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Masquerade building's future gets hazier 

Fallout from Mason dropout keeps venue open another year

The good news is that the old Excelsior Mill on North Avenue, better known in recent years as the Masquerade music club, is no longer in danger of being demolished.

The bad news is that, because of a dispute between the city of Atlanta and Gwinnett County developer Wayne Mason, the historic building's future is nonetheless in limbo.

Last month, Mayor Shirley Franklin approved landmark designation for the building, a protection that applies only to its exterior.

The property's current owner, Southeast Capital Partners, a company that specializes in lofts and apartment buildings, had hoped to sell the 111-year-old mill -- actually two separate stone structures linked by an enclosed breezeway and a newer stairwell -- for use as a restaurant.

But that arrangement depended on a complicated deal in which Mason would swap a parcel behind the mill needed for restaurant parking in exchange for Beltline development credits. Patrons now use an adjacent lot owned by the city of Atlanta; once City Hall East is developed into lofts, that parking will no longer be available.

The deal fell through in late September when Mason reached a zoning impasse with City Hall, and he appeared to retreat from plans to develop property within the 22-mile Beltline corridor, which goes past the Masquerade. Although Southeast Capital is still negotiating with Mason to buy the land it needs, no agreement has been reached.

"It's a setback, but we're trying to come up with a solution," says Evan Cramer, a manager with Southeast Capital. "We're still at the table with Mason."

Last year, star restaurateur Bob Amick, owner of the nearby Two Urban Licks, was interested in the Masquerade property. But Cramer concedes that the kind of high-volume restaurants in which Amick specializes requires plenty of space for parking.

If Mason's lot cannot be secured, Cramer says his firm may consider converting the old mill building into boutique space or residential units. In any case, Southeast Capital plans to build 130 midprice condos behind the mill on land that now serves as the Masquerade Music Park.

Anna Copello, who chairs the local neighborhood planning unit, says the mill's uniqueness stems from the fact that it still contains the original turn-of-the-last-century machinery used to make the wood shavings -- known as "excelsior" -- that were used as packing material when Atlanta became an important freight hub.

"It would be a shame to preserve that building but not have it open to the public in some way," Copello says. "It's an important piece of Atlanta history."

Headbangers should take heart, however; the setback in the developer's plan means the Masquerade will remain open for another year.

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