From the sedulous to the surreal in cultural context

Is Ponce City Market Renewing Atlanta?

Jame Prinz Photography, Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

Jame Prinz Photography, Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York


Atlanta landed a big fish.  Nick Cave, a superstar of the art world, was just here.

Cave is Chair of the Fashion Department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago with a rich body of work in performance art, dance and sculpture. As a close friend of  mine who is also chair of a department at the School remarked, “He’s a big deal.”  How could he not be?  Cave’s “personal OGs [Original Gangsters],” according to a recent interview, are

Rei Kawakubo, Victor & Rolf, Grace Jones, [Anselm] Kiefer, [Gerhard] Richter, David Bowie, Jasper Johns and Michael Jackson.

The Soundsuits for which he is justly famous are brilliantly vibrant, ornate costumes that permit surprising movement and sounds.  Constructed from “found objects, synthetic hair, raffia,” the Soundsuits adorn and transform Cave’s dancers, visibly and symbolically.  These sculptural pieces are exhibited in galleries far and wide and in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

His Atlanta performance, Up Right: Atlanta, staged twice daily from April 24-26, featured two movements.  The first, created by the Spelman College dance professor T. Lang, was fast-paced and raucous.  A kind of caricature of a grand drum master led the troupe of Soundsuit dancers, who mingled with the crowd whilst moving to a drum band.


Ponce City Market's Instagram

Ponce City Market’s Instagram


The more somber, meditative second movement, designed by Cave, placed the troupe on stage.  Scored in a stately manner by keyboard, this movement was fraught with symbolism.  The dancers were, as Cave explained in an interview before the performance,

seven individuals from the community [whom] we will be undressing and redressing. They will be literally building this sort of apparatus/attire sort of sculpture, so as the viewer you will be seeing this process as it occurs. Then the individuals will rise and walk into the world. It’s preparing the mind, body, and spirit to face the forces that get in the way of selfhood. It’s really about this sort of rite of passage to a degree.


What does it mean?  “I think it’s about renewal, and in order for Atlanta to rebuild itself the people need to be renewed.”


Courtesy of Michelle Lacoss

Courtesy of Michelle Lacoss


Cave was commissioned by the local purveyors of public art happenings, Flux Projects, to stage Up Right: Atlanta.  The performance proved characteristically flamboyant, a vivid spectacle, and a signature moment for the arts in Atlanta (perhaps worthy of a followup to New York Magazine‘s recent tribute to the “arty side of Atlanta”).

Perhaps more importantly, Cave’s performance gave a boost to a rising force in the shaping of this city’s future.  Up Right: Atlanta was staged in the central food hall of the nine-story Ponce City Market (PCM), supposedly the largest brick building in the South, “as large as 20 Wal-Mart stores” with over two million square feet. It is a vast mixed-use development and one of the most important experiments in recent Atlanta history.

Along the Atlanta BeltLine at Ponce de Leon and North Avenues, and across from Historic Fourth Ward Park, PCM occupies perhaps the ultimate in prime ATL real estate.  [It sits at the heart of “Inside the Perimeter Atlanta” with the Old Fourth Ward, Virginia Highland, Poncey-Highland, Inman Park, Druid Hills and Candler Park neighborhoods close enough for PCM to claim them all as neighbors.]

Cave’s performance drew large audiences to the as-yet-unfinished mixed-use behemoth formerly known as City Hall East and, for several decades before that, as a Sears, Roebuck & Co. distribution and retail center, a pillar of Atlanta’s consumer culture.  As we waited in line to be let in, many of us were on-site for the first time since the property had been purchased, repurposed and renovated by Atlanta’s own developer Jamestown Properties, the owners of New York’s beloved tourist attraction, Chelsea Market.  At PCM Jamestown is, as The Wall Street Journal put it,

applying a formula that it has successfully honed in New York, Boston, San Francisco and elsewhere: converting massive industrial buildings into fashionable properties filled with boutique shops, gourmet food outlets and office tenants willing to pay a pretty penny.

What’s it like?  Unsurprisingly, the vastness of the two stories opened for Up Right: Atlanta created a unique setting for Cave, just as they will for the ambitious food hall that is PCM’s ace.  The interior of the building is redolent of that cultivated mingling of antiquity and of-the-moment refurbishing, fixtures and details also found at Krog Street Market (KSM).  As The New York Times has reported, “the 1926 building is raw, historic and authentic.”



Courtesy of Michelle Lacoss



The entire place seems a product of carefully market-tested projections of hip consumerism.  Looking down on us as we awaited admission were two large, glossy advertisements for women’s fashion from Frye Company and Anthropologie, national chains not known for their budget-conscious fare.  Indeed, the tenants of the Market so far revealed  have been national or international chains (there’s going to be a J. Crew and The Jean Machine).

