|By Walter Woods, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Apr. 16, 2004 - The Winecoff Hotel, the infamous Peachtree Street eyesore popular with pigeons and kudzu, may have its best chance in decades to return to its 1913 glory.
The hotel's New York owners, frustrated by years of thwarted deals and false starts, have decided not to sell, and plan to use their expertise and deep pockets to fix up the structure themselves, a spokeswoman said.
The restored Winecoff would be a small hotel, with about 130 rooms, a restaurant and bar, as well as a modest conference space, said Susan Griffin, who runs the hotel operations of RD Management, the building's owner.
The Winecoff sits boarded up on a critical piece of downtown real estate, the corner of Peachtree and Ellis streets. It's been a sore spot for city boosters for years.
"It's something good that's waiting to happen downtown," said Bill Howard, vice president of the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau.
But many hopeful plans have withered over the years.
In 1983, the building was supposed to be demolished for an office tower that was never built. Just this January, Steve Holtze Hotels, a Denver company specializing in restoring antique buildings, failed to put a deal together.
Given the many failures, the owners are choosing their words carefully to keep spirits from running too high. The Winecoff is a difficult deal, and banks have balked at putting money into it, Griffin warned.
Like previous buyers, RD Management is negotiating with the city for various historical and downtown development incentives. "When we get to some conclusions (from city officials), you could see action immediately," Griffin said.
But unlike some previous suitors, the current owner does have a portfolio of hotels around the country and "the financial wherewithal" to get the job done, said A.J. Robinson, head of Central Atlanta Progress, downtown's advocacy group.
If the Winecoff reopens, it will be a glad day in the site's otherwise tragic history. In the wee hours of Dec. 7, 1946, the crowded hotel caught fire, killing 119 people, including many teens in town for a youth conference.
The building was a retirement home and had other uses after the fire. But since the 1980s, the once-grand hotel has been a graffiti canvas and vermin hostel between a MARTA stop and the shuttered downtown Macy's.
"It was just about too late" to fix the Winecoff, said state Sen. Sam Zamarripa (D-Atlanta). He represents downtown under the Gold Dome and assembled a state committee last year to look at saving the building.
"It's one of the top 10 in the city's historical inventory that needs a new life," Zamarripa said. "It's also one of the most underutilized properties but with the biggest potential."
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(c) 2004, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.