Piedmont Park Sinkhole Information and Document Repository

This page is designed to provide information to the Piedmont Park Conservancy Board, and interested public, regarding the issues we have faced as we did our best to develop two restaurant spaces in the Piedmont Park Community Center.  We started this dream project nearly 6 years ago, as we first vied to be tenants in the newly offered space.  Once we were selected, we jumped at the chance to develop these spaces designed to compliment Piedmont Park, encourage Piedmont Park Conservancy membership, and offer additional great spaces for our Midtown neighborhood to eat, drink and enjoy.

Unfortunately, on July 11, 2018, during our very initial phase of construction, a 10 foot sinkhole opened up in the space we call Soulshine – the space directly behind Willy’s.   Our engineers cautioned that support beams needed to be shored, as they appeared to be compromised, and the stability of the roof ridge line was in question.  As the floor slabs dropped into the hole, the engineers also recommend removing the slabs post shoring, determining the cause of the sinkhole, and making any needed repairs under the direction of a geotechnical engineer, the engineer with the expertise to assess soils conditions.

We initially offered to complete this inspection and repair, as we believed time was of the essence.  Not just for us, but because the Piedmont Park Enviroventures Camp had children playing six feet from the sinkhole, and Willy’s was operating with guests and staff on site daily the other direction.  We were prevented by Piedmont Park Conservancy’s CEO, Mark Banta, from telling anyone about the condition, and he refused to alert the children’s parents or the Willy’s staff, in spite of, warnings from our engineers and on-site contractors.

The cause and extent of the sinkhole has never been investigated.  The City, at the request of the Piedmont Park Conservancy, did an inspection of their sewer line beneath the building, and determined their sewer line was not at fault.  They, however, stated that the site needed further investigation by the private property owner, the Conservancy, to determine the cause of the sinkhole and repairs needed.  The Conservancy did not complete any investigations, they have not allowed us to complete any investigations, and they continued until late Spring to demand we build on a site, the safety of which our entire build teams says is in question.

We have tried to warn the public previously, and those warnings fell on deaf ears with the Conservancy’s apparent campaign of misinformation.  We are hoping, with direct confirmation from Department of Watershed Management Commissioner, Kishia Powell, that the City did not identify or make any repairs to the sinkhole or its cause, that the public will take action.  This month, the children are playing, again, in the room next to the sinkhole.  Piedmont Park Conservancy CEO, Mark Banta, allowed the “void” to be filled with grout against the recommendation of numerous contractors and engineers, so questions remain:

  • What caused the sinkhole?
  • How far does it extend?
  • Does it compromise the safety of the building?
  • Are vendors and visitors at risk?

As our geotechnical engineer stated on April 4, 2019, having reviewed all the reports available and visiting the site: It is “unsettling that no cause of the void/sinkhole has been identified, and that no wholesale measures have been taken to insure the structural integrity of the building….It is unlikely that other voids are not forming at present or have not already formed under the structure….”

If you are interested, I ask that you take some time, review the attached power point and exhibits, and please contact your Atlanta City Council Member and/or the Piedmont Park Conservancy to let them know you want your park made safe.

Those of you that know me, or frequent The Nook on Piedmont Park, understand that we are dedicated to doing good and giving back.  We strive always to be good stewards of our community and feel privileged to serve and to be a contributing member of the Midtown Community.  Knowing that, you must know how much it pains me to have to take these actions to make things right.  We truly believe that the majority of those involved with the Piedmont Park Conservancy, including most of the board, know nothing about what has transpired this past year as we worked endlessly this last year imploring its CEO, Mark Banta, to do the right thing.

If you’d like to contact me directly, or want to discuss this matter in detail, I ask that you please contact me at [email protected].  This year has been trying to say the least.  We appreciate the support we received from our entire community including friends, family, guests, and the assistance we received that allowed us to get to the truth from Atlanta City Council Member, Jennifer Ide and Department of Watershed Management Commissioner, Kishia Powell.

Thank you in advance for your time.

Katherine Drolett

PS: Walker’s 1834 was the name of the full-service restaurant we wanted to bring you to the right of Willy’s in the community center, named after Samuel and Sarah Walker, the original settlers of the land that is now Piedmont Park.  1834 was the year the Walker’s settled the land.

