South of Downtown, there’s huge opportunity in redeveloping an underutilized lot that will also be a huge boon to the local community – no, not Turner Field, but an old steel manufacturing plant. If you head downtown to Five Points and take the route 155 bus to the intersection of Cooper and Love Streets, you’ll find that old mill on Windsor Street and the folks turning it into a game-changer for the neighborhood.
787 Windsor isn’t the kind of place one would think to find a successful small-scale developer and furniture-maker like Ric Geyer, but he’s there setting up shop in the derelict warehouse at the end of the block. Despite its unappealing first impression of barbed wire fence and rusted factory, the property is kind of mystifying, an artifact from another age. According to Ric, “That original building’s probably over a hundred years old… Most likely built in the 1890’s.”
As he leads me past the large sheet metal-sided building in front, the property becomes much more interesting; the walls of the buildings are covered in graffiti from the recent graffiti party Ric and his associates held a couple of weeks ago (“That was a friggin’ blast,” he adds) and lights are strung up along the corridor. The cement recedes to reveal the old rail tracks that run right up to the old warehouse as we walk towards the back of the property where the storage shed – and one day, his studio – sits. Men from the neighborhood are hard at work caulking and cementing patches around the property to try to beat the rain (or at least see what parts can be made water-tight at the moment).
Ric pulls out a map and lays it across his workbench, showing the plans for the property. “Well, we’re back here of course,” he says showing the shop’s location to the rear of the schematic, “but that’s not the interesting part – everything else is.”
The plans revolve around creating a space for artists, studios and shared spaces, that mimics Ric’s work in Detroit with the 4731 Gallery and Studios. Self-identifying as an “urban revivalist,” Ric believes that creating spaces to foster the arts in turn fosters the community. But the plans for 787 Windsor are far more ambitious than just as an arts center; also in the works are spaces for a high end restaurant, a coffee shop, a space in the front-most segment for a deconstruction/e-waste recycling operation, and even a farm stand and raised beds for a community garden. “We want to build a place that will help the community,” Ric says, and his partner (and West End resident), Imran Battla, chimes in: “Development without Displacement.”
Ric (center) and Imran (center left) with volunteers and community members at 787 Windsor.
That idea of development without displacement is the unofficial mantra for the project, of including the community in the conversation and reaching out to them for input. Ric has gone so far as to go door to door along the houses nearby to meet and talk to the people in the community. “I was talking to someone right over there,” Ric elaborated, pointing to a house down the block, “when a woman comes out of the house, yelling her head off at me and I listen, and when she’s done I just tell her to give me a hug as if I’ve been here for years, and she does!” You’ve got to let them know that you’re not just some white guy from the ‘burbs here to change their community, but that you want to be a part of it and help it grow.” He’s talked to local gang members and guys just hanging out at nearby gas stations, too, and found to his surprise that they love what he’s doing with the lot.
Ric and his trademark grin.
“This guy drove up in his truck real slow and just parked right across the street when I was painting the side of the front building with some of the neighborhood kids, and I thought ‘oh shit,’ like ‘what’s this guy’s deal.’ And he just looked at me and looked at the kids, and looked at the wall we were painting and muttered ‘Motherfucker… that is the coolest shit!’ And boy, was I relieved,” Ric said with a laugh.
It’s that kind of community involvement, that bold openness in the future of the project, that has helped the project build so much attention so quickly.
The elephant in the room is, of course, the Turner Field redevelopment. Will its impacts reach across I-20 and help (or hinder) the “development without displacement” that Ric and his partners are aiming for? Well, it all depends on what goes in. If The City gets its way and secures a deal with Georgia State University, the impacts will probably be negligible. If casinos get their way, that would be a gamble for the future of the community and South Downtown in a broader sense. But if The City moves forward with a plan with input from Summer Hill – and ideally Mechanicsville, too – there could be resounding implications for this community. Additionally, the Atlanta BeltLine also runs just south of 787 Windsor, opening up a whole other set of questions.
But for Ric and his crew, that doesn’t matter for the future of 787 Windsor. They are moving ahead with their own plan that will result in incremental growth on site and in the community. They have already been holding events at 787 Windsor for a few months now, most recently a graffiti party open to everyone, but they also just hang out every Wednesday with anyone who wants to stop by.
Graffiti party in action.
After the party.
Some of Ric’s furniture.
No bad days down at 787 Windsor.
When asked why Mechanicsville, Ric’s response is pretty simple: “I love it here and I love the community around here, and I think they’ll really love this.”
Source: 787 Windsor Facebook page.