Jun 30, 2022 - News

Ponce's potential redevelopment sends Atlanta into a frenzy

A photo of Ponce de Leon that includes the property where popular nightlife spot MJQ and Friends are located

Coming soon... something totally different? Photo: Emma Hurt/Axios

Rumors and speculation of wrecking balls and mixed-use developments potentially replacing the clubs, tattoo parlors and bars that fill chapters of Atlanta’s nightlife history have sparked a new round of debate over the future of the city.

Why it matters: The block of Ponce de Leon Avenue stretching from the Beltline to Freedom Parkway has been the scene of countless memorable (and forgotten) evenings at MJQ, Bookhouse Pub, The Local and other joints.

What we know: In recent months, developers' interest in the north side of Ponce stretching from Chipotle east to Vesta Movement and The Local has greatly increased.

  • Contrary to social media rumors, Matt Rohrig of Cartel Properties, which owns Paris on Ponce and recently purchased the sliver of land that includes 8Arm, tells Axios Atlanta his firm is not involved. Portman Residential, another developer said to be involved, said it "does not comment on speculation."

The intrigue: In an Instagram post, the owners of Vesta said "[n]ews just broke of our entire block — from our building all the way to Paris on Ponce — being sold," and the kickboxing gym was looking for a new location.

  • And crews recently conducted what appear to be environmental studies on the properties, MJQ and Drunken Unicorn co-owner Ryan Purcell tells Axios Atlanta.

Yes, but: No properties have changed hands yet, according to our reporting and Fulton County property records. And the president of the Virginia-Highland Civic Association told Urbanize that there was "'nothing to comment on beyond 'conjecture at this point.'"

  • Adding another wrinkle: Purcell said that his landlord on Monday proposed re-upping the underground music venue and dance club’s lease when it ends this year.

The big picture: The mere prospect of redeveloping the famous stretch of Ponce prompted Atlantans already mourning the closure or relocation of beloved haunts to question the speed at which new development was changing old Atlanta.

  • Most recently, 8Arm opted to close in October after its building was purchased, the restaurant said.

In just under a decade, Ponce has swapped out some of its gritty hallmarks — like the problematically nick-named Murder Kroger — for more polished and pricier developments, sometimes with traces of their former selves.

The Clermont Hotel went from an infamous flophouse with a divey strip club in the basement to the Hotel Clermont, an Instagram-friendly boutique hotel with an acclaimed restaurant (and a divey strip club in the basement).

Another view: Some local urbanists and transportation advocates argued that, while the loss of the businesses was depressing, losing the auto-oriented strip malls and standalone buildings could spur density, bike lanes and safer streets.

What they're saying: "Even if things do go through," Purcell said, "we are definitely not through. The party and dancing at MJQ will go on and continue to live on after Ponce. This is our second location, we will move again, and open our third."

  • "It will be tough, we might be losing our entire Ponce family in one swift blow, but Atlanta's art and culture has been pushed out and painted over before," he said. "If need be, we will find our new home to rebuild and a new neighborhood to work with to support the ATL dance scene."

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