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Atlanta Industry Leader Charlie Ackerman, 84, Dies After Lengthy Illness

Ackerman & Co. founder and Chairman Charles S. Ackerman

One of the icons behind Atlanta's skyline has passed away.

Charles S. Ackerman, the founder and chairman of the storied Atlanta commercial real estate firm Ackerman & Co., died Friday with family at his side at home after a lengthy illness, company officials said. He was 84.

Ackerman — known as Charlie in real estate circles — is best known as one of the visionaries of Buckhead's modern skyline, a process he began in 1973 with the development of Tower Place 100. Buckhead, now Atlanta's financial hub with more than 16M SF in Class-A office, was known at that time more for mid-rise commercial buildings. When completed, Ackerman's Tower Place 100 stretched 29 stories over the skyline, sizes only seen in Downtown Atlanta.

Founded by Ackerman in 1967, Ackerman & Co. is one of the Southeast's largest full-service commercial real estate firms. To date, Ackerman & Co. has developed and acquired nearly 35M SF of office, medical, industrial, retail and mixed-use space, has nearly 8M SF under management and maintains an investment portfolio valued at more than $1B.

But Ackerman may be best known for his many developments in Atlanta. Aside from Tower Place 100, Ackerman also developed the Swissotel off Peachtree Road in Buckhead (now the Westin Buckhead Atlanta), the former Rio Shopping Center in the Old Fourth Ward neighborhood of Midtown and Crown Pointe in Central Perimeter.

Ackerman & Co. President Kris Miller

“Charlie and I have been together for more than 20 years. Over that time, our relationship evolved, and it's one I treasure very, very much,” Ackerman & Co. President Kris Miller said.

Miller said Ackerman pioneered the concept in Atlanta that brokers could also represent tenants. At the time, brokers generally focused on representing building owners only. He also believed leasing was the most critical part of being a developer and pushed much of his firm's resources toward the leasing brokerage side, Miller said.

“The biggest thing Charlie taught me was that, by far, what matters most in commercial real estate is leasing. If you do everything right as a developer, but your building doesn't lease, you fail,” he said. “You got to support that leasing effort 100% and really that's all that matters.”

Former Buckhead Coalition President and former Atlanta Mayor Sam Massell.

A native New Yorker, Ackerman moved to Atlanta in the 1950s after serving in the U.S. Army. At the time, he saw the potential of Atlanta, a city he believed was destined to explode economically, Buckhead Coalition President and former Atlanta Mayor Sam Massell said.

Massell was the first to give Ackerman a job in Atlanta at the one-time real estate brokerage firm Alan Grayson Realty Co. The duo worked together for many years and continued to remain friends through today.

“I learned at a very early date that he had an extremely keen mind,” Massell said.

Ackerman also was very competitive in almost every aspect of his life, Massell said.

That tenacity was visible in the late 1970s when Ackerman returned to his Atlanta home and encountered a burglar who shot him, tore the phone lines out in his home and left him for dead. Ackerman crawled from his home to a pool house on his property to call the police, Miller said.

Massell recalls visiting Ackerman at the hospital. Even though he had just been shot, he was already sitting up in bed, working on his recovery.

“He was breathing into something, and [Ackerman] said, 'The doctor told me to do this five times. I'm going to do this 25 times,'” Massell said.

The incident inspired Ackerman to found the security company Ackerman Security, a business he grew and then sold to Canadian investment firm Imperial Capital group in 2015.

“If you summed up the most identifiable credential that would be that he was the most competitive person that I ever encountered or [have] known of,” Massell said. “Whatever it took, he had to be No. 1. He had to win. He had to be out front. And he achieved it in every category. He was so competitive they weren't going to get him down, even shooting him.”

A graduate of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, as well as the Emory University School of Law and Georgia State University's anthropology school, Ackerman was active in the community and very cultured with a world-wise view from frequent international travels, Miller said.

His affiliations included being on the board of directors of the Buckhead Community Improvement District, the national board of governors for the American Jewish Committee, founder of the Real Estate Apprenticeship Program for African Americans and chairman of the board for the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University.