Mayor Kasim Reed’s new deal for Underground Atlanta will add another mixed-use development to a trend already transforming the city.
South Carolina developer WRS Inc. will purchase the woebegone Underground site for $25.8 million and redevelop its above-ground area with apartments and a grocery store, Mayor Kasim Reid announced this week, as the AJC reported.
WRS plans to invest from $150 million to $200 million for yet another “new day” for the historic heart of the city, which has undergone several hopeful restorations over the years that eventually turned out disappointing.
The new Underground will join Atlantic Station, Ponce City Market, Atlantic Station, Buckhead Atlanta and Alpharetta’s Avalon in the region’s residential-retail-commercial palette. Also joining the game will be the Braves’ development surrounding the team’s new stadium in Cobb County. Apartment towers are rising in Buckhead, along with luxury residential units and a 164-room hotel at Phipps Plaza.
Skeptics might wonder whether the metro population can support all of these similar-concept developments. Atlanta’s history is marked by building booms and busts. Optimists see the developments as cataylsts for a more walkable, less car-centered urban vitality that will draw a new generation of workers to the city.
WRS said it plans to keep the underground streets virtually unchanged. While the preservation of historic features is admirable, it’s puzzling that the streets where Atlanta began won’t be the redevelopment centerpiece. Without a bold plan, restaurants and stores might be reluctant to invest in a lackluster commercial environment.
The company, whose web site shows a history of developng WalMart-anchored strip malls, is counting on those envisioned new residents forming enough of a shopping base for Underground businesses to thrive without major cosmetic changes.
If successful, the new apartments around top-level Alabama Street will give a boost to downtown’s slow accumulation of residences. A permanent residential population has long been seen as essential to downtown’s revival.
The Underground apartments will complement Aderhold Properties’ nearby Muses Loft Apartments at 50 Peachtree St. Across the way, residential areas are growing near Centennial Olympic Park and the new aquarium/museum district. The synergies could keep spinning, with the new grocery and other amenities generating new residential plans, which in turn would bring new businesses. Eventually, downtown might develop into a unified commercial/residential area, instead of the present disconnected islands surrounded by desolate streets.
While the Underground announcement brought new optimism for downtown, the Ponce City Market received national attention in The Wall Street Journal’s “Deal of the Week” column.
Jamestown Properties’ redevelopment of the old Sears distrubution center on Ponce de Leon Avenue opened its first phase in August after three years of construction, the newspaper reported. The site was purchased from the city in 2011 for $27 million.
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