The ‘ster­il­iza­tion’ of Cheshire Bridge Road

How the LGBT, eclec­tic cul­ture can thrive amidst new de­vel­op­ments

GA Voice - - Georgianews -



Bobby Hamill calls it “the lit­tle red-light district” of At­lanta.

“You can get any­thing on Cheshire Bridge,” Hamill, owner of BJ Roosters bar, said. “You can get the best Ital­ian food in the city. You can get the most amaz­ing Thai food. You can get a blowjob. You can buy a dildo. You can get dry clean­ing. Any­thing you need is on Cheshire Bridge.”

But the scenery of this eclec­tic cor­ri­dor is chang­ing: zon­ing al­lows for more apart­ment com­plexes to re­place the patch­work of older re­tail and res­tau­rant struc­tures, and some worry what this may mean for the his­tor­i­cally LGBT-friendly part of the city.

“At­lanta is al­ready bad enough with Sher­man com­ing through and de­stroy­ing ev­ery­thing, burn­ing all the build­ings down, and to me it feels like the same thing,” said Teri Dar­nell, an out pho­tog­ra­pher who lives in the area.

Con­struc­tion zone

“The com­mu­nity’s been in an up­roar for at least a decade about want­ing to get rid of Cheshire Bridge Road. They don’t want strip clubs. They don’t want the gay bars. They don’t want any of it. They tried to make it go away, and the leg­is­la­tion didn’t pass,” Dar­nell said. “This vi­sion that the com­mu­nity had for Cheshire Bridge Road — mak­ing it a work/livetype of com­mu­nity — noth­ing came of that.”

What did hap­pen was an eco­nomic re­ces­sion, fol­lowed by de­vel­op­ers swoop­ing in.

“You see these huge gaps on Cheshire Bridge of things just be­ing to­tally plowed down. Those are go­ing to be an­other 300 apart­ments,” Dar­nell said. “They’re build­ing apart­ments and stor­age fa­cil­i­ties in­stead of hav­ing a planned com­mu­nity like the neigh­bors had hoped. Now it’s … be­com­ing just a ster­ile place.”

The zone change to make Cheshire Bridge neigh­bor­hood-com­mer­cial was ap­proved in the mid-2000s, and grand­fa­thered in adult busi­nesses. Alex Wan, an openly gay At­lanta City Coun­cil mem­ber, said that at the time, As more res­i­den­tial de­vel­op­ments pop up along Cheshire Bridge Road, busi­ness own­ers and res­i­dents spec­u­late how the shift might af­fect LGBT-owned bars and busi­nesses like BJ Roosters, left, and The Heretic. (Photos cour­tesy Teri Dar­nell) neigh­bors wanted a Vir­ginia-High­land-like feel with bars, re­tail, of­fices and eater­ies that they could walk to.

“Ba­si­cally what they’re say­ing is no new adult busi­nesses could come in and the ex­ist­ing ones … if you’re do­ing some­thing and we change the zon­ing, we can’t force you out. You can con­tinue op­er­at­ing so long as you don’t ex­pand your non­con­form­ing adult busi­ness,” he said.

In 2013, the City Coun­cil moved to give these adult busi­nesses five years to com­ply with the un­der­ly­ing zon­ing. This mo­tion, which did not pass, was in­ter­preted by some to be anti-LGBT and a slight against gay bars.

“The gay bars were never in ques­tion,” Wan said. “It was only those that were adult busi­nesses. … The pro­posed zon­ing change was sim­ply to im­pact those that were op­er­at­ing as adult busi­nesses, and that would give them five years to wrap up what they were do­ing.”

The free mar­ket at work

“All the re­de­vel­op­ment on Cheshire Bridge is or­ganic,” Wan said. “I’ve long said this cor­ri­dor is ripe for some ma­jor de­vel­op­ments go­ing on. That’s why I’ve been try­ing to do what­ever I can to make sure it re­al­izes its full po­ten­tial.”

He said the only tool the city gov­ern­ment has in the de­vel­op­ment game there now is en­sur­ing the new build­ings com­ply with those zon­ing laws. No busi­ness own­ers have ap­proached him to dis­cuss leases run­ning out on their build­ings and what they should do if a de­vel­oper pur­chases their land out from un­der them.

Hamill, who owns the prop­erty and build­ings his bar and the next-door hair sa­lon sit on, thinks the con­struc­tion prom­ises new cus­tomers, and plans to stick around for the long haul. He’s al­ready turned down a num­ber of of­fers from de­vel­op­ers.

The Heretic and Jun­gle, which did not re­spond to in­ter­view re­quests, do not own their own build­ings. Rep­re­sen­ta­tives from Tripps, lo­cated just around the cor­ner from Cheshire Bridge, and Opus 1 were un­avail­able as of press time. Dean Chronopou­los owns both the build­ing and the land for ROXX Tav­ern.

“[Los­ing a gay bar] would def­i­nitely make an im­pact, but I also think that be­cause of its his­tory, its back­ground, be­cause of the gay cul­ture of the street, I think if some were to leave it would be filled in with other gay­owned, gay-themed, gay-friendly busi­nesses be­cause Cheshire Bridge has such a strong his­tory of that,” Chronopou­los said.

Where every­body knows your name

An­other tran­si­tion, es­pe­cially with ru­mors about loom­ing closures of popu- lar LGBT hang­outs, is from “gay bars” to “neigh­bor­hood bars.”

“This is a gay bar, yes. But I wel­come every­body. I want ev­ery­one to feel com­fort­able,” Hamill said. “As gay peo­ple, we don’t want to be seg­re­gated, so why do we seg­re­gate our­selves?”

He said one rea­son gay bars were so seg­re­gated be­fore was be­cause LGBT At­lantans had to hide from the anger and ha­tred to­ward them. Dar­nell echoed his sen­ti­ments, say­ing it was re­fresh­ing when she first moved to the area to see gay bars and busi­nesses right on the street in­stead of hid­den down al­ley­ways.

“Cheshire Bridge is go­ing through an­other evo­lu­tion,” Chronopou­los said. “Cheshire Bridge has been, and prob­a­bly al­ways will be, an eclec­tic street, and its di­ver­sity gives it such a unique per­spec­tive of city life that it draws a lot of at­ten­tion. … I think hope­fully with the new res­i­dents on the street, that will just add more strength to our cul­ture over here.”

No mat­ter what hap­pens, Hamill said he doesn’t feel LGBT busi­nesses are be­ing “squeezed out” by the new con­struc­tion.

“I think it’s just growth,” he said. “Ei­ther you’re go­ing to change with it or it’s go­ing to pass you over. We’re all about change. I like change. It’s a lit­tle scary at first, but we’re go­ing to make it.”

July 7, 2017

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