By Jessica Thomas
Atlanta developer Ben Carter’s $24 million offer to buy the Buckhead public library branch was rejected on Feb. 27 by the Board of Trustees of the Atlanta-Fulton Library System.
After much heated discussion and debate, eight board members voted against selling while the other two abstained. Jim Maddox, an Atlanta City Council member and John Eaves, chairman of the Fulton County Board of Commissioners, did not vote. The library board’s decision will serve as a recommendation to the Fulton County Board of Commissioners.
The 18-year-old library has inherent aesthetic and architectural value and should be preserved, said Liz Martin, a professor of architecture at Southern Polytechnic University in Marietta, who attended the meeting. As a matter of fact, the library has won four awards for its architecture and structure.
Martin, a Druid Hills resident, stressed that Atlanta has torn down enough architecturally significant buildings and the library does not need to be another.
“The Buckhead library is one of the few architectural treasures left,” she said. “Atlanta really has had a history of not respecting cultural and architectural artifacts.”
Many speakers at the meeting echoed Martin’s sentiments. Karen Tauches emphasized that while Atlanta is touted as a city of vast diversity, when companies like Carter’s tear down special and diverse buildings such as the library, the city becomes not so distinct. Everything would look and essentially be the same.
“Great cities are composed of surprising diversity and the city’s physical spaces should reflect such,” she said.
Under Carter’s proposed plan, his company would purchase the library, raze and then rebuild it in a high rises occupying two floors above a parking garage. Many of the speakers at the meeting said that Carter would not only tear down a cultural center, but a piece of public art. Carter has described the freestanding library as an eyesore and “a gap in the experience [of the Streets of Buckhead].”
Carter, who was not at the meeting, said he wants to install pieces of public art on the Streets of Buckhead.
Tauches noted, “It is wasteful to destroy one piece of art to replace it with another.”
Many residents consider the library to be art on the outside and a cultural center inside having served more than 152,500 patrons in 2007. For now, it looks like the library is here to stay on the Streets of Buckhead.
John Szabo, the Atlanta-Fulton Library System director, said he is excited the board chose not to sell the library.
“All of the advocates for preserving the current building certainly didn’t exaggerate the architectural significance of it,” he said. “While I believe we could have made mixed-use work, I know we’ll do a good job of continuing to provide high quality service in the current building.”
Carter could not be reached for comment.
The Fulton County Board of Commissioners did not schedule this matter on the agenda for its March 5 meeting; the board will meet on March 19 at 10 a.m. at the Fulton County Government Center, 141 Pryer Rd.