by Mark Lannaman
On Tuesday, July 11, a groundbreaking ceremony was held at a neglected building on historic Edgewood Avenue in Downtown Atlanta which will become the site of BE on Edgewood. Fulton County Commission Chairman Rob Pitts attended the ceremony, along with dozens of other community leaders.
The redevelopment is being headed by Navmar, LLC. Marjan Yavari has been the owner and operator of the group since 1993. The building will become home to Race Amity, Parent University, the Children’s Theater Company, and other programs.
“After a decade of growing anticipation, Navmar, LLC will begin redevelopment of the historic 395 Edgewood Avenue building. We are thrilled to introduce BE on Edgewood and invite you to our groundbreaking ceremony celebrating this new chapter,” said Navmar in a statement.
The space will aim to foster grassroots efforts in community building, according to Yavari, adding that the significance of a space like this within the Sweet Auburn neighborhood is not overlooked.
“We have a deep belief in the significance of our Sweet Auburn neighborhood and are excited to welcome our future tenants, who are likewise committed to this vision,” Yavari said. “We are proud to introduce our anchor tenant, the National Center for Race Amity, along with our shared workspace tenants.”
The redevelopment was made possible in part by Invest Atlanta — who granted $1.45 million for the project — and Central Atlanta Progress and is expected to be completed in 2024, with the anchor tenant launching the National Race Amity Institute (NRAI) in the space that same year.
The completed renovations will feature a co-working space, spaces for multiple tenants to lease, along with conference rooms and workshop spaces to be used for speaker series and after-school programs.
History of the space
Of utmost importance for Yavari is keeping the space authentic.
“We’re keeping it historical,” said Yavari. “We are learning about the community and then bringing the community into the space.”
Yavari said the Bahá’í center adjacent to this building acted as inspiration for BE on Edgewood.
The Bahá’í community has cemented itself in Atlanta for decades. During the Jim Crow era, the Bahá’í community, which emphasizes unity among humanity, chose not to be segregated. Though they received plenty of backlash for this stance, the community would later go on to build the first building in the city specifically for integration, Yavari said.
“One of the Bahá’í gentlemen named Leroy Burns. In 1945 he was a Black U.S. Postal Service worker, and he saved up his life savings to buy a home for himself and his wife,” Yavari said.
Instead, deciding that he and his wife already had a home, he took that money and purchased the land adjacent to the future site of BE on Edgewood. He and the rest of the community made cement blocks in his backyard and went on to build the now-historic building.
The NRAI hopes to be a “center for research, education, training, youth outreach and the arts,” according to the group. The NCRA was launched in 2010 with the intention of advancing cross-racial and cross-cultural peace and unity.
When Yavari and her husband moved into the neighborhood, they learned about this history and purchased all the adjacent abandoned buildings with hopes of revitalizing them one day.
“We want to continue that mission of contributing to the neighborhood, with specifically the issues of race in mind,” said Yavari, noting that these properties are in the heart of a historic street that championed racial equality.
For this reason, NCRA felt like a natural anchor tenant, Yavari said, which sets the tone for the rest of the tenants in the space.
Yavari said she and her group have been on the journey to redevelop this space since 2014 and is excited to see the project finally coming together. Throughout the project and for the future, Yavari adds, it’s important that African Americans decide what this space will become as business tenants, art directors, and more. Being born in Iran and raised outside of Atlanta, Yavari said, there’s local authenticity that she could not bring — so it’s imperative she steps aside to let those who can.
“I want to make sure that we keep that authenticity that I’m not able to bring to the table. That’s really important,” Yavari said. “I made sure we keep the historical building as a historical contributing building — so I didn’t apply to knock it down, which would have been much cheaper to just build a four-story building.”
Instead, she said the completed space will remain one and a half stories. They will also be keeping the historical sign of the place’s former purpose — a tool sharpening workshop called Keen Edge — and ensuring the building is a site for empowerment.
Letting the community lead and create authentic space at BE on Edgewood, Yavari said, will ultimately be the difference maker between this redevelopment and others that facilitate gentrification.
The National Race Amity Institute
It’s fitting that such a group should anchor on such a historic street, Yavari feels.
The NCRA will host its 2023 conference called Race Amity: Moving from Concept to Action this November. It will include a tour of the Sweet Auburn District and will feature guests including authors Debbie Irving and Howard Ross, actor Penn Badgley and reparations advocate Robin Rue Simmons, among others.