Ryan Gravel, the urban planner whose master’s thesis became the Atlanta BeltLine, has a new vision to help start conversations about the future of the city.
Gravel plans to open Aftercar this November in the basement of the Telephone Factory Lofts, which are adjacent to the BeltLine’s bustling Eastside Trail in Poncey-Highland.
Aftercar will be the physical space of Gravel’s nonprofit Generator, which helps people generate, pursue, connect, and deliver ideas that support the future of cities.
Originally conceived as a restaurant, Gravel pivoted during the pandemic to transform the space into a social house and shared workspace.
“Coming out of COVID, this is the thing that will allow us to get open and get started,” Gravel said. “I still have a big vision for food and beverage service, but I wanted to get this space open.”
Gravel said the Aftercar space at the Telephone Factory, originally built in 1938 for the Western Electric Company and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was perfect for the venue, since the basement was the former cafeteria and dining hall. He said new bathrooms, office spaces, and “light cosmetic touches” would be part of the upgrade.
Aftercar will offer “reasonably inexpensive” monthly memberships during the weekday, offering a cool space to work on the BeltLine with Wi-Fi and coffee. There will also be private spaces that can be rented by the day or the hour for small event like film screenings, luncheons, and wedding receptions.
“Once we get up and established, we’ll include some form of food and beverage,” Gravel said. “It might be a full-on restaurant, or it might be pre-made, pre-packaged food.”
Gravel has been transparent about his concerns with how the BeltLine has evolved, resigning from the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership in 2016 due a lack of equity and housing affordability along the 22-mile loop he envisioned as a graduate student at Georgia Tech.
Gravel said his vision for the BeltLine has always been one of inclusivity – making sure its success does not prevent people of all income levels from being able to live along the corridor. Still, he plans to have his office at Aftercar.
“I’m frustrated on the slow delivery of the BeltLine, especially affordable housing and transit,” he said candidly. “The timetable for transit is unacceptable. Transit is what makes the BeltLine available for everyone.”
He said the creation of Generator and Aftercar are part of his looking ahead beyond the BeltLine to cultivate and amplify conversations about the future of Atlanta and other metropolitan areas, including more affordable housing, public transit that connects all neighborhoods, and cities and developers moving away from car-centric projects.
It’s that last part that led Gravel to make up the name Aftercar, which he said evokes a future beyond the automobile as we know it today.
“Growth and change are coming, and we aren’t having those conversations,” he said. “I want Aftercar to be a good place to change that.”