In a city too busy to preserve its history, it seems that one important piece of Atlanta's African-American past will be rescued after all.
Last week, Clark Atlanta University inked a deal to sell the historic Paschal's restaurant -- where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and other Civil Rights leaders met in the '60s to plan strategy over fried chicken and collards -- to a local developer who plans to restore the famed eatery and the adjoining motor lodge.
Herb Green, owner of Urban Suburban Inc., says he has signed a sales contract with the university for an undisclosed price and hopes to finalize his purchase by the end of the year for the property on long-blighted MLK Drive.
Green, an Atlanta native and Morehouse College graduate, says he plans to bring in the nearby Busy Bee meat-and-three to operate the former Paschal's restaurant and is now in talks with several national hotel chains to turn the 120-room motor lodge into a boutique hotel. The restaurant and hotel could reopen as soon as early 2008.
Green, who last year bought and renovated an aging six-story office building about two miles west on MLK Drive, says he has long wanted to save Paschal's. "It's the first non-fast-food restaurant I ever ate in," he says. "I'm a preservationist at heart."
Clark Atlanta bought the property in 1996 from brothers Robert and James Paschal, who opened the restaurant in 1959. They added the popular jazz nightclub La Carrousel Lounge in 1960 and built the adjoining hotel in 1967.
Although Robert Paschal died in 1997, James then opened a new restaurant under the family name a few minutes away on Northside Drive on the edge of the Castleberry Hill neighborhood.
Clark Atlanta finally closed the original restaurant in July 2003, citing $500,000 in losses a year, and announced plans to demolish the complex and replace it with a new dormitory. But a sharp public outcry persuaded the university to instead sell the facility; it continued to house students in the old hotel until two years ago.
Whether the renovated property keeps the Paschal's name will depend on licensing negotiations, Green says.
The owner of the Busy Bee had tried to buy Paschal's restaurant from Clark Atlanta in recent years, but the university had resisted in favor of selling the entire property. In early 2004, a deal with another local developer valued at $3.75 million was announced but later fell through.
With construction in full swing across the street at the Historic Westside Village -- a $60 million project that will include townhouses, 150 loft units and 40,000 square feet of strip-mall retail -- Green is confident that the time is once again right for Paschal's. "I see nothing but upward movement along the street," he says. "I feel good about the area."
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