Whatever one’s impressions of the space, the performance was certainly memorable.   WSB’s Erica Byfield posted a good video of the view enjoyed by the first-floor audience during the stirring first movement.  A robust photo gallery of both movements is available here.

Cave’s sojourn to the ATL has had a significant impact on the local art scene, particularly his embrace of Flux Projects.  Founded in 2010, the non-profit has staged Flux Nights in Castleberry Hill that have drawn immense throngs seeking public art, experimentation, or merely an evening of excitement.  The Flux mission is to “shift perceptions of people inside and outside the city to see the creative energy that is already here and imagine a future where that creativity is central to Atlanta’s official identity.”

The name Flux is intended to invoke a fluid, malleable, unpredictable, never-static dynamic, or, as they put it,

Flowing. Continuous change. Movement.





Bringing Cave to Atlanta and arranging such lavish publicity at a unique, iconic location like the old Sears building has probably given Flux the momentum it needs as it prepares for October’s Flux Night 2015, and perhaps it has energized or inspired other local arts groups.

This was Cave’s intent.  In an interview with Lauri Stallings, founding artist of the dance troupe gloATL for Burnaway, Cave explained his desire to support the arts and a general movement of renewal in Atlanta. The initiates being adorned with the Soundsuits are transformed, just as PCM has recently been reborn.  Cave explains that rather than bring dancers and actors from Chicago, he sought local recruits and connected Atlantans who did not previously know one another, in the hopes that this performance spurs future collaborations that strengthen the local arts community.  He would, he said, rather leave “an imprint vs. an impression.”

Cave’s intentions are admirable, his performance a customary tour de force, and his imprint on the arts likely will endure.  However, his selection of Ponce City Market as a site has furthered the momentum behind a hype machine that risks getting a bit out of hand.  Atlantans and denizens of the world beyond the Perimeter alike have been rubbing together palms and salivating over the opportunities promised by the opening of PCM.  Can PCM live up to that hype and be the catalyst for Atlanta’s renewal?




[PCM model image via] via Curbed Atlanta

A model of Ponce City market via via Curbed Atlanta

PCM opens at a unique moment in the city’s history.  As Curbed Atlanta reported in December, 2014 proved “transformative” as the ATL shook off the recession hangover and welcomed two national museums, the Atlanta Streetcar, and “one mixed-use behemoth after another,” including KSM and PCM. The ATL, in terms of growth, had become “extremely unique,” even a “national anomaly.”

As Catherine Fox notes, “The construction crane is once again Atlanta’s official bird.”  The growth of “neighborhood-centric” mixed-use entities like Buckhead Atlanta on Peachtree Road and PCM, she suggests, is a positive for the city, and such developments “will also be absolutely necessary if this construction boom is not accompanied by transit improvements: the traffic will be such that we won’t be able to drive anywhere except in the dead of night.”

Thinking even more broadly, PCM’s arrival on the scene heightens the sense of Atlanta being at a historic crossroads.  David Hamilton has written an article asking, “Whither Atlanta?”  With the perennial uncertainty over the direction of Atlanta’s development, Hamilton argues, PCM “presages a new Atlanta just appearing over the horizon.”  How so?  PCM’s mix of retail, lofts, office and food, Hamilton suggests, caters to “the often-cited desire of the millennial generation to live in walkable, energetic city centers.”  No more pointless suburban sprawl.  PCM is poised to attract the kind of high-tech companies to its office space that will bring in their wake residents, shoppers, diners, and an overflowing cup of commerce.  PCM’s location “permits direct access for bikers and pedestrians from the BeltLine and its private shuttle bus to and from the North Avenue MARTA station.”  Thus PCM leads the way in the healthy movement toward “a future of more compact lifestyles.”

PCM has already garnered national attention, even adulation.  In the current issue (The Travel Issue) of Food & Wine, PCM and KSM are singled out in a report on “The New Food Tourism.”  Food halls have become tourist attractions in cities on both coasts and in the middle, but Atlanta’s “enormous” new standard bearers get the star treatment.

Talented chefs and an emphasis on local purveyors are cited as particularly noteworthy. A photo of Fred’s Meat & Bread adorns the article’s first page, and F&W swoons over Todd Ginsberg’s repast (they include the recipe for Fred’s Italian Grinders with Garlic Aioli and, helpfully, suggest pairing it with Sweetwater Georgia Brown).  Linton Hopkins of H&F Burger fame, the 2009 F&W Best New Chef, is one reason the magazine loves the as-yet empty food hall at PCM.  The promise of lobster rolls on toasted brioche by Anne Quatrano (of Bacchanalia fame) also builds anticipation.

