By Julie Herron Carson
Witnessing the robust redevelopment underway throughout Atlanta’s Westside, it would seem business owners and residents have taken to heart author Horace Greeley’s famous quote, “Go west, young man.”
The area, just west of the city along the Norfolk-Southern rail lines, once served as the center of the community’s livestock and meat processing industries, and for decades remained a somewhat gritty industrial district characterized by warehouses, processing plants, industrial buildings and food storage facilities. But now, Atlanta’s Westside “is quickly becoming a pedestrian-friendly community featuring a diverse and eclectic blend of exclusive dining establishments, specialty shops, professional firms and unique, cutting-edge residences,” according to the West Midtown Business Alliance.
What distinguishes this community’s redevelopment from that of neighboring areas is the creative adaptive redesign of many of the existing structures. Business owners, developers and architects are preserving the characteristics of this once working-class neighborhood by repurposing industrial buildings into shops, restaurants, residences and even churches. Some business leaders have compared Westside’s resurgence to that of New York City’s meatpacking district.
Jerry Spangler, director of architecture at TSW, a Midtown-based architecture, planning and landscape architecture firm, is one of the visionaries helping to transform Atlanta’s Westside. As a Westside resident, he understands the balance required to maintain the community’s historical context, while creating a hip, urban destination where people want to live, work, shop, dine and play. He and his firm have been involved in a number of Westside design projects recently, including a brewery, cidery, gun shop and firing range and a church.
“It’s exciting to work with the entrepreneurs who believe Westside’s energy and vibe make it the perfect location for their businesses,” said Spangler. “In almost every case, these are creative, driven business owners who are passionate about what they do and have strong ideas about how they want their buildings to look and function. Our Westside design projects have all been collaborative processes with the owners, where we have shared ideas and worked as a team to repurpose and bring new life back into several unique industrial buildings.”
TSW has worked with a number of businesses and property owners to find and adapt space, including Monday Night Brewing, Stoddard’s Range and Guns, Trinity Anglican Mission Church and Urban Tree Cidery.
Repurposing old buildings is an environmentally friendly, sustainable endeavor that preserves the architectural character and historical context of a community, but there are a number of factors to consider before undertaking a project of this nature, advises Spangler.
First, he would strongly advises any entrepreneur to work with his or her architect or engineering group to conduct a thorough examination of all building structures and systems to determine their viability prior to purchase or lease. It’s crucial to know in advance what works and what doesn’t from electrical and plumbing to floors, walls and roofs. Is the building sound? What utilities serve this building?
Because most industrial buildings are located within municipalities, redevelopment and usage are subject to zoning codes, parking requirements and other regulations. Spangler says the redevelopment team must carefully research all of the applicable codes and restrictions before undertaking a repurposing project.
His advice to other architects is to recognize that many business owners who take on a repurposing project are passionate about their vision and want to be hands-on throughout the process. They expect to be listened to and included in the design process.
“Part of the inherent value of these old buildings is the character of the space,” Spangler said. “It’s this very quality and richness that probably attracted the entrepreneur in the first place. But old buildings always surprise you. Renovating them requires time, care and flexibility. Knowing there will be unexpected discoveries, I always recommend building an adequate contingency within the budget. And, when an outdated structure is given new life through vision, design and careful restoration, it’s a win for the owner and the community as a whole.”