Monday, October 14, 2013

Will the city sell Inman Park's Trolley Barn? Maybe... but not yet

Posted By on Mon, Oct 14, 2013 at 11:09 AM

Nonprofit has operated and maintained the iconic Inman Park building for decades
  • Rusty Tanton/Flickr
  • Nonprofit has operated and maintained the iconic Inman Park building for decades
The Trolley Barn in Inman Park has a long and storied place in one of Atlanta's most vibrant neighborhoods. The city-owned events facility is, as the name makes clear, a former barn where the trolleys that once connected the one-time suburb to Downtown were maintained. Neighborhood residents saved it from condemnation in the 1970s and a nonprofit caretaker painstakingly restored the building over the following years into the gem it is today. It's held weddings, banquets, and other events since then.

So it makes sense that neighborhood residents are eager to hear whether the city wants to sell the property, which is currently under consideration, tinker with the lease agreement with the long-running caretakers of the facility, doing something else entirely, or simply maintaining the status quo.

Mayor Kasim Reed's administration, as part of a comprehensive look at who's leasing what from the city and for how much, recently identified the trolley barn as one of several pieces of real estate that could potentially be dropped from City Hall's portfolio. (We reached out to trolley barn officials several weeks ago for their thoughts and details on the lease but did not hear back. According to a 2008 history of Inman Park by Sharon Foster Jones and Christine Marr, the city leases the barn to the Atlanta and Edgewood Street Railway Company, the nonprofit that operates and maintains the facility, for $1 a year.)

According to Reed spokesman Carlos Campos, the facility was "identified as a potential property that might be better suited to private ownership as it is essentially a privately-managed event facility." The others that made the list are an old warehouse on Memorial Drive and the old Fire Station no. 13 in East Atlanta. The Atlanta City Council approved the sale of the latter, which was replaced by a new facility across the street, at last week's meeting.

But the city has tapped the brakes on doing anything with the trolley barn just yet and is now evaluating its options. Campos says staffers "are reviewing now what the best arrangement for that property might be while being mindful of its historic nature and unique relationship with the Inman Park community."

Considering that there are events booked for the facility well in advance, the city is unlikely to do anything to potentially jeopardize those engagements in the immediate future. It's hard to imagine the city would want to take the political and PR hit of telling soon-to-be-married couples that they'd lost their dream wedding venue. In addition, the surrounding neighborhood has a special relationship with the barn.

"The trolley barn is a fairly iconic structure," says Inman Park Neighborhood Association President Andrew Coffman. "It's the genesis of a lot of the historic preservation that went on there. Our neighborhood was instrumental in getting that building restored and assisting the city to get the grant they obtained to renovate it. The board that oversees it has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to maintain it, at no cost to the city."

Take another look at Coffman's last line. Should the city eventually choose to unload the property or raise the rent, the nonprofit tasked with overseeing the trolley barn and its community supporters would be smart to use those years of stewardship as a bargaining chip in discussions.

It's hard to imagine what would happen if the barn were sold to someone other than the nonprofit caretaker or neighborhood residents who'd like to keep the structure as an events facility. A smart restaurateur could do something interesting with the building, but he or she could have a hard time securing a liquor license. (The property is near a church.) Or it could become lofts or offices. Regardless, the topic will surely be on people's minds when the Atlanta and Edgewood Street Railway Company's board meets tonight at the trolley barn.

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