Courtesy Smith Dalia Architects
When the Masquerade first opened in 1989, the North Avenue rock club gave people a reason to visit what was then an unremarkable and unsafe industrial corridor. The Masquerade, housed within an old mill that for decades chopped wood into slivers for packaging, boasted three stages, cleverly named Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory. But a decade ago, the Old Fourth Ward started to change: The venue’s parking lot became Historic Fourth Ward Park, City Hall East reopened as Ponce City Market, and luxury apartments popped up along the Atlanta BeltLine’s Eastside Trail. Gradually, the music venue that made many Atlantans care about the area became destined for displacement.
This coming Monday, the project replacing the Masquerade, a $60 million mixed-use development called North + Line, will break ground. Once finished in April 2018, a new eight-story building will offer 228 luxury apartments with BeltLine access, a pool with a skyline view, and a neighborhood tavern. The mill itself will be renamed Mill Marketplace, and instead of a grimy club, you’ll find a chef-driven restaurant, as well as retail shops.
In 2005, Dean Riopelle, the one-time head of the Masquerade who died three years ago, sold the Excelsior Mill to Vinings-based developer Southeast Capital Companies for $4 million. Jay Clark, the firm’s founder and CEO, originally planned to demolish the building at a time when both the BeltLine and Historic Fourth Ward Park were nothing more than plans.
But then the economy collapsed, which postponed SEC’s plans, but allowed the Masquerade to remain the tenant. (Preservationists also managed to gain historic protections for the mill from the city.) As the economy rebounded, bringing a flurry of new developments to the area, SEC purchased two additional parcels adjacent to the Eastside Trail, expanding its footprint near the BeltLine to approximately three acres.
“We lucked out,” said Clark, whose partners, which also include SWH Residential Partners and Coro Realty Advisors, intend to hold onto the building after it’s done because the “area is just going to continue getting better.”
In the next few weeks, constructions crews will demolish the lot’s non-historic buildings—“anything that’s not the old buildings or attached,” Clark says—as they clear the site south of the Masquerade. From there, SEC plans to build a wall along the lot’s east side to stabilize the BeltLine, which runs 30 feet above from the project’s edge. After that, the developer plans to spend the next 10 months building a three-story parking deck before moving on to the five-story apartment building.
Clark says the rental price for the 228 units, which would cater to families and empty nesters, will be “pretty equal” to that of Ponce City Market. He’s also planning for a 4,500-square-foot restaurant with a “local, comfortable, and casual” environment that would open across from Historic Fourth Ward Park.
The Excelsior Mill—comprised of the two-story structure containing Heaven and Hell, and a one-floor building where Purgatory is located—will not be demolished. Instead, it’ll be refurbished and converted into a restaurant.
“There’s been a lot of weeping and wailing that the Masquerade is going away,” said Old Fourth Ward Business Association Community Liaison Kit Sutherland, a longtime neighborhood resident, who used to grab Mellow Mushroom pizza and watch art-house films at the Excelsior Mill Restaurant and Bar located there in the ‘80s. “But the Masquerade is one chapter in a building that has had a very long life.”
What does that mean for the Masquerade? Promoter Greg Green, who’s worked there for over 25 years, says venue, owned by Brian McNamara, will still host the upcoming Wrecking Ball festival and has concerts booked through the fall. “We don’t have a firm [final] date,” Green said. “We’ll announce our plans before we move. It won’t be all of the sudden.”
According to Clark, Atlanta’s Urban Design Commission must approve renovations to the Excelsior Mill. Because of that, he doesn’t think the restoration of the two historic building would begin before next spring. By that point, Green says, the Masquerade could be in a new home that ideally has three stages under a single roof, remaining remarkably similar, except for the address out front.
“It was a pretty bleak and desolate area when we first opened,” Green said. “We were outliers. Now it’s an area where people enjoy living, there’s greenspace, businesses opening, and people living here. While it’ll be a change to leave this building, I’m proud of the way we’re leaving it, whenever we leave it.