Exhibit List for Documents Related to the Piedmont Park Sinkhole

  1. Sinkhole pictures: July 12, 2018 to February 12, 2019
  2. July 12, 2018 emails from Be Our Guest (“BOG”) and JM Williams (“JMW”), BOG’s general contractor, to Piedmont Park Conservancy (“PPC”) CEO Mark Banta notifying of sinkhole
  3. July 13, 2018 report from Piedmont Geotechnical (“PG”), BOG’s geotechnical engineer. PG is the only geotechnical engineer to report on the sinkhole in 2018.  PPC has never provided a report from any geotechnical engineer at any time
  4. July 19, 2018 email from JMW to CEO Banta notifying him of serious structural concerns regarding two support columns in the Soulshine space (“Space A”) behind Willy’s in the Piedmont Park Community Center (“Building”)
  5. July 25, 2018 M2 Structural Engineer’s sinkhole report
  6. July 25, 2018 email from JMW to Banta expressing concern about building safety
  7. July 17, 2018 email from Katherine to the BOG team notifying them that PPC approved that BOG take care of the sinkhole investigation
  8. July – August 15, 2018 email trail between CEO Mark Banta to Abed Maher at the City of Atlanta Department of Watershed Management (“DWM”).  Evidences that CEO Banta knew the severity of the situation and refers to the sinkhole as a “Life Safety Emergency”
  9. August 7, 2018 email from CEO Banta to BOG saying that the PPC, not BOG, would need to manage investigation and repairs to sinkhole.  Again, referring to the situation as a “Life Safety Emergency”
  10. July 24 – 28, 2018 City Inspection Notes: “This location needs more investigation”
  11. August 15, 2018, DWM internal emails wondering why PPC keeps asking for more work as DWM had completed their review and sewer not causing the void
  12. August 15, 2018 email from DMW (Maher Abed) to CEO Banta “My understanding is you will proceed with analyzing the root cause of the failure under that building”
  13. September 10, 2018 email from JMW to BOG evidencing the sinkhole had grown 36” in width
  14. September 12, 2018 emails between BOG and CEO Banta regarding Music Midtown safety.   CEO Banta said he had a report saying site safe prior to hosting box office next to sinkhole. He did not.  He said he was relying on BOG’s own engineers and BOG’s proposed shoring plan.   Unfortunately, BOG’s engineers had cautioned BOG and PPC about the safety, and recommended BOG stop building just the week prior.  And the shoring plan had not even been implemented. Days later PPC provided the Palmer report.  That report also never said site safe, and agreed geotechnical engineer was required.
  15. October 1, 2018 email from CEO Banta to BOG stating “void was repaired” by the City
  16. October 10, 2018 City Memorandum and Exhibits.  Says stabilized the void, but did not find cause of sinkhole or make repairs to sinkhole
  17. October 11 – 19, 2018 emails from BOG to CEO Banta asking for engineering reports from City evidencing alleged repair of sinkhole as promised.  He had no reports. Neither did the City
  18. October 11 – November 7, 2018. BOG team emails and stamped engineering report regarding assessment of City memorandum. Forwarded to PPC. Engineering reports needed to continue.
  19. October 29, 2018 Letter from BOG’s lender, Atlantic Capital, outlining conditions it can continue to build
  20. December 21, 2018 and January 14, 2019 emails to parents about Building safety
  21. January 17, 2019 letter from BOG counsel to PPC counsel, again, asking for a geotechnical engineering report
  22. February 12, 2019 email from PPC Counsel with attached Palmer Engineering’s structural report.  Report, however, was dated November 15.  Unknown why PPC did not provide it in November
  23. February 22, 2018 letter from BOG to Palmer Engineering asking for information about inspection, and importantly, letter of reliance so they could get to work
  24. March 15, 2019, Grounded Engineering report.  The second geotechnical engineering group BOG commissioned.  PPC provided none.  Includes proposal to address sinkhole
  25. January 2019 and April 2019 emails between Atlanta City Council Member Ide and DWM Commissioner Powell, which confirm sinkhole was not repaired by City, and PPC was informed in September.  Open Records Request
  26. April 18 2019 email from DWM Commissioner Powell to Katherine Drolett confirming no sinkhole repairs were ever completed
  27. April 18, 2019 DWM Commissioner Powell to CEO Banta making him aware BOG knows no City repairs
  28. January 10, 2019, Original Press Release by PPC and revised April 24, 2019 Press Release
  29. September 7, 2018 email from BOG to CEO Banta why stop work was required
  30. September 11, 2018 email from Banta to City regarding BOG reason for work stoppage, as well as, JM Williams