Sep 14, 2023 - News

Restaurant group wants investigation into 2018 sinkhole at Piedmont Park

The sinkhole in 2018. Photo: David Duley/Be Our Guest Investments

A new lawsuit has reignited a long-running dispute over a sinkhole in Piedmont Park, days before Music Midtown will bring thousands of visitors to the area.

Flashback: In 2017, restaurant group Be Our Guest Investments leased space inside Piedmont Park Conservancy's Community Center building, where it planned to open two restaurants.

  • During renovations in 2018, the group said a sinkhole formed and part of the foundation collapsed.

Driving the news: Be Our Guest, which also owns The Nook on Piedmont Park, is now asking a judge to stop the use of the Community Center until the Conservancy investigates the cause of the sinkhole and completes any necessary repairs.

  • In a petition filed on Tuesday in Fulton County Superior Court, the group alleges that in 2018 a structural engineer recommended such an investigation — but the city instead filled the sinkhole with grout and no testing was done.
  • It goes on to accuse the Conservancy, a nonprofit that manages the building and park space, of covering up the issue before anyone could determine the cause of the sinkhole and whether the fix was sufficient.

Why it matters: The building is located near the 12th Street entrance to the park and houses two restaurants: Willy's Mexicana Grill (and its hot chicken concept Howlin' Willy's located within the same space) and Shake Shack, which will likely attract festivalgoers this weekend.

What they're saying: David Duley, one of Be Our Guest's two business partners suing, said during a press conference on Tuesday that the "past five years has turned into really a nightmare," and accused the nonprofit of leading a "campaign of deception about what has happened in this space."

  • He also showed photos taken this week of what he described as a "structural crack" in the floor of the building where Willy's is housed.

The other side: The Conservancy told Axios in a statement that the timing of the press conference was "clearly opportunistic in its effort to resurface concerns around a routine repair that took place nearly five years ago."

  • It also said any allegations of structural issues around the Community Center building are "unfounded and untrue" and said it looks forward to hosting Music Midtown this weekend.
  • "Since the repair was successfully completed, not only has a prominent structural engineer deemed the repair proper and the structure sound, but two national restaurant brands with full knowledge of the situation have successfully and safely operated within the building," the Conservancy said.

The intrigue: Be Our Guest says it never finished construction due to "the uncertainties regarding the safety of the building." Also, the restaurant groups claims that the conservancy ultimately terminated the restaurant group's lease, which prompted it to file a separate lawsuit against the organization.

Yes, but: Simon Bloom of Bloom Parham LLP, which represents Be Our Guest, told reporters on Tuesday that this week's petition is separate from his clients' ongoing litigation against the Conservancy over its lease termination.

  • "This is about being the neighbors of this park for decades, supporting the park, and I think genuinely in their hearts, they don't want to see anybody get hurt," he said.

What we're watching: Bloom said the trial for the lease termination case could start as early as next month.

  • The Conservancy said in its statement that it's confident it'll "prevail in this landlord-tenant dispute."

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