Neighborhoods - Underground and South Downtown

Five Public Projects that could fundamentally change Atlanta neighborhoods.

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Photo credit: Joeff Davis
OVER UNDER: Civic boosters are hoping that Underground Atlanta's sale will help catalyze South Downtown's redevelopment.


  • Joeff Davis
  • OVER UNDER: Civic boosters are hoping that Underground Atlanta’s sale will help catalyze South Downtown’s redevelopment.

In late 2014, Reed announced the sale of Downtown’s 12-acre retail strip-meets-bizarro-tourist attraction. The sole bidder was an out-of-state developer, WRS Inc., that paid $25.8 million for the city-owned property. The deal is not yet final — it’s complicated and involves lots of red tape — but it could be finalized this summer.

Initial plans call for an up-to-$200-million development with a grocery store, conference center, and retail shops. Depending on the partner, a high-rise residential component, some student housing, and a hotel could be headed to the city’s center. Not all details, including how much surface parking will accompany the Downtown project, have been made public yet.

Atlanta Downtown Neighborhood Association President Kyle Kessler says he’s “cautiously optimistic” the redevelopment will improve Downtown. For Kessler, improvement largely means catering to the neighborhood’s needs rather than to those of tourists. Continuing to move away from the “the status quo at Underground” and toward the area’s full potential, is key, he says.

“That’s going to take a much larger conversation,” Kessler says. “It can’t be limited to the process that’s happened so far where the city puts out a request for proposal, one solution comes back, one solution is accepted, and the deal is closed.”

A revamp of the 12-acre site could further revitalize South Downtown, a historic area that has already garnered interest by arts organizations such as Mammal Gallery and Eyedrum. The area south of Marietta Street, which for years has been marked by desolate streets and vacant storefronts, has a chance to become a vibrant community once again. But that opportunity will, to a large degree, hinge on Underground’s redevelopment.

What does Bem Joiner, a West End native who’s helping the Center for Civic Innovation raise awareness about Downtown’s future, see in South Downtown’s future? He envisions a “creative, innovative, and all-inclusive” community bringing people together from start-up and tech communities as well as arts and culture worlds.

South Downtown would be somewhere where you can step out to lunch on Broad Street and run into Scoutmob co-founder Michael Tavani sitting outside of a restaurant,” Joiner says. “Two restaurants down, you can run into DJ Drama who’s about to shoot a music video in front of a Living Walls piece.”