In the next two years, the West End Mall as it now exists will no longer exist.
Elevator City Partners and SixPitch met with members of the West End residential community at the Shrine of the Black Madonna Bookstore near the West End Mall to discuss their plans to buy up the mall and redevelop the property into a high-rise, mixed-use development over the course of five years.
Elevator City Partners Donray Von along with SixPitch’s Ryan Gravel joined District 4 Councilmember Cleta M. Winslow and Walter Slaton, a West End community resident, at The Shrine to explain to the packed house the need and advantages of providing a comprehensive retail and restaurant experience as well as to modernize the West End as a whole.
Von, who became an entertainment entrepreneur who traveled the world before coming back to the West End, said he wants the community to go undergo this imminent metamorphosis together with their input and help.
“I’m proud to be from the West End,” Von said. “Don’t think of me as a person who moved away. Think of me as a person who experienced the world and now I intend to come back to the community with something to offer. I hope you find me a constant.”
Based on the renderings posted in the auditorium, The Mall at West End and its surroundings will be virtually unrecognizable in a few years.
Elevator City reportedly has the West End mall under contract and plans to secure ownership of later by Thanksgiving. The mall is situated on the north side of Ralph David Abernathy Boulevard just south of I-20 and a couple of blocks away from the famed Atlanta University Center.
All too often, Winslow stated, residents have to leave the area to go grocery shopping, to eat at fine dining restaurants and to purchase clothing. It is about time that resident
Von and Gravel are the leads of an investment group that recently announced the purchase of The Mall at West End which represents the cultural soul of the West End community.
The rapidly gentrifying community was on the verge of being sold and redeveloped as a number of entities outside of Atlanta had been looking at the region and the amenities already in place, including its proximity to downtown, as well as the aforementioned the Atlanta University Center, the Atlanta Beltline and I-20.
Normally words such as “redevelopment” are considered inflammatory as it incites fears in longtime residents because of gentrification — Forbes magazine rates Atlanta as the 4th most gentrified city in the nation — along with skyrocketing property values, worker and resident displacement and the complete obliteration of its cultural identity.
This is why Von, a Morehouse graduate who was raised in the West End community, agreed to host the meeting at the Shrine to allay the fears that come with a radically changing landscape.
As a former resident, he said he is particularly sensitive to the concerns of this community and will put its cultural preservation on a much higher priority list than, say, a developer who came in from another state.
“To replace the culture in the West End district is like going to the Motown Museum and not hearing Motown music,” Von said, referencing Detroit’s cultural and musical landmark. “That is not our intent. We brought in economic opportunity through lending, SBA, the banks, the CRA.
“I get to do something that hasn’t been done for the community,” he continued. “How can I go to the Bank of America and say, ‘you should put $15 million into the West End?’ Because I can show them a destination. Because I can show them that we are X amount of stops from the airport. I can show them the HBCUs.”
Von’s business partner is Ryan Gravel of SixPitch, who has been credited with being the visionary and creator of the Atlanta BeltLine. Gravel said they will work to retain the mall’s current vendors aboard after the building is leveled in about two years.
“The best scenario for community growth is not that somebody else opens a shop in your neighborhood, but that you open a shop for yourself and have the chance to build generational wealth for your family,” Gravel wrote in his blog.
Gravel does not envision the 12-acre overhaul would be a replication of the Ponce City Market.
“I believe that under the right conditions, and with the right partners, private sector real estate development can help achieve a better city for everyone,” Gravel wrote.
West End resident Walter Slaton of Marcus & Millichap, said having a developer who is from the community will make the inevitable transition smoother and greatly reduces the chances of a complete overhaul of its cultural richness.
“The initial conversation was about displacement,” Von said to the crowd. “It impacts me as I live in the West End. So I’ll be impacted. We’re looking at creating jobs and opportunities in the neighborhood as well as tenants in the mall to stay. We’re not looking for anyone to be displaced.”
Councilwoman Cleta M. Winslow added that the West End is in need of more than simple cosmetic changes. There needs to be an overhaul that resembles what is happening less than a mile from the West End mall in the area that surrounds former Turner Field.
Winslow said West End residents don’t want to be on the “back porch” of a revitalization that is going on in neighborhoods around the West End.
“The reason we are having this meeting is so that we can talk about the fact that there is a need to make a change. We all know that,” she said.
“We all know that we shop someplace else. So why should we continue to take our money out of the community, come back to the community, and we continue to complain that we don’t have anything that we need to have,” she said to great applause.