by: Sophia Choi Updated:
ATLANTA - Residents living near a rundown, crime-infested apartment complex in southwest Atlanta had their hopes lifted with the demolition of the buildings.
"I'm just happy today," said James Allen.
He said he remembers the 1961-built Essex Court Apartment building in its heyday. Since then, the complex deteriorated, and the vacant buildings became havens for criminals.
"When you see these old buildings, there's a lot of criminal activity -- dope deals, prostitution, you have the homeless people coming in," said Allen.
The demolition of the Essex Court Apartments on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive began Thursday.
But neighbors said the work actually began nearly a decade ago.
"For 10 years, we've been trying to get this eyesore, this blight in the community torn down. It is a huge, huge success story for the community," said Steven Lee, president of the Martin Luther King Jr. Drive Merchants Association.
In 2003, the city began citing the property for code violations. Maj. C.J. Davis, with the city's code enforcement division, said the city tried to get the owners to clean up the blighted buildings.
But with 20 owners, Davis said it was hard to get anyone to respond. Ultimately, the city persuaded all the owners to sell the property to JP Morgan Chase and a partner. The new owners are paying for the estimated $250,000 demolition.
"This is a win-win for the city in that we don't have to pay for the demolition, and it's also a win-win for the community," said Davis.
Atlanta City Councilmember C.T. Martin pushed for the change, saying city leaders promised to make the area a priority.
"We've all promised to the 10th District, we're going to clean this street up," said Martin.
Mr. Allen hopes the city keeps that vow, saying Martin Luther King Jr. Drive should be a reflection of the civil rights legend it was named after.
"Why should we have someone who fought so hard to make things right for people and then, we see all this blight on a street named after him? That bothers me," said Allen.
The city said the demolition will take about eight days.
But the work to clean up the area will continue even after that, with several other buildings along the street targeted for demolition as part of the city's new effort to get rid of vacant and blighted properties.