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Underground Atlanta master plan heavy on parking and light on preservation

By Maria Saporta

An updated masterplan for the redevelopment of Underground Atlanta was presented Thursday to a committee of Invest Atlanta.

Although it is labeled as a “conceptual” plan, several members of the public were concerned about the number of new parking spaces – 2,189 – that are envisioned to be part of the Underground development. That is in addition to the two existing Underground Atlanta garages.

WRS Realty, a South Carolina, has had an agreement to buy Underground Atlanta from the city of Atlanta. It is not known when the sale will close.

Underground Atlanta

A new conceptual rendering of the Underground Atlanta redevelopment (Source: Invest Atlanta)

Under the proposal presented Thursday, project would have 345,000 square feet of retail of five blocks. It is also is planned to have a total of 1,000 residential units.

A fact sheet stated that WRS would be purchasing the entire project from the city for $34.6 million. Also, between 10 and 15 percent of the multifamily developed on the site would be affordable.

Also, the fact sheet stated the historic facades of several buildings would be preserved, including 78-88 Upper Alabama, 94-96 Upper Alabama; three sides of the 66-68 Upper Alabama (the Block building). and the northeast corner of Lower Alabama and Lower Pryor Street.

But downtown Atlanta residents were troubled over what might happen to Kenny’s Alley, which in the past several decades has been a place for entertainment and bars.

According to the master plan, the alley would become parking to serve the development of a grocery store as well as some of the residences on the site.

“What the plans are showing right now is that the Kenny’s Alley level is gone,” said Kyle Kessler, a resident of Kessler City Lofts. “Kenny’s Alley would be obliterated.”

Currently, the Masquerade has relocated temporarily to Kenny’s Alley. It is not known how long the music venue will be located at Underground.

Kessler said the origin of Kenny’s Alley dates back to 1870 when a business man opened a liquor store at the corner, and he purchased a lot just south of Kenny’s Alley – seeking to create connectivity. “Nearby property owners thought it was such a great idea, they named it Kenny’s Alley,” Kessler said, adding that the developers would be “destroying a significant part of Atlanta history” if Underground is developed according to the current plan.

The developer’s desire for additional parking runs counter to Underground’s location, which is adjacent to the Five Points MARTA station.

Max Madelis, who is also a downtown resident and a real estate broker, said downtown Atlanta has 152,000 jobs and 95,000 parking spaces, which was more than enough.

Ken Kraft

Real estate attorney Ken Kraft makes presentation at Invest Atlanta committee meeting (Photo by Maria Saporta)

“If Atlanta is to ever become a city where we want to have – a walkable urban environment…as long as we keep building more parking, we are going to be addicted to the car.

During the presentation to Invest Atlanta’s Tax Allocation District Project and Policy Review Committee, real estate attorney Ken Kraft said the Underground Atlanta development would have several conditions.

Any material changes to the plan would need to be reviewed and approved by Invest Atlanta. Several committee members asked if there was any truth to speculation that the project would include a Walmart.

“If there is, that will be new to me,” Kraft said.

WRS executives Kevin Rogers and T. Scott Smith were not available Thursday evening to comment on the issues that surfaced at the Invest Atlanta committee meeting.

Rogers responded that they would be able to comment on Friday.

Underground ground floor master plan

Underground Atlanta master plan showing the ground floor and the space allocated for a grocery store (Source: Invest Atlanta)

 

Underground public spaces

Plan for Underground Atlanta shows the public spaces (Source: Invest Atlanta)

 

Underground Atlanta Kenny's Alley

Underground Atlanta plans for Lower Alabama shows parking at Kenny’s Alley (Source: Invest Atlanta)

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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