Moreover, F&W envisions the transformative impact of these food halls:

The two Atlanta markets promise to become places where people all over this sprawling city can come together. . . food halls can create community.

Though it’s true KSM features communal seating and PCM plans to emphasize a delicious mingling of culinary and shopping pleasures, this claim seems dubious. A visit to Krog Street is certainly stimulating, but as a civic or broadly social experience, it seems little different than any other high-end contemporary consumer experience.  Perhaps PCM’s open container policy, which will allow shoppers to browse while sipping beer, wine, sake or other adult beverages purchased from the food hall’s purveyors, might kickstart a little socializing, this seems too superficial to constitute “community.”

Jamestown has generated attention beyond F&W.  It has been building anticipation with its steady trickle of news (restaurant and shop announcements, shifting opening dates) and an extraordinarily revealing website.  A lot of energy must have gone into the site’s design.  Its rhetoric constantly invokes “energy,” “vigor,” “excitement.”  PCM sums up the experience visitors can expect quite simply:


Gather, eat, shop!



Binders, the art supply store, and the coffee shop Dancing Goats are already open, but it is the central Food Hall everyone is waiting for.  Modestly, the PCM site introduces it as


Jamestown promises to replicate its success with Chelsea Market, with PCM “destined to be the most vibrant food hall and market in the Southeast.”  More specifically, they promise, “the Central Food Hall will be a culinary gathering place within a revamped historic space, but with the distinct character and flavors of Atlanta.”  New York is not the only talisman, for “the vision is for artisanal chefs and local producers to fill an authentic market that’s as vital to Atlanta as Pike Place Market is to Seattle — but with the design, food and flavors of Atlanta.”




Once more, renewal, authenticity, and community, magically achieved through creativity (and capital).

Speaking of community: to live at PCM is to lease at The Flats.


Wherever you go, the sky-kissing, tall brick tower at Ponce City Market is your beacon for finding your apartment at the Flats at Ponce City Market.

Drive, cycle or walk to exactly where you want to be. Atlanta is happening all around. Or hop an elevator lift to your own lofty flat with tall, steel-frame windows, Euro-style fittings, and a treetop perspective.



All healthy, enticing, and sustainable, if a bit breathlessly precious.

What The Flats cannot offer, however, is affordability.  The least expensive available units among their studios of 560 square feet cost $1,298 per month.  The most expensive unit — a three-bedroom with 1,790 square feet — will set you back $3645, though that might matter little to those who can, on any given day, go downstairs and afford a $400 pair of Frye boots.

No doubt the cost of the Flats reflects real craftsmanship in Jamestown’s renovation, as indicated by the image gallery for The Flats.  Too, check out the page on Design:


That’s the Flats at Ponce City Market. We’ve outfitted each apartment with handsome, sturdy fixtures and finishes to complement the existing structural features. Details include Tribeca wood used for cabinetry, sinks installed with under-counter mounting, and strategically placed transoms to allow light flow.

Throughout Ponce City Market, we’ve saved as much of the masonry, columns and historic design elements as we can. Every flat includes architectural features from the building’s 90-year history as a SE hub for Sears Roebuck & Co. and then City Hall East.

The design details can be fascinating. As part of the refurbishing of the buildings’ tall, steel-frame windows, we’ve replaced more than 56,000 panes of glass for our Atlanta apartments. Newly revealed, original walls of brick and concrete block offer textural character. Below your feet, freshly-sealed-and-stained concrete floors show the patina of age. Nuances are everywhere in the design of our Atlanta apartments for rent. Pay close attention, and you’ll notice that the original columns in the west wing are round, while every column in the east wing has squared corners.


As Hamilton notes, Jamestown has done with the old Sears space what the BeltLine does with the abandoned railroad, wrapping their renovation in an aura of authenticity and local “roots:”


The developers savvily reinforce these connections with such design elements as the blown-up entries from old Sears catalogs papering apartment lobbies.


This tasteful restoration of the Sears building is all to the good, though one might wish it were a public good rather than yet another private commodity.

Will PCM be as successful as Chelsea Market, which hosts the Food Network and Google?  Atlanta has bet big on PCM.  Mayor Kasim Reed has predicted a billion-dollar stimulus for the city.  He has certainly not indicated, however, how much of this largesse Atlanta Public Schools can expect.




