ATLANTA (March 24, 2015) - A sole yellow backhoe is making quick work this week of the Garden Hills Shopping Center, doomed by a December 2013 fire that ravaged the single-story structure that once housed the type of neighborhood cinemas that today are hard to find.
The demolition began March 16, as first reported by Buckhead View. The site run by John Schaffner secured a pretty decent no-comment comment from the center's owner. Read that here, and scroll down for the entire story and update posted on buckheadview.com.
I stopped by the site today to see whether the demo crew skillfully tore down the part of the center that literally was attached to the popular La Fonda location and Fellini's outlet. As you can see in this photo, Atlanta Demolition did a good job of ripping the old center away from La Fonda.
The Chamblee, Georgia-based firm has worked several delicate and high-profile demos, including the recent implosion of the Children's Healthcare of Atlanta Tower that used to stand on North Druid Hills, right off I-85. CHOA and Gilbane contracted Atlanta Demo to implode the well-known building in a job valued at $3.3 million.
- Tony Wilbert
Published on March 16th, 2015 |Long-delayed Garden Hills shopping center demolition begins
(Editor’s Note: This story has been updated March 17 with a brief response to questions from BuckheadView regarding the future of the Garden Hills shopping center property)
After many months of delays, the demolition of the Garden Hills strip shopping center, at 2815-2839 Peachtree Road N.E., has finally begun with a flurry of activity on the site as heavy equipment tore into what once was the home of the former Garden Hills Cinema art theater and workers prepared for the delicate job of separating the fire-destroyed shops from the buildings that house La Fonda and Fellini’s restaurants.
Equipment was moved in on Friday March 13 and Saturday to get ready to demolish the Garden Hills shopping center. The entire property also was fenced in and a dust sheet put in place.
The former longtime home of Peachtree Bikes, Flemings custom leather goods, Witzlib Fitness Sudio and the long-closed Garden Hills Cinema may soon be replaced—at least temporarily—by a vacant grassy patch after a December 2013 fire left the center declared a total loss.
On Monday March 16 afternoon, workers where on the roof working to separate the strip retail center building from the the La Fonda restaurant, which is not owned by Brand Properties and is not being torn down.
The fire, which broke out in the Peachtree Bikes store around 8 p.m. on Dec. 4, caused about $1.4 million in damages, according to early estimates, including smoke and water damage to five neighboring business in the Garden Hills strip shopping center. All the affected businesses were closed at the time of the fire.
The shopping center, except for Fellini’s and LaFonda restaurants, is owned by a subsidiary of Brand Properties (GardenBrand LLC) and has been totally empty and a community eyesore since the fire caused all the retail tenants at the time to close or move their businesses.
After some nine months, a demolition permit for the property was applied for and granted by the city of Atlanta and Brand Properties
The front of the retail shops now have chain link fencing separating the building from the sidewalk and fabric shielding.
management assured BuckheadView the demolition would proceed—certainly by the end of 2014.
On March 9, BuckheadView sent an email to Brand Properties Chairman Brand Morgan and President Michael Hoath asking what was happening, since demolition permits are only good for six months and the six months seemed to be up.
Morgan responded to BuckheadVew by email, saying, “We started the interior demolition in the Fall and we have six months to complete our
work. We will be starting our exterior demolition very shortly, within weeks.” The work obviously began in earnest Monday (March 16).
Morgan also offered to answer questions from BuckheadView about the property and demolition plans if they were presented in writing, which BuckheadView did last Friday (a list of 12 questions). As of the posting of this story, Morgan has not yet responded to those questions.
Update March 17, 2:30 p.m.: Morgan finally replied to BuckheadView Tuesday afternoon (March 17) regarding the questions he had asked be submitted to him. Morgan’s email stated: “I reviewed the questions below and we are not to the point where it would be prudent to share
On March 17, workers began the delicate job of separating the Garden Hills center shops from the La Fonda restaurant building, as seen from Peachtree Road.
any redevelopment plans. We will be getting with the neighborhood at the appropriate time and look forward to working with them during the process.” One of he questions from BuckheadView that Morgan refused to answer dealt with the demolition timeline. However, Morgan apparently told members of the Garden Hills Civic Association the demolition will take 6-8 weeks.
Both the city of Atlanta fire investigators and the company that held the insurance on the building declared the strip center a total loss, but Brand Properties said it had trouble collecting the insurance money and that delayed moving toward demolishing the center until last September.
The December 2013 fire was confined to the Peachtree Bikes store. However, neighboring businesses were also affected, including longtime upscale leather goods merchant Flemings, a chocolates retailer Cacao, dog retail shop Woof Gang Bakery & Grooming, Witzlib fitness center and SixT car rental agency.
“The cause of the fire was the failure of an extension cord inside the bike store,” Captain James Oliver, of the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department’s Fire/Arson
Investigations division told BuckheadView via email in June 2014.
Then on March 19, workers collapsed the roof on the store next to LaFonda in preparation of tearing down the shopping center.
Peachtree Bikes has relocated a short distance up Peachtree Road to a two-story building at 2883 Peachtree and spent about $50,000 to renovate that house. However, the Garden Hills
shopping center had been its home since the business started, and owner Mike Wagamen may want to move the business back there someday.
Flemings has moved to a new location at The Factory, 2148 Hills Avenue, Suite M, near the Peachtree Battle Shopping Center. Cacao is directing its customers to its Virginia Highland store location. SixT car rental agency, which had been operating out of a trailer in the parking lot behind the shopping center, has since moved further up Peachtree Road to a hotel location. Woof Gang Bakery & Grooming has just remained closed all this time.
Demolition of the building that formerly housed the Garden Hills Cinema began early in the morning of March 18.
Witzlib Fitness Studio, which had been a tenant in the shopping center from 2009 until the fire (and had just expanded its space in 2013) has relocated to 365 Peachtree Hills Avenue, next to ADAC, after it was closed for three months in early 2014.
Last October, Brand Properties Chairman Morgan told BuckheadView that the fire-damaged Garden Hills center, would likely be demolished by the end of 2014. “We would like to get it down and out by the end of the year.” That did not happen.
Then on Jan. 4 Morgan informed BuckheadView, “We are making progress on the demolition at Garden Hills. There have been no surprises
By late in thre morning all that remained was remnants of the movie screen, the stage and the wall behind them.
involved with the demolition; the holidays just set us back a few weeks.” The demolition permit had been approved in August or September by the city.
The property will “just be a land investment for us for the time being,” Morgan told BuckheadView in October. He said there has been lot of interest in the property “but there is nothing
firm to discuss at this time.” He did not say if the interest was from potential tenants or for the sale of the property to another owner.
Once the strip center is demolished, the next round of anticipation and anxiety will involve what the future of the site is likely to be. Will it be a multi-story development with retail on the ground floor and either office space or residences above? (There was a plan for that in the past.) A new retail strip shopping center? Or a development of expensive townhomes?
By noon on March 18, all that remained of the Garden Hills Cinema was the marque on Peachtree Road, rubble and memories.
If there is retail space, what will the retail mix be? Is it possible a neighborhood food market might return there as Shuman’s Market was many years ago? Might there be a neighborhood deli or meat market? What about a hair salon and/or barber shop? The expectations are endless.
One thing for sure, it is highly unlikely there will be single-screen art theater at that location, ever again. All that is left of the Garden Hills Cinema today are memories of the past. To read some of those memories from Buckhead residents, click here.
(Editor’s Note: BuckheadView would like to know what residents in the neighborhood would like to see replace the present Garden Hills shopping center once it is torn down. Either submit your suggestions as comments to this story email them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks)