By Benjamin Kweskin
When it was announced that the infamous “Murder Kroger” was going to be demolished to make way for the mixed-use 725 Ponce development, many wondered what would happen to its neighbor, the historic Ford Factory Square building.
Thanks to a partnership between Ford Factory’s owners and 725 Ponce developer New City LLC, Ford Factory is not only staying put but getting an upgrade as well. A portion of the parking garage structure that faces the Atlanta BeltLine’s Eastside Trail is being converted into restaurant and retail space.
Jim Irwin, president of New City, was employed by Jamestown Properties to spearhead Ponce City Market from inception to completion. He said that Kroger approached Jamestown to reimagine the site where “Murder Kroger” sat. Through this, Jamestown supported New City – an independent company– to work on revitalizing the area.
The result is 725 Ponce, a 360,000-square-foot, 12-story office tower with a brand new Kroger supermarket on the ground floor set to open in late 2018. Ford Factory will adjoin the new development thanks to a large breezeway and a series of indoor/outdoor lobbies and stairs where workers and visitors can hang out, use free wi-fi and enjoy food from the Ford Factory eateries or from Kroger.
“The Beltline has only begun to scratch surface regarding capitalizing its full potential for being a corridor in the area,” Irwin said. “We are focused on forward-thinking architecture like we did for Ponce City Market and will continue at 725 Ponce.”
For Irwin, 725 Ponce is a way to “challenge people” with better, more sustainable architecture. Irwin said he was excited that the Ford Factory building and surrounding area will be “redeemed” and will be able to “give back to the community and continue upon the success of Ponce City Market.”
This area of Poncey-Highland has come a long way since “Murder Kroger” actually lived up to its name, but Ford Factory Square co-owner Don Lippman recalls edgier days in the early ’90s when the area remained largely forgotten and neglected, awash with homeless people, drug dealers, and truck drivers picking up prostitutes. Soon after purchasing Ford Factory Square, Lippman was chagrined to see the neighborhood’s troubles featured on an episode of the TV show “Cops.”
But then the City of Atlanta decided to move into the mammoth and derelict Sears & Roebuck building.
“Once City Hall East moved into the old Sears Building things started to change. Many people didn’t think the Beltline would work, but we always believed in the Ford Factory building,” Lippman said.
By now, you’d have to be living under a rock not to have noticed the dramatic changes made to the neighborhood, led by the revitalization of City Hall East that became Ponce City Market, largely assisted by the Beltline and steady gentrification in the form of retail, apartments, and lofts.
Ford Factory Square has been named in the National Register of Historic Places, which to some degree also restricts renovations to the 102-year old building. The three-story building maintains its original brick exterior on the second and third floors facing the Beltline, with the lofts pricing around $1,500 per month.
The first floor is fully commercial, made up of neighborhood gay bar Model T, Iron Tribe Fitness, Chinese restaurant Chin Chin 2 and the space formerly occupied by Cameli’s Pizza.
With its original ceiling, columns and windows, Model T is the only space in the building bearing any resemblance or link to the original factory – one of the first in the Southeast – built by Henry Ford in 1915 to assemble Model T’s and other automobiles. Ford sold the building to federal government in 1942 to make military equipment during World War II.