A fatal fire early Sunday morning in South Downtown Atlanta has resulted in the temporary but indefinite closure of several galleries in the area until they can show they are up to fire codes. Gallery owners and organizers say they are unsure how long it will take to prove to the city that they are up to code.
According to news reports, an Atlanta police officer noticed smoke coming from a two-story building, believed unoccupied, on South Broad Street at 1 a.m. early Sunday morning. Several well-attended events in area galleries were still going on at the time, and attendees say that witnesses began to run in from outside, yelling that everyone should leave the buildings due to smoke from a nearby fire. On the street, smoke was seen billowing from the two-story building, and fire trucks arrived soon afterwards.
An unidentified man, possibly homeless, was pulled from the fire and was pronounced dead at the scene.
Development company Newport Holding, which owns the building that caught fire, also owns several properties in the area including those that house Mammal, Murmur, Eyedrum and Broad Street Visitors Center galleries. Those galleries will be closed for the time being.
Newport issued a statement saying the galleries will be closed until it is determined those buildings are safe and up to current codes. “The safety of our tenants and their guests is our top priority,” Newport said. “We have met directly with each affected group and will continue to be in close communication with them as we make progress. We are making efforts to move all currently scheduled gatherings and events in these buildings to alternative locations at Newport’s expense.”
The company recently purchased the properties and has widely publicized its plans to revitalize the area. The German development firm owns more than two dozen historic downtown buildings, some with galleries, most currently unoccupied.
One gallery owner said that according to his previous lease agreement, renters themselves were responsible for investing in the property if they wanted it to be up to code. He described his gallery as being “relatively close to being to code,” and remarked that the tragic occurrence will speed up Newport’s already existing plans for getting the gallery spaces up to code.
Organizers say that the company has been accommodating and helpful about the process and in relocating planned events to other locations, such as the M. Rich Building and the Masquerade Nightclub.