By John Schaffner
Two things are obvious about Ben Carter’s quest to build a high-quality, unified mixed-use Streets of Buckhead development: He is persistent and is willing to spend big money.
After being once rebuked by the Fulton County Commission in his bid to add the site of the present Buckhead library branch to his development, Carter has refused to take no for an answer and has returned with a new offer.
Carter’s latest offer is to build a duplicate of the library building—acclaimed by some and criticized by others—at the northeast corner of East Paces Ferry Road and Maple Drive, several blocks east of its present location on Buckhead Avenue.
The alternative site, just under 2 acres, is not owned by Carter, but the owner apparently is willing to sell.
Carter has offered about $24 million for the existing library because it is in the way of his plans for the Streets of Buckhead.
Carter reportedly has said the $24 million is plenty to cover the land, construction and furnishings for the new library, with some left over.
On May 21, the Fulton Commission approved a resolution directing staff members to analyze Carter’s latest proposal. The commission is expected to hear their recommendation in June.
Commissioner Tom Lowe is on record as saying, “Is an offer of $300 a square foot worth taking a look at? I say yes.”
Lowe, who offered the resolution in the commission meeting, once called the library building “an abortion the day it was dedicated.”
Lowe said Carter told him he would build the same library at the newly proposed site. However, with $24 million being offered, Lowe believes the county could build “a bigger, fancier library.”
When Carter’s first offer to buy the library site became public in February, defenders of the building demonstrated and launched petition drives.
The building was designed by Mack Scogin and Merrill Elam and is distinctive with its black slate tiles and jutting angles. Architectural students come to Atlanta to study the building, which opened in 1989.
Fulton library system director John Szabo doubts $24 million will cover building a new library, considering land costs in Buckhead, and he doesn’t think creating a clone will ease the concerns of those who want to preserve the existing building.
The Atlanta-Fulton Public Library trustees have recommended spending $1.9 million to renovate the present library, but not change its appearance.
Carter’s offer in February was to purchase the library and incorporate a new library in a new mixed-use building in the Streets of Buckhead, which would include parking available in an attached parking deck. He then suggested two nearby sites for a standalone library.
The trustees at that time opposed the idea of sharing a building, defended the unusual look of the library and were concerned new construction would be too costly. They voted Carter’s offer 8-0 with two abstentions.
Fulton commissioners must approve the library facility master plan by July in order to seek voter approval ob bond funding in November. That bond amount currently is $227 million and includes building eight new library, but the Buckhead branch is not among them at this time.