“Where we’re standing was called Club Poinciana, a jazz joint in the 1940s,” says Gene Kansas, a commercial real estate broker and developer, as we visit Auburn Avenue’s Condesa Coffee. “Benny Goodman, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Little Richard played here—like, here.”
A New Orleans native who holds a Georgia Tech master’s degree in digital media, Kansas has an affinity for adaptive-reuse projects, especially those on imperiled Auburn Avenue, the heart of a district famously dubbed Sweet Auburn when it was thriving during the first half of the 20th century. Kansas knows how fragile community and history can be, having seen his hometown literally underwater—a natural disaster that helped motivate him to preserve the 1912 Atlanta Daily World building. It was home to the nation’s oldest continually operated black newspaper until a tornado ripped off the roof in 2008. Kansas bought the decrepit building in 2014. Aided by historic tax credits, Kansas opened the renovated building a year later with two character-rich apartments upstairs and the coffee shop and Arden’s Garden below. Its preservation earned an Atlanta Urban Design Commission Award of Excellence, among other accolades.
Alexis Scott, former publisher of the Atlanta Daily World, which her grandfather founded, calls the building’s rescue “a thing of beauty.”
Two doors down, Kansas has now bought the top floor of a 1910 Georgian-style building by architect Neel Reid to launch a collaborative working space called Constellations. Amenities will include a podcast studio, showers for bike commuters, and a coffee bar. Plans call for an April opening.
Kansas also helms a philanthropy he founded, A Giving Campaign, which connects Atlanta nonprofits with donors and volunteers.
This article originally appeared in our November 2017 issue.