20 People to Watch - Michael Gamble: The architect

The man behind the Clermont Hotel’s redesign plans to spruce up the hotel while maintaining its character

Ponce de Leon Avenue is set to undergo a major transformation in 2014. The Atlanta Beltline has already breathed life into the area. Ponce City Market’s much-anticipated opening and the addition of new bike lanes will continue to change the neighborhood’s dynamic from a gritty strip to a bustling corridor. As will the Clermont Hotel, the 1920s-era building that is slated to reopen in late 2014 after shuttering nearly five years ago.

Michael Gamble, principal of G+G Architects, is tasked with redesigning the once-seedy lodge into a boutique 98-room hotel. Above all, he wants to stay true to the historic building’s character. That means the downstairs Lounge — and all its sleazy, glorious charm — will remain.

“It’s a unique space for the city,” Gamble says. “There were very few people who thought the Clermont Lounge should be closed. The neighbors really wanted to preserve it. We wanted to preserve it.”

G+G Architects became involved with the hotel’s overhaul after winning a 2009 competition held by Atlanta real estate developer Gene Kansas that challenged architects, interior designers, and urbanists to reconceive the Clermont’s look and feel.

The project was right up G+G Architect’s alley. Since 2000, the 46-year-old Alabama native and his wife, Lee Ann, his business partner and a fellow architect, have pursued projects focused on different kinds of housing. Over the years, the Midtown firm has studied the way people live and interact in their personal spaces such as single-family homes and hotels.

Gamble, a professor at Georgia Tech’s College of Architecture, boasts a diverse design portfolio that includes the Tabernacle’s ongoing renovations, an award-winning sustainable house built near Turner Field, and a three-year Buford Highway study that led to the sidewalk improvements along the dangerous strip. The firm is also currently converting Sweet Auburn’s Atlanta Daily World building into a live-work facility and designing several other residential projects in Old Fourth Ward near the Beltline.

Four years after winning Kansas’ competition, G+G Architects is partnering with hotel owners Ethan Orley and Philip Welker; builders Derucki Construction; and interior designers Hirsch, Bedner and Associates. Gamble says the Clermont’s restoration will have a similar effect to the remodeling of redone Downtown hotels the Glenn and the Ellis. But its character, he says, will be unlike any inn found in Atlanta. He points to the Standard and the Ace — two boutique hotel chains found in Los Angeles, New York, and other American cities — for comparison.

While Gamble will incorporate much of the Clermont’s original structure, the firm is working on some notable changes. The hotel’s dingy, run-down front entrance will receive a face-lift; a new bar and restaurant will open on its main level; a two-story parking deck with retail space will be built; and a residential house on the property will be converted into additional guest rooms. The building’s top, he says, could become a destination with an incredible view of the city’s skyline and a roof bar.

There’s plenty of work to be done in the coming months. The Clermont team has acquired permits and rezoned the property. Before construction begins, cleanup crews must remove asbestos, lead paint, and hazardous materials left behind after the hotel’s 2009 closure. Gamble says all parties involved are “very deliberately” moving forward toward completion later this year.

“Atlanta is a city of so few spectacular rooms,” Gamble says. “We’ve torn down so many of them. We want to maintain and enhance the Clermont’s historic presence. When complete, we think it will be a place people will want to return to again and again.”