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Midtown Grapples with Balance of History, Development

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Lovers of beautiful old architecture, history and preservation, avert your eyes. Developers in Midtown are playing matchmaker, with the latest blind date taking place last Friday. Alliance Residential introduced a stately yellow Victorian to a gruff, burly yellow backhoe in a casual rendezvous at Juniper and 6th streets. Spoiler: There will be no second date. The news and pictures from the Saporta Report are disheartening, and what's worse is they come at a time when the Midtown Neighborhood Association is exploring the possibility of designating the neighborhood a "Local Historic District." Meanwhile, other historic buildings in the area could be at serious risk.

The latest victim is part of a large plot of land at 811 Juniper St., between 5th and 6th. According to the City of Atlanta's GIS map, the site is at the border of the Midtown core zoned "high density commercial," meaning the row of old homes across Juniper could also be highly susceptible to meeting much the same fate. With the land slated for a residential mid-rise, demolition permits were issued on Jan. 29 for the lot, comprised predominately of an old medical building that housed the operations for the Atlanta Center for Medical Research on the 1.63-acre site; the old home served as offices. In the permit, there is no mention of the historic home, with the category for "historic building and properties" left as simply "undefined." In its place, an eight-story building with 218 units, called Broadstone Terrace will soon rise. Chalk one up for more density and, likely, vibrancy in Midtown. But sadly, this is not a new story.

Atlanta has a penchant for progress at the expense of history, and with developments growing like weeds in Midtown, it only seems natural that demolition of the vestiges of older Atlanta will increase. CEO of the Georgia Trust, Mark McDonald summed it up for the Saporta Report as follows: "We don't have a high standard for preservation in Atlanta… Preservation tends to be reactive rather than proactive." Not all doom and gloom, some forward-thinking developers and architects deserve credit; down the street from the recently demolished home, Smith Dalia architects managed to mix preservation and new development at 5th and Piedmont.

As groups lobby for historic designation, it should be interesting to see if developers fight back for their right to build full-speed. A community meeting discussing the proposed Historic Overlay District will be held tomorrow night at the Grace Methodist Church. Ultimately, while the designation doesn't guarantee protection — rather, based on precedent, very little can stand in the way of progress-driven demolition — it does raise awareness. And as the Fox Theatre marks 40 years of salvation, it's clear that awareness of the past can shape the future.

· As Midtown explores becoming a historic district, several of its older buildings are getting torn down [Saporta Report]
· Midtown Development Boom Continues With New Proposals [Curbed Atlanta]