For all of the hype about the food hall, the central location and proximity to the BeltLine, etc., PCM did not find as many takers as expected when it began renting its flats.  As Curbed Atlanta reported:


According to reviews from early residents, some aspects of the flats were not quite ready for prime time when they arrived. In October, one resident said, “We moved in too soon. We’re not even in our own unit.” Last month, another said, “…management should’ve waited to allow residents to move in until they were finished with a few things like access to the freight elevators, fire alarms that don’t sound every 2 hours, gas that is working properly, construction personnel working with jack hammers at 8AM and controlled access with fobs.”

This delay in leasing apartments is the least of concerns.  For PCM’s opening has happened in the midst of a great debate about the city’s future.  In fact, perceptions of PCM will likely become another front in Atlanta’s Gentrification Wars, for the biggest selling point is that it sits along the Atlanta Beltline, an immensely popular destination.  As the PCM page for “neighborhoods” emphasizes, residents at The Flats will be able to step outside and “Get to work in the fresh air—or take a short walk or ride to Midtown, Old Fourth Ward, and Inman Park restaurants, festivals and picnic spots, kickball games, and yoga studios.” This freedom is thanks to the BeltLine, “An amazingly smart re-use of the city’s former rail corridor . . . . [which] connects to a series parks, and is essentially one long park itself.”


However, the BeltLine is  also a political fault line.  The controversies about the Beltline — how it is funded (while Atlanta Public Schools runs short), how it has driven up rents and mortgages, threatening to drive out predominately lower-income black residents, how far it should be connected to transit (including the Atlanta Streetcar) — are extensive and enduring.  A strong argument has been made by Georgia State historian Alex Sayf Cummings that, in essence, the BeltLine has had a net negative effect on the progress of the city.  Cummings writes on contemporary and historical urban issues, and while he concedes that the BeltLine is “aesthetically beautiful” and promotes healthful activity and a more navigable Atlanta, he warns it is harmful to “equity and social justice.”  As the BeltLine expands property values rise.  When they do, so rise property taxes and apartment rents.  This hurts working people and risks replacing long-established (often African American) families with affluent (mainly white) newcomers, a classic case of gentrification. Worse, the increasing tax revenue generated by rising property taxes is flowing not into the Atlanta Public Schools (where, Cummings notes, most of the longtime residents send their children), but back into the coffers of the BeltLine.


Of course the BeltLine has many supporters and can be defended in many ways. Point to its impact of health for bikers, joggers, and pedestrians; its contributions via Art on the BeltLine; its circumventing the auto traffic that artificially balkanizes the heart of the city; its magnetic appeal to young professional taxpayers moving into the city, as well as tourists and suburban day-trippers who spend money while in the city; the investments and burgeoning business all along the existing and emerging trails; the enormous boost to Atlanta’s national cachet yielded by positive press; and many real or potential environmental benefits.  For most of us, these gains seem to make the BeltLine and mixed-use developments led by PCM and KSM a no-brainer.


However, there is a soft underbelly of the boosters’ case.  Eloquent and generally persuasive though he is, Hamilton, in his advocacy of the PCM, frames the city’s options in a seductive yet incomplete way:

The choice is fundamental and stark.  Do we want a dynamic, green, sustainable, livable city, or a pollution-racked nonplace in a constant state of gridlock?

As Cummings and many community activists have shown, the “choice” is not that simple.  Economic inequality, under-funded public education and racial disparities that have always plagued modern Atlanta are now more than ever urgent problems.  Biking carefree on the BeltLine while these problems actually worsen is not really an option.  Green is indubitably good, but our city’s environmental problems are intertwined with those of a national and global level.  Smart interior and street lighting by PCM and a slight reduction in carbon emissions by BeltLine power-walkers will not, alas, stave off the looming ecological disasters of this century.


So, Atlantans are right to celebrate the pleasures afforded by the BeltLine and PCM, and this era of ambitious mixed-use projects is a period of renewal.  The renewal remains incomplete, however.  The whiff of exclusivity and inequity arising from The Flats and other pricey apartments, condos and houses all along the BeltLine and throughout other areas of Atlanta is troubling.  Overblown rhetoric and promises of sudden transformation risk a later lapse into disillusionment.  We might yearn for the gastronomic pleasures of a local version of Chelsea Market, but we do not want Atlanta to become like New York, with its outrageous inequality and soaring cost of living.  The revival PCM promises will be for naught if our city becomes too costly to live in.


Mad thanks to Michelle Lacoss, my partner in crime, for much assistance and many suggestions 


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Categorised in: ART&CULTURE, ATL

2 Responses »

  1. Excellent descriptive analysis of both the projects and their respective impacts within the context of an emerging urban Atlanta without the seemingly requisite polemics from some of the past commentaries on these and other Atlanta projects. Well done!


  1. Senses of Place, MoS 2015 | MATTERS OF SENSE

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