Excavations on the site revealed unpleasant surprises of buried waste. Tenants were slow to register and lenders weren’t impressed. âStanding there several times I had to look at myself in the mirror and say ‘I did something wrong,’ Cochran said.
Zero Mile directors Scott Orvold and Alan Sher, who built the imposing metal-clad Eastern, also went through a dark night of the soul. In addition to the challenges of building a new $ 17 million concert hall at a time when few new venues are under construction, Zero Mile saw its plans slow down when the COVID-19 pandemic befell them like a rock the size of Indiana Jones.
âWe really lost our industry for a year and a half,â said Orvold, president of Zero Mile. “It’s a tough time to build a club.”
But during the hall’s inaugural performance, those worries seemed to evaporate as a head-flattened bassline bounced off the polished concrete floor and Big Boi voiced the proud âSo Fresh, So Cleanâ.
A redeveloped wasteland
Atlanta Dairies was a dairy cooperative established in the 1940s. In 1993, European dairy giant Parmalat purchased the cooperative and the 11-acre Memorial Drive facility. Parmalat imploded in 2004 with a financial collapse at the level of Enron.
The last nail in the coffin was in 2008. The March 14 tornado that ripped through the windows of the Westin Peachtree Plaza and threatened the SEC basketball tournament, moved east and tore off the roofs of the metal buildings at the Atlanta Dairies site, marking the end of operations there.
Around 2015, Paces Properties purchased the land and abandoned buildings. That year, Paces announced plans to transform the Dairies property into a mixed-use development with an industrial flair, following the same game plan that created the success of the Krog Street market.
This time around, however, Paces would get a live music venue as the primary tenant. âKrog Street was all about food and nightlife,â Orvold said.
The Masquerade, the iconic North Avenue club famous for punk, metal and hard music, had just lost its lease. Members of the Paces development team pitched the idea for a music venue at a community meeting in Reynoldstown and received a positive reception.
Then Paces started looking for a partner. The encounter with the music industry was a revelation for Cochran. “This is an extraordinarily tough business.”
Among the fierce competitors, he said, Zero Mile seemed reliable. “I always thought they were shooting straight.”
From their experience as the owner of the Georgia Theater in Athens, Terminal West in the development of King Plow, and the Variety Playhouse in Little Five Points, Zero Mile was well aware of the potential impact of the Eastern.
Concert hall as main tenant
With 150 shows a year and a 2,200-seat venue, âwe could accurately predict how many people we were going to drive into the venue each year,â Orvold said.
These visitors would feed the other dairy businesses. Concert lovers might stop by for a doppelbock at Three Taverns Imaginarium, or a mushroom empanada at WonderKid. âIf that happens on a 10% or 2% basis, it’s a win for us,â Cochran said.
Zero Mile partnered with AEG Presents, one of the largest live music companies in the United States, and hired Perkins + Will, the architectural firm that also designed the renovations to other Zero Mile properties.
Although they are building on a historic site, this would be the first time that Zero Mile has created a place from scratch.
Hundreds of decisions would be theirs, which is liberating but difficult. âHaving a blank canvas can be pretty darn tough,â said Sher, vice president of operations.
Creating a venue that could accommodate 2,200 people on a small, oddly-shaped 15,000 square foot footprint and pursuing a building project in tight spaces was the biggest challenge, said lead architect Chris Loyal .
Zero Mile addressed the issue by negotiating additional airspace with Paces, allowing the upper floors of the Eastern to extend beyond the footprint and overlook portions of the walkways below.
The closest comparable mid-size venue is the 2,600-seat Tabernacle in downtown Atlanta, but Orvold doesn’t care about the competition. âThe way the music scene is developing here, there’s probably enough meat on the bone for us both to exist,â he said.
To the east, there are two bars on each level, six in all, and lines of sight are good from six onwards. Rooftop bar patrons can watch the performers on a large video screen while ordering in a full-service kitchen.
The rooftop is equipped with a small stage where Zero Mile also provides more modest shows under a permanent metal canopy. âIt still makes it look like it’s outside, but there’s more protection from the elements,â Sher said.
In addition to serving as an economic engine for the dairies, the east serves as a buffer between development and two noisy neighbors to the south: traffic on I-20 and a town maintenance facility.
Upcoming shows include Chapel Hill, North Carolina band The Connells (September 18), Grateful Dead keyboardist Bruce Hornsby (September 23) and college radio favorites Toad the Wet Sprocket (October 9).
While there are 550 parking spaces available for eastern customers on the bridge that serves the development, owners expect to see carpooling and bicycle traffic, and even pedestrian arrivals from the neighboring Beltline, “which we’ve never seen (before) in Atlanta,” Orvold said. “We’ve seen it perform for Big Boi and (the Athens band) Futurebirds.”
Indeed, David Pruitt, 33, an electrical engineer from Glenwood Park, just south of the Dairies, made the trip on foot, but not that night.
âI love this rooftop,â said Pruitt, sipping a drink with fellow engineer Hector Colon, as the first part of Big Boi was played below. âIt’s a nice place not to meet people. “
The two were happy to be in town, naming a new location and the eastern requirement that customers be vaccinated or test negative for COVID-19.
Said Colon, 34, a computer engineer who lives in the Sweet Auburn area, “I’m ready to go out and see the world.”