed the petition and are angry with the university about its plans for the Bell Building. He said his goal is to have at least 2,000 signatures on the petition. Then he will be bringing the appeal to Georgia State administration.
“There have been a few comments from the people in the historic preservation department. It’s very odd that GSU has a master’s program teaching people about historic preservation, and yet there’s a historic building there they are going to tear down,” he said.
Director Richard Laub of Georgia State’s Master of Heritage Preservation (MHP) Program said he thinks the impending demolition of the Bell Building is a “short-sighted, unfortunate and a terrible decision.”
“The building is in deteriorating condition, but it could certainly be rehabilitated and made useable again with some creative thinking. I do not believe that the university has done its’ due diligence on coming up with a rational alternative to demolition,” he said.
But the Bell Building does have some hazardous issues inside of it with the presence of PCB equipment, mercury containing lights, 10,000 square feet of mold growth and 12,000 cubic feet of pigeon droppings, according to an Open Records Request filed by Creative Loathing (CL).
CL found that it would cost about $400,000 to remove the substances.
But Laub said the building is still salvageable and urges the university to consider an alternative option for the building instead of demolition.
“I do not believe that the university has done its’ due diligence on coming up with a rational alternative to demolition. Especially the fact that it will be razed so that the ground can be used for surface parking,” he said. “This is not good urban design and we do not need this in our downtown. The building is in solid condition, structurally and there are many uses it could be put to, from offices to classrooms to renting out the first floor for a commercial tenant.”
Holding on to history
Jones said Georgia State has “been a major contributor to the revitalization of downtown Atlanta.”
“In recent years, Georgia State has renovated and re-purposed several buildings in downtown Atlanta for university programs and uses, converting former hotels into student residences and office towers in classroom and administrative space,” she said.
She said this is displayed through the renovating of 75 Piedmont Ave. into offices, 188 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive into a football practice space, 100 Auburn Ave. into Centennial Hall and 25 Park Place into the home of the College of Arts and Sciences.
However, Givens said the Bell Building’s visibility next to the Atlanta Streetcar lines is a striking historic staple in Downtown Atlanta.
“It just feels like the kind of old building that you would see in a downtown area and we don’t have a whole lot of those left in Downtown Atlanta,” he said. “They have been demolished over the decades for things such as parking decks and parking lots.”
The Bell Building has a vast history originating in 1905 to 1907 when it was built to house the Southern Bell company, according to Georgia State MHP student Charlie Miller.
The Atlanta Preservation Center’s email blast says the Bell Building has been placed on its endangered lists and asks people to sign the petition.
With the Save the Bell petition, a study will also be produced to explore alternatives for the Bell Building’s future, according to Laub.
“When buildings all around downtown are being rehabilitated, it is a sad commentary on GSU to be tearing down historic buildings for surface parking,” he said.