Big Bethel project approved for Auburn Avenue

The demolition of a familiar motel complex and a 1950s-era gas station on Auburn Avenue was approved earlier this month, clearing the way for a $45 million redevelopment project that represents the most significant changes to the western end of the historic street in several decades.

Approval of the plan by Big Bethel AME Church and the Integral Group development firm seemed to be touch-and-go for a few minutes during the Sept. 8 meeting of the city's Urban Design Commission, as UDC members debated whether to allow the demolition of a large Quonset hut in the middle of the block that had once served as a dance hall.

In the end, the board agreed to the building's removal, providing that an interpretive display was added to preserve the memory of the Quonset hut and provide a testament to "African-American ingenuity" in the use of inexpensive materials to create workable gathering places.

The Big Bethel plan calls for the demolition of the long-vacant Palamont Motel on the corner of Auburn and Piedmont avenues, and a small service station at the corner of Auburn and Jesse Hill Drive, as well as the construction of 154 condos, a parking deck and 27,000 square feet of retail space. A planned row of six-story buildings will be attached to the rear of the few existing storefronts that now occupy the block.

Although some conservation activists had opposed the demolition plan, Big Bethel came into the UDC meeting with an ace in the hole: a thumbs-up on its plans from a blue-ribbon economic review panel that included prominent black developer Herman Russell and Hattie Dorsey, director of the Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership.

"All in all, I think this project will mean so much to Auburn Avenue," Russell said after the UDC vote.

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