Underground Atlanta talks continue despite missed sale deadline


Almost a month after Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed set a deadline to seal a deal for Underground Atlanta, the downtown property’s fate is still up in the air.

South Carolina-based WRS Real Estate has been working with the city to purchase the Atlanta attraction for $34.5 million, but complicated transactions on some of the parcels have held up movement on the deal, the city and WRS officials say.

When asked for a timetable for when the process might be completed, Kevin Rogers, a development officer for WRS, declined to give one.

“All I can say is as soon as possible,” he said. “That’s the goal for us and the city.”

Underground, which is credited as being the original cross streets of Atlanta, once was one of the city’s biggest tourist draws and featured such retail stores as Victoria’s Secret, the Gap and Eddie Bauer, and famed jazz club Dante’s Down the Hatch.

But, as with past revivals, Underground has struggled over the past decade as visitors dwindled due to perceptions of increased crime there. And promises of development nearby to create foot traffic — Georgia State University once considered to build dorms near the site — never materialized.

Reed has said he wants to return Underground to its former glory before he leaves office at the end of this year. And he is anxious to add another win to his tenure after supporting the successful redevelopments of Ponce City Market and The Shops Buckhead Atlanta.

“Ponce City Market didn’t just happen, Buckhead Atlanta didn’t just happen. They were made to happen,” he said earlier this month during his last “state of the city” address.

Reed had set a Jan. 31 deadline for WRS to sign a deal, but backed off the day of the deadline because of good faith efforts by the company.

“Right now everybody is working as close to the deadline as possible,” Reed said. “I shouldn’t be unreasonable solely because I said the 31st.”

‘A new day’

The sale of Underground wasn’t supposed to be in doubt today. When Reed announced an agreement of terms with WRS in 2014, he did so with great enthusiasm.

“Today represents a new day,” he said during the news conference that December morning. “Underground Atlanta will once again attract consistent and diverse patronage.”

The money from the sale would also be used to pay off the $8.8 million used to buy out its former lease agreement and remaining bond debt.

Despite Reed’s “new day” declaration, the road to Underground’s revitalization has not gone smoothly.

WRS had made plans to begin work in 2016, but ran into problems, including complicated easements for MARTA and the nearby railroad companies, outdated real estate records and difficulties purchasing some parcels.

In the meantime, the site has become a virtual ghost town. Large numbers of storefronts — both above and below ground — are empty and more recent tenants, such as local favorites Johnny Rockets and Waffle House, have closed their Underground locations.

Kiosks operators also have moved on because of the diminishing foot traffic, Rogers said.

None of the vacancies is part of a design by the city or WRS to make the sale easier, Rogers said.

“There has been no mass effort to encourage tenants to vacate,” he said.


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