Ponce City Mar­ket, re­tail con­struc­tion hit­ting Ponce gay bars hard

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From the early 1900s un­til about World War II, the Ford fac­tory on At­lanta’s Ponce de Leon Av­enue op­er­ated as a ve­hi­cle man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­ity.

Twenty-five years ago, in the same build­ing, Jill Darmer opened The Model T, a gay bar with a pen­chant for pre­serv­ing his­tory. Darmer kept the orig­i­nal brick walls and even mounted some car parts be­hind the bar. For the last quar­ter-cen­tury, Model T has been a sta­ple in the Mid­town and LGBT bar scenes, draw­ing in res­i­dents from the up­stairs apart­ments and vis­i­tors to other area busi­nesses.

But now, the fate of Model T is up in the air: ris­ing rent costs, a symp­tom of the de­vel­op­ment of At­lanta’s BeltLine and Ponce City Mar­ket, may squeeze the bar and its his­tory out for good.

A path to pros­per­ity?

Thou­sands of vis­i­tors flock to Ponce City Mar­ket ev­ery day. The con­verted Sears build­ing sits at the helm of a multi-year, bil­lion-dol­lar de­vel­op­ment project known as the At­lanta BeltLine: more than 20 miles of trails fol­low­ing the paths of old rail­road tracks, con­nect­ing the city to­gether.

“That re­ally was the van­guard of busi­nesses re­ori­ent­ing the BeltLine,” said Lee Har­rop, pro­gram di­rec­tor for the At­lanta BeltLine. “We work with ad­ja­cent prop­erty own­ers, whether it’s to build … stairs or side­walks or ramps to be con­nected to the BeltLine.”

Ford Fac­tory Lofts, where Model T is lo­cated, once had a path­way to the BeltLine, right be­hind Ponce City Mar­ket. But when the Kroger next door was torn down last year

Septem­ber 1, 2017

in preparation for a full re­build, that path was blocked off as part of the con­struc­tion zone.

“When they first started this con­struc­tion, the first cou­ple months, we all lost prob­a­bly 30 per­cent of our busi­ness,” Darmer said. “Then we dis­cov­ered that the peo­ple there at City Mar­ket, their em­ploy­ees had to pay $10 to park so then they were park­ing here.”

She said once the com­plex be­gan boot­ing cars that weren’t do­ing busi­ness in the lofts, her cus­tomer flow did in­crease some­what, but she’s not sure it’ll be enough to cover the ris­ing rent costs.

Her rent at the start was $1,500, then even­tu­ally in­creased about $250 per year. Two years ago, she was pay­ing $3,000; to­day, it’s closer to $5,500.

“My rent went up here in two years $2,500 a month,” Darmer said. “In a way I un­der­stand … but I’m the only brand here that has any­thing to do with the Model T. There’s not an­other space in here that has any­thing to do with what this his­toric build­ing is.”

Rent costs al­ready led to one restau­rant busi­ness leav­ing Ford Fac­tory Lofts.

“They went out of busi­ness be­cause he wanted to raise their rent so much, like $10,000 a month, it forced them out,” Darmer said. “If he had re­mained here I’d be safe for a few more years. But be­ing as I’m stand­ing alone … I think he’s look­ing for big busi­nesses, not lit­tle busi­nesses like me.”

The space pre­vi­ously oc­cu­pied by the restau­rant is now also un­der con­struc­tion. Darmer said she be­lieves the land­lord wants to bring in more re­tail busi­nesses.

Darmer said if she can make it through the con­struc­tion dates, when the BeltLine path­way re­opens and there’s more ac­cess to cus­tomers — and vis­i­bil­ity to cus­tomers com­ing to get their gro­ceries — she’ll be in a good place. But it’s not ev­i­dent if she’ll be able to get there.

“I’ve paid all th­ese dues for all th­ese years and you’re go­ing to kick me out be­cause you want a few ex­tra bucks?” she said. “I’d love to be here an­other five or six years. Un­less some­thing changes, I think maybe he’ll give me an­other year if I luck up.”

Which means there may only be one year left of Model T, pe­riod.

“You can’t take the fla­vor. I mean, there’s no other place that has the am­biance, the orig­i­nal brick walls and all that,” Darmer said. “If I don’t stay here, I don’t know if I want to stay in the busi­ness.”

Ge­or­gia Voice reached out to Don­ald Lipp­man of D.E.L. De­vel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion, which owns the Ford Fac­tory Lofts build­ing, as well as for­mer City Coun­cil­man Kwanza Hall, who rep­re­sented that area, for com­ment on the ris­ing rent costs. They did not re­spond as of press time.

Traf­fic flow woes

Friends on Ponce is lo­cated across the street from Ponce City Mar­ket and Ford Fac­tory Lofts.

“We can walk right across the street and walk right to the BeltLine and there’s no ob­sta­cles to it,” busi­ness man­ager Lewis Cov­ing­ton said. “As far as the BeltLine goes … when peo­ple come in who’ve never been here be­fore, they like it, they come back; that’s suc­cess.”

He said orig­i­nally when the BeltLine was planned, there were sup­posed to be sev­eral thou­sand res­i­den­tial units that would have helped in­crease Friends’ cus­tomer base. That did not come to fruition, and now there’s closer to just 1,000 units.

“The BeltLine has turned into such a won­der­ful thing for all of us. It’s re­ally a great thing, but it just hasn’t lived up to its prom­ise. I don’t know how that’s af­fected our busi­ness,” Cov­ing­ton said. “I think if there was more hous­ing, we would have more busi­ness.”

Though it’s un­clear just how much of this is due to the BeltLine be­ing nearby, Cov­ing­ton did say he’s seen the di­ver­sity of his cus­tomers in­crease in re­cent years.

Friends now mar­kets it­self as a neigh­bor-

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