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Politicians, neighbors (and Blondie) at Hotel Clermont groundbreaking

Shielded from the busy Ponce de Leon Avenue traffic by a construction fence, an interesting mix of people gathered Tuesday evening at the dilapidated building that will become Hotel Clermont.

Developers, politicians, investors, neighbors, the Clermont Lounge owners and its infamous dancer Blondie celebrated while cocktails and hors d'oeuvres were passed by staff in 1920s-era outfits.

The Clermont Motor Hotel, which closed in 2009, is slated to be redeveloped into an upscale boutique hotel with a "destination restaurant," by late next year. The iconic club on the bottom level, Clermont Lounge, will remain open throughout the hotel's renovation.   

The speeches were brief, which left more time for guests to tour the building to the tune of live band Bonaventure Quartet, imagining what the hotel will look like once its 94 rooms, art-deco lobby and restaurant are completed. 

BNA Associates developer Philip Welker, who is leading the project with business partner Ethan Orley, said his speech was originally written for 2014, when the project was first slated to begin before running into obstacles including zoning delays. It didn't seem to be a complaint, though; he says it's been a "fun ride" with a lot of challenges. 

"One day I think we're going to write a book about it, if for no other reason, just being kind of therapeutic," Welker said.  

Welker introduced Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, saying the project wouldn't have happened without his support.

Cagle referenced the area's unprecedented revitalization, and the "special place" Clermont holds for many people.

"We passed a tax credit that allowed places like this to be restored," he said.

Atlanta City Councilman Kwanza Hall learned from Welker that they wanted to keep the old building.

Hall had been worried it would be torn down.

"It's really, really pleasing to see the great things we've been able to do, one step at a time, one block at a time, one building at a time, and we don't have to tear them down," Hall said. "This place like no other has been an icon that everyone has been wanting to see good things happen at." 

On the same street a few buildings down, a popular Kroger will close Oct. 28 and be demolished to make way for a new development.

But as Hall stood by while Cagle threw the ceremonial switch to light Hotel Clermont, it was evident that he had no need to worry. 

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