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(Carl Cronan is editor of Real Estate Florida.)

ATLANTA-The Equitable Building is well on the road to recovery after being damaged by a March 14 tornado. In fact, the effort to restore the 33-story landmark started within an hour of the first twister to strike Downtown Atlanta in at least 120 years.

Work is continuing through mid-May to replace 300 windows that were blown out during the storm, while most of the interior damage has been corrected, says Judi Sponsel, VP/group manager with Jones Lang LaSalle, the building’s property management firm. At least half of the building’s 44 tenants on the middle and upper floors were affected, yet they have been able to continue working throughout the repair process, she says. “Overall, we’re about 50% there,” Sponsel tells GlobeSt.com. “Weather has slowed our progress in the last few weeks.”

Equastone, based in San Diego, bought the 615,000-sf building also known as 100 Peachtree in May 2007 for nearly $57 million and invested another $4 million in various improvements. Damage to the building is estimated in the $4 million range, but the building remains structurally sound.

“We were very fortunate that none of the tenants had to relocate from their suites,” Equastone CEO Chad Carpenter tells GlobeSt.com. He credits the quick response of its property management, along with an advance contract with Epic Response, with preventing millions of dollars in additional damage.

The tornado touched down in Atlanta’s central business district around 9:30 p.m. on a Friday, when few tenants would have been working. The building’s response team was on the scene at 10:30 p.m. and immediately checked all floors to ensure no one else was inside. All tenants were contacted within the first two hours after the tornado struck.

Shattered windows were boarded with plywood while other measures were taken to mitigate further damage, and a broken water pipe on the second floor that had been running for about an hour was shut off and excess water extracted. A command post was set up to evaluate damage to the building, which also included more than 30 blown-out spandrels, exterior columns on the Luckie Street side, and inside ceilings and walls.

The 40-year-old Equitable Building appeared to receive the most damage from the March 14 tornado of any Downtown Atlanta office buildings, though some windows were broken on the nearby 191 Peachtree Tower, owned by Cousins Properties Inc., according to published reports. Other major urban structures such as the Georgia Dome and CNN Center were also hit.

Sponsel estimates that Equastone’s quick response also aided in the current rebuilding process by placing an order for replacement glass the Monday after the tornado, rather than waiting later into the following week. “Some of the buildings aren’t getting their glass for six to eight weeks,” she says.

Equastone, which has had prior experience with building damage ranging from California earthquakes to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, isn’t likely to shy away from weather-prone properties based on its Atlanta experience, Carpenter says. However, he notes that the company may perform a bit more risk analysis on future acquisitions. “There are all sorts of risks in the real estate business,” he says. “This one could have been a lot worse.”

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