Invest Atlanta approves sale of Underground Atlanta to WRS Inc.

By Amy Wenk and Maria Saporta
Published on the Atlanta Business Chronicle’s website on Jan. 15, 2015

Atlanta’s economic development agency approved a resolution Thursday that permits the sale of Underground Atlanta to Mount Pleasant, S.C.-based real estate investment firm WRS Inc.

WRS reached an agreement with the city’s economic development arm, Invest Atlanta to buy the long-struggling retail and entertainment center for $25.75 million. The 12-acre site is planned as a mixed-use development with retail, residential and possibly a hotel.

The deal is far from done.

Atlanta City Council still has to vote on the transfer of 11 parcels to Invest Atlanta, which is expected to happen at a Jan. 20 meeting. That transfer of land must happen before the city can sell the 12 acres to WRS.

The sale of Underground would close no later than Sept. 30, according to Invest Atlanta. In the next few months, WRS will have to provide its redevelopment plans and construction schedule to Invest Atlanta.

One of the most exciting components of the project could be a new grocery store for downtown, a sorely needed amenity for the area.

“We are in negotiations with a grocery store,” T. Scott Smith, president and CEO of WRS, said in a Jan. 14 phone interview.

Smith added, “It’s premature to name names.”

At the council’s Jan. 14 Finance/Executive Committee meeting, it emerged that WRS submitted the only bid for Underground, which is still owned by Atlanta.

That news caught Smith off-guard.

“They never told us how many people had responded to [the RFP],” Smith said. “I wish I had known that.”

Smith said WRS will pay several million dollars more than the price that the firm originally offered in its bid.

Atlanta Chief Operating Officer Michael Geisler, during the Jan. 14 meeting, said there had been several inquiries for Underground, but all would have kept the project as it is today — a retail and entertainment venue, which has not been successful.

There also were ideas for a gambling venue, which is not legal under state law. Geisler said that the WRS proposal was the only one that provided a sustainable plan and vision that was in line with what the city envisioned for the property.

Another issue that came up at the Jan. 14 meeting was the possibility that Smith could turn around and sell Underground.

Smith, who has been eyeing the property for about two years, dismissed that suggestion.

“We have absolutely no desire to flip this piece of property,” he said. “Our intent is to build out the community that we envision on top of Underground.”

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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