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Preservationists Fight to Stop Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville from Demolishing South’s First Recording Studio

By Clive Young. The site where the first country-music hit was recorded is likely to be demolished, making way for the garbage-loading area of a Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville hotel.

Atlanta, GA (July 29, 2019)—In 1923, New York record label OKeh Records set up a “recording laboratory” at 24 Nassau Street in Atlanta, where engineer Ralph Peer recorded countless regional musicians. It was the first recording studio in the South, and OKeh’s investment quickly paid off when the facility recorded the first country music hit, “The Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane,” by Fiddlin’ John Carson, on June 19, 1923. Nearly 100 years later, the historic site is now slated for demolition to make way for the garbage-loading area of a Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville hotel.

Preservationists are scrambling to prevent the demolition from taking place, circulating petitions and writing letters to mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and the Atlanta City Council, arguing that a November 6, 2017 agreement between the city and developer Strand Capital Group of North Myrtle Beach, SC, is unlawful because it sidestepped the city’s zoning processes, depriving the public of due process.

Ironically, that contested agreement happened less than six months after Atlanta planning commissioner Tim Keane first announced the building would be designated as a historic landmark, on May 11, 2017.

According to local news site Saporta Report, after Keane’s announcement, the Atlanta Urban Design Commission confirmed the building (now known as 152 Nassau Street) as a landmark two months later in July, 2017. That same month, the city council unanimously voted for the zoning review board and zoning committee to officially give the building its historic designation. The review board quickly approved the effort, passing it on to the zoning committee for the final stamp of approval.

Historic Studio’s Revitalization Scrapped

That approval never happened. Instead, the designation inexplicably languished for four months until the city, under then-mayor Kasim Reed, reached its deal with Strand Capital Group to build a 22-story, $100 million-plus hotel on a plot of land adjacent to 152 Nassau Street. Under the current project design, the historic building would be destroyed to create a garbage-loading area behind the hotel—essentially a parking lot.

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According to local preservationist group Historic Atlanta, “This sweetheart deal gave Margaritaville a ‘golden ticket’ through the demo permitting process and was done without any review by the public or even City Council.” As a result, the group is “demanding that a stop-work order be issued to prevent demolition” and is asking the public to contact mayor Bottoms, planning commissioner Keane and the city council.

When reached by regional NPR station WGPB earlier this month about the situation, J. Patrick Lowe, representing developer Strand Capital Group, commented, “We care about the history of country music and the rich, diverse history of Atlanta. As part of the development, we are considering ways to respectfully acknowledge that Okeh Music recorded an early country music song there.”