Commercial real estate developer Gene Kansas – whose projects include the award-winning Constellations building in Sweet Auburn and the newly opened Indie Studios on the Armour-Ottley Loop – credits his flair for hospitality by growing up surrounded by the colorful denizens and music of New Orleans and summers in laid back Los Angeles.
“When I was growing up in New Orleans, I was fortunate to be exposed to a lot of different people through my parents,” Kansas said. “Artists, musicians, writers, alligator wrestlers, policemen – a real gumbo of New Orleans. Then we’d go to Santa Monica in the summer. I loved the fresh air and chill atmosphere. It was easy, fun, and cool. That always stuck with me.”
When Kansas was approached by David Minnix, the co-founder of audio-visual company CineMassive, about designing a workspace for creatives, he went back to Los Angeles for inspiration.
“I went walking around the Venice canals in the morning, spent time in Malibu, went hiking, and stayed out late,” Kansas said. “I realized I wanted something that was a mix of the LA of my childhood and today: Indie films, music, tons of indoor-outdoor space. Maximize joy instead of parking. Put in a garden.”
Kansas said when the 190 Ottley Drive property became available, he knew it was the perfect spot for Indie Studios. “I walked in and the lightbulb went on,” he recalled. “This was the place that could work. It’s this beautiful mid-century modern warehouse with these beautiful ceilings and so much light.”
The 35,000 square foot warehouse has now been transformed into a “culturally-based shared workspace” with nine large studio space and 14 “suites” for private offices situated around porches, patios, an “incredible sound system,” and the front garden. MA! Design is Human, BAUX, Silver Studio Architects, Huff & Co., SolAmerica Energy, InSight Design Interiors, and Victory Brands have already taken up residence – or soon will – at Indie Studios.
Kansas said the design decisions he and his team made two years ago to include indoor-outdoor space and porches became “quite apropos” with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic. “No one wants to go back to the typical office space,” Kansas said. “There’s lots of privacy at Indie Studios, smaller spaces, the indoor-outdoor space. It’s great timing.”
Like most of the projects that Kansas and his team have worked on, they didn’t set out to do Indie Studios.
“I find this happening more and more where things just come to us,” Kansas said with delight. “If you watch that great documentary about the Bee Gees on HBO, they talk about how all those hit songs just came to them out of the air. That’s how I feel about projects like Indie and Constellations.”
And like the Bee Gees, finding harmony is essential. For more than 20 years, Kansas has leaned into historic preservation, adaptive reuse, community building, and storytelling through the built environment.
This mindset began with the historic preservation of the Atlanta Daily World Building in Sweet Auburn, which earned him accolades from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Then came Constellations, the nearby culturally-based workspace, which was honored with a Development of Excellence Award from the Atlanta Urban Design Commission, Atlanta Regional Commission, and Urban Land Institute. Kansas was also the creative mind behind the marketing and design contest that helped save the Clermont Hotel, as well as with the creative repositioning of Amsterdam Walk, Historic Commercial Row, and Sweet Auburn Curb Market.
His latest project is a partnership with the Atlanta Preservation Center to preserve the “VA-HI Building” in the Virginia-Highland neighborhood. The building, constructed in 1925, will continue to be home to longtime tenant Paolo’s Gelato, along with new concepts Kinship Butchery and Pizza By The Slice.
He’s also staying on the Armour-Ottley Loop for another project, which is taking an existing warehouse and turning it into a “smart and healthy” workplace. “If you work in a warehouse you should have a great work environment that considers the people who work there,” Kansas stated.
Kansas said supporting people and their goals is what drives him and given him an egalitarian spirit about the projects he works on. “The biggest lesson I learned is that I’m in the hospitality business. It’s about creating community and culture. Our job is to support other people’s goals, missions, and dreams. It’s not about renting space – it’s about supporting other people. Without the people, the place is irrelevant.”
For more about Kansas, visit genekansas.com.