One of the most important initiatives in Jewish Atlanta is the Front Porch, a Federation-led effort to reimagine what the community can and should be to unlock its potential, but I’ve just seen what could be our vital back porch.
Unlike the Front Porch, the back porch isn’t a metaphor; it’s the back of an intown redbrick office building. Like the Front Porch, it has transformative potential for Jewish Atlanta.
The building fronts on Ponce de Leon Place, which runs north from Ponce de Leon Avenue just east of Ponce City Market. More important, the building backs up to the BeltLine, with PCM just across the street to the left and the high-rises of Midtown to the right.
Chabad Intown Rabbi Eliyahu Schusterman said some 40,000 people walk, run, bike or otherwise pass by 730 Ponce de Leon Place every weekend, creating a rich opportunity to connect with intown Jews, affiliated or not.
It’s an opportunity Rabbi Schusterman decided he couldn’t pass up as Chabad Intown outgrows its home at 928 Ponce de Leon Ave. A search for new space that involved several near-misses led to Ponce de Leon Place, where a $1 million gift from an anonymous donor enabled Chabad Intown to close a deal for the 4,000-square-foot top floor of the hillside building for $1.7 million.
Rabbi Schusterman showed me where there will be a kitchen, classrooms, a lobby, offices, and a 2,300-square-foot, dividable room for events and lectures. That space will meet the needs of the Intown Jewish Academy, Intown Hebrew School, Young Jewish Professionals-Midtown Atlanta and most other functions of Chabad Intown other than Shabbat services and the Intown Jewish Preschool.
If that had been all Chabad Intown got out of the building, dayenu: It would have been enough. But whether through luck, coincidence or divine plan, there’s so much more.
A series of failed deals opened the way for Chabad Intown to take over the master lease for the 17,000-square-foot lower floor, with an option to buy within three years for $5.9 million. Rabbi Schusterman said a $4 million capital campaign is coming to raise $2.5 million for the down payment, plus $1.5 million for a renovation of the Intown Jewish Preschool building.
A tour of the lower floor, vacant except for a yoga studio, reveals that this real estate deal isn’t big just for Chabad Intown.
One room facing the BeltLine is a natural for a cafe. Rabbi Schusterman sees it as a place where people can take a break for a light, kosher breakfast or lunch.
A room in back could serve the Marcus JCC as a convenient location for intown programming.
Much of the space will be converted into a Jewish-focused co-working office with all the amenities, including showers for people who need to clean up after running or riding along the BeltLine. Chabad Intown announced the co-working plan Friday, March 23, with a target launch of Aug. 1. But Rabbi Schusterman said the start could come sooner, as long as 50 tenants sign up.
He’s hopeful that Federation will facilitate the gathering of small Jewish agencies at the building, much as several have congregated at the Industrious co-working space at Ponce City Market. He also hopes the Israeli high-tech community will find a home at the building.
That’s a lot of potential Jewish energy gathered in what Rabbi Schusterman foresees as a “Judaism community center,” with that potential becoming kinetic each Friday afternoon through gatherings off the back porch called Bayning on the BeltLine (a reference to the process of winding down in preparation for Shabbat, parallel to the separation Havdalah provides after Shabbat).
Imagine music, food and drink in a casual, welcoming setting to bring people off the BeltLine into a peaceful, Jewish mindset before Friday night. Then people could go home, head to services somewhere else or daven inside.
It’s an enchanting and realistic vision of another much-needed entry point to Jewish engagement in Atlanta.