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Business incubator Olde Town plan on hold

Plans for a business incubator in Olde Town are in doubt due to a competing tenant. It’s the latest challenge to local government’s efforts to attract startup companies, a push that has had its own problems starting up.

The latest incubator proposal targets the long-vacant former Michelangelo's restaurant, a sprawling Victorian house at Railroad and Elm streets. At their Winter Retreat in January, Conyers city officials talked in detail about collaborating with property owner Harris Tessler on a plan for startup space and a new Conyers Main Street Program office. But now, that plan is in doubt.

“[Tessler] had another offer for use of the building and I’m not sure where that stands,” Conyers Chief Operating Officer David Spann told the News. “He is still in negotiations with some individuals about a possible different business there, but the remodel may be too great for that project.”

“As of right now, we are still evaluating the concept for this location,” Tessler told the News, adding that details of a future use might be clearer in a few weeks. Tessler is the vice president of brokerage at Ackerman & Co., an Atlanta-based commercial real estate firm.

Harris represents an LLC that owns the building, but the purchase was partly financed by the Conyers Downtown Development Authority, Spann said.

Spann said that the city has not identified any alternative site for an incubator if this plan falls through.

Various types of facilities to support the birth of new businesses are popular around metro Atlanta and the nation. They are called a variety of terms, with “business incubator” and “coworking space” among them. They always involve a number of small businesses sharing the space, and offer facilities—such as the commercial kitchen and office space that the former Michelangelo building has—along with advice on how to run a business. Some specifically target “startup” businesses, which in modern slang usually means software or high-tech businesses.

Conyers’ attempts to create a business incubator go back several years. In 2009, Acuity Brands offered to donate its vacant factory on Rockdale Industrial Boulevard—a massive, half-million-square-foot facility—to the city for use as an incubator. The city ultimately rejected the plan in 2011 as financially infeasible.

Rockdale County Commission Chairman and CEO Richard Oden, in this year’s “State of the County” address, said he wants to see a “state of the art business incubator” in Rockdale that includes a wide array of high-tech businesses. Oden did not say whether he has a specific site or plan in mind, and did not respond to recent News questions.