Majic ATL Featured Video

The old downtown Macy’s will reopen as an event facility on June 5 (

From the

When Davison’s, that “Cathedral of Commerce” on Peachtree Street, opened in 1927, it was reportedly the first department store south of Philadelphia to have air conditioning. Many tourists came from around the region just to ride the escalators.

By 2003, most shoppers had fled to suburban malls. The Davison’s building (rechristened Macy’s in the 1980s), went dark.

Today, workmen are busy completing a $16 million renovation at the massive downtown landmark. Of the 26 or so investors in the project, 25 are native Atlantans.

Many of them were around when Davison’s represented the acme of Atlanta’s glamour and glitz. That nostalgia didn’t lure them into an emotional investment. But it didn’t hurt.

“We’re not in the preservation business,” said Robert Patterson, the Chastain Park-raised, Ivy-educated president of 200 Peachtree. “This is a business investment. We’re not trying to say this is a philanthropy. This a group of people that remember Davison’s and what that building meant to downtown. There is a desire to see that come back.”

The former department store, being remade as an event facility, opens its doors June 5 and hosts a party for Leadership Atlanta. While the top five floors have been occupied for years by a data company’s telecom machinery and Atlanta’s 911 operation, the building’s first three floors, including the atrium with its 30-foot ceilings, once again will welcome the public.

They will find a building with much of the same panache as the original incarnation, which opened in territory that had been dominated by Rich’s since the 1800s.

Davison’s was owned by the R.H. Macy Co., and took the Macy’s name in 1985. It continued to stage flashy events, rolling out the purple carpet for Elizabeth Taylor in 1987 when she introduced her first perfume, Passion, to a crowd of several thousand.

“It was grand, and it was beautiful; it felt like a real city store,” said Craig Weaver, a hairstylist at the in-store salon during the 1980s.

Laurie Ann Goldman left her home in New Orleans to become special events manager at the downtown Macy’s in 1987. She remembers the first time she walked into the atrium and stared at the 14-foot crystal chandeliers. “I went to a payphone, called my parents and said ‘Oh my God, I’ve arrived.’ ” Goldman went on to become CEO of Spanx, the Atlanta-based foundation garment company.

When it closed in 2003, Macy’s had outlived its downtown rival Rich’s by 12 years. The upper floors of the building were rented by a data center, but the lower floors were only intermittently occupied. (One tenant was Delta, which used the atrium as a training facility, complete with an imported jet fuselage).

“It was kind of sad, kind of pitiful” to see it empty, said Weaver.

A new life for those bottom floors was kindled last August, when Patterson’s team began construction.

One recent morning in May, workers scurried through the Grand Atrium, polishing and installing the final sections of the marble floor, part of which is original to the store and part of which is matched with new marble from Greece.

After the June 5 grand opening, the atrium will host weddings, parties and corporate events, including an already-scheduled meeting of Microsoft employees. Patterson’s group is still seeking a tenant for a 50,000-square-foot area in the basement, appropriate for a museum or a permanent or traveling exhibit.

A.J. Robinson, president of Central Atlanta Progress, said the renovated space, along with the newly minted Ellis Hotel and the 191 building, helps shore up one of Atlanta’s showpiece sections of Peachtree.

“This is a final piece of the puzzle of that block so important for everyone visiting Atlanta,” he said. “It’s a return to a healthy downtown.”

Read the full story here.