Chabad Intown may be the first religious organization to grace the Atlanta BeltLine. To celebrate the historic event, the organization welcomed more than 400 guests to its grand opening Dec. 9.
The day included a menorah lighting, a dedication ceremony, music, dancing, and a live graffiti mural. There was even a clown, a magician and face painting for younger visitors.
Chabad Intown moved from Ponce de Leon Avenue to the much larger nearby building at 730 Ponce de Leon Place. Part of the space has already been transformed into a synagogue, a grand lobby, a community café called Jeff’s Place, and a co-working space with various amenities. The building houses two floors and operates as a split-level. Facing Ponce de Leon Place on one side and boasting direct BeltLine access on the other, the building’s grand opening was dedicated to the celebration of the top floor. Chabad bought the 4,000-square-foot floor for $1.7 million, partly through an anonymous gift of $1 million and partly with the equity from the previous Chabad house.
The grand opening also signaled the launch of Chabad’s two-year capital campaign to raise $8.5 million to buy the 17,000-square-foot bottom floor. The lower floor is under contract and will house space for Chabad as well as other organizations. Those include Chabad Intown Preschool, Hebrew School and staff offices. A commercial kitchen, an art center, and a kosher restaurant will be a part of future offerings. Chabad’s Rabbi Eliyahu Schusterman hopes to rent out some of the smaller offices as workspaces to boost revenue. He has plans to replace the doors of those potential workspaces with glass and use new technology to pull light from outdoors into the space for a more pleasant environment.
Be Hot Yoga is one of those companies considering the new space. As a tenant of the building before it was transformed from a gym into the Chabad headquarters, the yoga studio stayed on board when the space was renovated. Rabbi Schusterman emphasized the potential for growth of businesses independent of Chabad, in addition to the organization. “The building itself in its entirety is 21,000 square feet. It has the potential to house eight floors,” he said. “We wanted something that would allow us to continue growing, something that we wouldn’t have to move out of in 10 years. It’s way beyond anything I could have dreamed of in terms of potential and its location. Being in the heart of Atlanta, right in front of where thousands of people are walking almost all the time, is just an amazing opportunity.”
Grand opening festivities for the BeltLine building began late in the afternoon, but preparation began early that morning. Hours before the party, the rabbi could be seen walking briskly throughout the building delegating tasks to volunteers and answering calls on his cell phone. The Schusterman children were also there to help. Mutik Schusterman, 22, was the emcee for the afternoon. Two of the younger children, Sara and Mira, helped set up food and took guests on tours when they arrived. Volunteers Denise Brody and Sandrine Simons also led tours. Longtime friends to Rabbi Schusterman and Chabad Intown, they also arrived hours before to assist with preparations.
Mandy Rubin also began her day early by preparing the food. Platters of cheeses and fruit were accompanied by a ‘popcorn bar’ with seasonings, in addition to a ‘trail mix bar’ Rubin designed to mirror the feeling of being at a Jerusalem shuk.
With the grand opening complete, Chabad Intown will focus on hiring a new rabbinic staff, rebuilding the preschool and fundraising for the building’s lower floor. Chabad Intown also wants to rebrand the organization to reflect the nonjudgmental and welcoming atmosphere it aims to project. It worked with a local branding agency to create a logo that includes vibrant colors meant to reflect the spirit of the BeltLine with lines that symbolize the tassels of a Jewish tallit, or prayer shawl.
“The organization has grown tremendously, and we want to create individual-focused branches of smaller organizations that create opportunities for people to come into Chabad without feeling like they have to embrace the entire organization,” Rabbi Schusterman explained. “They can pick what they want to be a part of like a buffet table, and that’s the goal. It doesn’t matter how you participate; you’ll get the same authentic experiences of Jewish learning and tradition. This new branding opportunity and our new building are both really signaling the move from one era to another. We’re a fun, welcoming organization, and we’re able to convey that in a very new and exciting way now.”