Deaths of Note

Published on September 25th, 2017 |

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Charlie Ackerman, real estate pioneer of Buckhead high-rises, dead at 84

By John Schaffner

Legendary Buckhead real estate developer Charlie Ackerman, who died this past weekend at age 84, led an extraordinary life that transcended real estate. He was an adventurer who explored Antarctica, he spent months living in the bush with the indigenous people of Costa Rica and he even convinced the Carlos Museum to return the body of Ramses II to the people of Egypt.

His good friend Sam Massell, who first hired Ackerman when he came to Atlanta in 1957 from New York, told BuckheadView “he was a pioneer in mixed-use development. He started the high-

Charlie Ackerman photographed during a Buckhead Community Improvement District meeting in July of 2015.

rise trend in Buckhead with the development of Tower Place 100.”

Buckhead was dotted with mid-rise office buildings in the early 1970s when Ackerman launched the 29-story Tower Place 100. Massell was mayor of Atlanta when Tower Place broke ground in 1973. “At the groundbreaking he asked me, ‘Sam do you think anyone will be able to top this?’ ” Massell said. “Now, when I look out my window there are buildings in every direction.”

Ackerman founded Ackerman & Co. in 1967, which developed more than 6 million square feet of office, retail and residential projects ranging from Tower Place, Crown Pointe and the former Swissotel — now The Westin Buckhead Atlanta — to national projects such as the corporate headquarters for Bechtel Corp. in San Francisco.

Early on, Ackerman locked up key pieces of prime Buckhead real estate along both sides of Peachtree Road, surrounding the Buckhead MARTA rail station and around Lenox Square mall.

In 2011, Ackerman was awarded Atlanta Business Chronicle’s Best in Atlanta Real Estate Visionary Award, joining a sort of Hall of Fame for the city’s most iconic commercial real estate figures.

At one point years ago, someone broke into Ackerman’s home, shot him and left him for dead. He survived the assault and started Ackerman Security, one of the most familiar home security brands in Atlanta.

“He crammed 20 times more ‘life’ into his life than most of us will,” Kris Miller, president of Ackerman & Co., told the Business Chronicle. “He was a great mentor, my partner, and my friend.”

Charlie Ackerman, left, and Sam Massell pictured in front of a piece of artwork Ackerman donated for the bridge over GA 400 that connects to the Buckhead MARTA station. Photo taken during bridge dedication in June 2014.

Ackerman’s death was announced by his wife of 25 years, Joanne McGill-Ackerman. He had suffered from Parkinson’s disease and had been in hospice. He turned 84 on Sept. 10.

“He showed the visionary qualities that you recognize at a very early stage,” Massell, president of the Buckhead Coalition, told the Business Chronicle in 2012. Massell had hired Ackerman for his first real estate job at Alan Grayson Realty Co. “While the rest of us were looking at brick and mortar, he was looking at what surrounds the brick and mortar, the visibility, the accessibility, the atmosphere.”

Ackerman arrived in Atlanta in 1957 after being discharged from the U.S. Army. Looking for a job in a down economy, the 20-something Ackerman walked into the office of Alan Grayson Realty, where Massell was then vice president and hired him on the spot.

Ackerman began his career leasing office space on a draw of $100 a month, but quickly rose through the ranks, becoming one of the leading office leasing agents in the city. “I discovered in short order that I made a wise decision,” Massell said.

Ackerman became one of Atlanta’s top real estate brokers in. He wasn’t just smart. He was also ambitious and competitive.

After founding Ackerman & Co. in 1967, he was instrumental in creating and starting the tenant representation business. “He was very competitive,” Massell said, “not just in real estate, but in tennis and everything he did. He always wanted to be first and the best in everything he did.”

While it is industry rumor, Ackerman reportedly brought cold-calling to Atlanta. Before his arrival, it is said gentlemen did not try to move tenants from another gentleman’s building.

Ackerman was a member of the prestigious Buckhead Coalition business organization and a board member for many years of the Buckhead Community Improvement District. He has been known for many years for his generous contributions to civic, arts and cultural organizations.

Ackerman’s impact on the Atlanta community went well beyond his business interactions. He was the Founder of REAP Atlanta – Real Estate Apprenticeship for African Americans;
National Board of Governors for the American Jewish Committee; Chairman of the Board and Advisory Board Member for Emory University’s Michael C. Carlos Museum; Board of Trustees Clark Atlanta University; Advisory Board of the University of North Carolina; Board of Trustee Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta; Board of Directors American ORT; Founder and Member Board of Directors Temple Sinai. He has received numerous awards for his contributions to the community.

In addition to Ackerman’s local affiliations, he was appointed by President George H. W. Bush to serve on The United States Holocaust Museum Board of Trustees from 1990 – 1994. His
vision was at the forefront of the final concept, design and building of the National Memorial to Holocaust survivors, based in Washington DC.

A renaissance man at the heart of it, he was a voracious reader, art enthusiast, marathon runner, and an adventure traveler, who sought to immerse himself in other cultures whenever
given the opportunity. In the 1970s, Ackerman secured permission to drive for weeks through much of the old Soviet Union at a time when the Cold War with the U.S. stifled all but the barest of diplomatic interchange. In 1981, he ventured out with two friends on a three-month odyssey that took him across the length and breathe of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) just five years after the country opened its doors to the outside world, prompted by President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

From Beijing, the journey jumped to Bombay, India, (now Mumbai) and a 5,000-mile drive north into the Vail of Kashmir and over the highest road in the world into the barely-known Himalayan region of Zanskar, part of the lore of Shangri La. In support of the noted adventurer Ned Gillette, Ackerman helped break-in the one-of-a-kind “Red Tomato” rowboat along 300 miles of shoreline at the far southern tip of Chile. From Cape Horn,
Gillette and three others then rowed the craft 600 miles to Antarctica in 13 days across the most treacherous seas on the planet.

A Personal Note from the Writer: While I recognized Charlie Ackerman was a fiercely competitive individual, I also thought of him as a gentle, passionate person—exuding a passion for the cultures and arts and history of mankind in all corners of the world.

I observed him in many meetings over the years as a journalist in Atlanta and covering Buckhead. But I also did work for him in the 1980s when A. Brown-Olmstead public relations firm assisted with the black-tie grand opening event for his Crown Pointe office building near Perimeter Mall.

Working with him on that event, I gained and understanding and appreciation for his love and commitment to art, music, the dramatic presentation and delivering a real estate development that was so much more than just brick and mortar…that provided tenants with a rewarding working environment.

Charlie Ackerman was demanding, competitive, a perfectionist. But he also always was a true gentleman. –John Schaffner

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