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undergrond atlanta

On New Year’s Day, hundreds of thousands of Atlantans and Georgians will once again spill into Underground Atlanta to immerse themselves in the highly-anticipated, ceremonial “Peach Drop.” City leaders are now pledging to attract those kinds of crowds to the city center on a consistent basis in the upcoming years instead of “every once in a while,” as Mayor Kasim Reed announced

A rebuilt Undergound Atlanta, along with the development and/or reconstruction of other iconic Atlanta institutions, is the key to making those aspirations manifest, Mayor Kasim Reed said.

Underground Atlanta was once the true epicenter of the city and Northern Georgia. The mayor envisions a thriving core to the this major metropolis happening once again.

Flanked by city leaders and businesspeople in the mayor’s ceremonial room, Reed officially announced the sale of “The Underground” to South Carolina real estate magnate T. Scott Smith for nearly $26 million.

For his turn, Smith envisions a mixed-use development center replete with shopping, dining  and a high rise above Underground that will spark the economy of this area that has been besieged by neglect, consumer apathy and lack of foot traffic in recent years.

“Today marks another milestone in the realization of our vision for a stronger downtown corridor,” Reed said at Atlanta City Hall. “In March I announced the sale of Underground Atlanta in an effort to leverage the property as a catalyst for the revitalization of this corridor and to also strengthen the city’s balance sheets. We spent about $8 million a year in maintenance costs and subsidies for Underground Atlanta, a condition that is unsustainable for the future.”

The city approved of Smith’s application bid to buy and transform the Underground Atlanta based on his illustrious portfolio that includes many redevelopment and alteration projects in his home state of South Carolina and other places.

“WRS Inc. is a proven leader in real estate and retail development with over 30 shopping centers  covering over 7 million square feet of retail. They’ve also aided in the development of more than 100 developments entailing 10 million square feet.”

Atlanta is already affixed with the infrastructure, amenities and surrounding attractions to make the two men’s dreams come to fruition, including: The Center for Civil and Human Rights; the College Football Hall of Fame; and the mayor’s “baby” — the $1.4 billion construction of the new Georgia Dome, which will house the Atlanta Falcons of the NFL as well as host major concerts and events. These iconic edifices will together boost consumerism and tourism in the city’s core.

“People forget that Underground Atlanta was once a thriving center for entertainment, dining and nightlife,” Reed continued. “And it also happens to be the place where the city of Atlanta started. Today represents a new day for Atlanta, with the addition of retail and housing, Underground Atlanta will once again attract consistent and diverse patronage.”

The city and WRS Inc. should be closing on the deal in mid-2015, Smith said, with construction to begin by 2016. Smith said he expects a total investment of $150 million to $200 million in the project that he says will attract upscale and upwardly mobile tenants and infuse capital into the city core.

Smith waxed nostalgia to the packed room of reporters and political and civic officials when he talked about returning the glory to the place his parents told him about when he was a kid.

“My parents talked about coming to the Underground back in the 1960s and 70s and how much fun they had dining and shopping,” Smith recalls fondly through his inviting South Carolina twang. “Want to bring that back. We want to have a reason for restaurants to be there — not only for the people who live up top, but also for the people who work in this building (who) after work, go (to the Underground) and have dinner.. And the people riding (MARTA) at Five Points; before they go home, they may want to have dinner or do some shopping.

“We really think that we can do something exciting here in the city of Atlanta.

Both Reed and Smith hoisted up the city’s downtown assets that already in place to create a synergy necessary for downtown to thrive.

“With MARTA station being right there (adjacent Underground) and a great university being right there (Georgia State), with the mayor’s office and the state capital less than half a mile away and the new football stadium, the excitement that is happening right now” is contagious and will continue to be so.

“In the next three years, a lot of the changes you will see. But also you will see a lot of the things that have happened there come back to life, the excitement of the dining coming back to Undergound and the excitement of the shopping.”

Speaking of changes, reporters voiced concerns about the aggressive and chronic pandhandling that has been an impediment to downtown growth and has scared away previous investments within the downtown corridor.

Reed promised swift and decisive action to curtail this decades-long headache.

“I can show you better than I can tell you. Again, no one has done more around Five Points than I have,” he said, also speaking of illegal vendors setting up shop around downtown. “The vendors were saying how terrible I was, tried to have me arrested, literally, and tried to have me in contempt of court in front of the judge. I can tell you that if Underground Atlanta looked like it did before we removed it, he (T. Scott Smith) would not be here today. We’re going to go much further than that in terms of pandhandling in the city of Atlanta. I’m not going to go into cheap promos about it, but were going to go much farther than we have before. We’re going to fix it. Over the next year, you’re going to see a significant amount of resources to create (a no pandhandling zone).

“We’re just not going to tolerate panhandling.”

The most significant changes, however, will be to the subject at hand — the Underground. Smith and his company will develop a high-rise live in situation above the Underground. “That’s never happened before,” he said, while trying to retain the ambiance and vibe of the subterranean portion of the complex.

“We want the Underground to the Atlanta Underground,” he said resolutely.

Underground Atlanta Will Undergo Major Facelift After Sale to S.C. Developer was originally published on atlantadailyworld.com

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