Underground Atlanta development could hit $400 million

By Maria Saporta
Published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on July 3, 2015

The developer of the re-envisioned Underground Atlanta says the total investment in the project likely will be between $350 million and $400 million.

That’s about double previous estimates that have been announced for the Underground Atlanta redevelopment project.

Scott Smith, president and CEO of WRS Inc., a real estate company based in Mount Pleasant, S.C., provided an update of the project in a telephone interview on June 29.

The firm also released the latest rendering, a conceptual drawing that shows how Underground Atlanta would be developed along Upper Alabama Street looking towards the Five Points MARTA station.

Smith still anticipates closing the $25.75 million purchase of 12 acres of land that encompasses Underground from the city of Atlanta by the end of the summer.

When the deal was announced last December, Smith said he expected the total investment would be “somewhere between $150 million and $200 million at full build-out.”

WRS has just completed engineering work on the site to figure out where to locate the high-rise buildings.

“We now know where all the pads will go,” Smith said about the number of residential towers and other structures that will be developed on the property. “We expect to have retail on the bottom and multi-family on top. And we’ve already had inquiries from the technology space.”

Underground Atlanta rendering

Latest rendering of the Underground Atlanta redevelopment – view from Central Avenue looking west along Alabama Street (Special: WRS Inc.)

WRS will act as the master developer and it will work with others — such as residential developers — to build out specific elements of the project.

“We think the overall project will exceed $300 million,” Smith said. “We believe the total investment will be between $350 million and $400 million.”

Asked about the timing of when construction would begin and when the development would be built out, Smith said that he expects that 2015 and 2016 will be spent on the planning and design of the various components of the project.

“We expect to start construction by early 2017,” Smith said. “I think we will be developed out completely in four to five years.”

The latest rendering also shows how the project will fit into the urban fabric of the city. “We are trying to create a community there,” Smith said. “This is going to be a neighborhood. This is a place where we can can shop. This is a place where we can live. This is a place where we can stop to buy groceries and where we can go for everyday shopping. That is the kind of place we are trying to create.”

Smith also said Underground will seek to serve nearby residents as well as out-of-town residents by offering a special venue to enjoy the sights and sounds of the city. “We want to preserve the area inside Underground and take it back to where it used to be with a unique character of days gone by,” Smith said. “We envision art galleries, restaurants, entertainment venues and one-of-a-kind type shops. It won’t be your Mall of America-type shopping.”

Several issues, however, are still fluid. The rendering shows that Upper Alabama will be open to cars. Currently it is mostly a pedestrian-only street. Smith said the development team is still working on the best solution for how to incorporate parking to serve the grocery store, the other retail outlets and the residential towers.

They also are working on various designs on the orientation of the plaza and the grand entrance to Underground. WRS is close to hiring an architectural firm to serve as the master architect to oversee all design aspects of the project. The different development partners, however, are expected to select their own architects for their buildings.

A.J. Robinson, president of Central Atlanta Progress, has been working with WRS throughout the firm’s planning process. “We are extremely encouraged by the work that WRS is doing,” Robinson said. “They are making great progress. And they are studying not only the property itself and what can be achieved, but also what is going on around all of downtown where a lot of change is taking place.”

Given the ups and downs of Underground Atlanta over the years, Robinson has long felt it needed a major investment to transform the way it is viewed by people in the city and region.

“The concept of creating a new neighborhood called Underground is absolutely the right strategy,” Robinson said. “It’s about place-making and the right development for today’s market.”

Robinson compared it to two developments that have enjoyed recent success: Ponce City Market and Krog Street Market. “Underground could be the grand-daddy of them all because of its unique bones and its unique history,” Robinson said about Underground’s proximity to Atlanta’s zero milepost on the railroad where the city was founded.

“I’m encouraged by the renderings that we have seen and the work that WRS is doing to create a unique area above Underground,” Robinson continued. “It will make it very different than the place it is today.”

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.

11 replies
  1. James R Oxendine says:

    As one of the most significant transit oriented developments(TOD) within the city of Atlanta, Underground Atlanta’s future is important both the practical sense as well as symbolically. The highly anticipated sports events such as the Super Bowl, Collegiate National Championships and Major League Soccer( congrats to the US women’s team) all will take place in near proximity to Underground and the experience of the fans and attendees of these and similar events represent an enormous potential market for its tenants. They and others can have what I hope will some truly unique Atlanta experiences both pre and post event as they arrive via MARTA, the Atlanta Streetcar or otherwise. Underground’s proximity to some Atlanta’s premier transit services should and can be a tremendous asset to the vital tourism and convention trade. Therefore, I hope that any and all planning for its future include close coordination with MARTA, particularly MARTA’s plans for the renovation/ repurposing of the 5 Points station.
    The successful integration of the two capstone developments would not only yield positive economic outcomes but would also demonstrate Atlanta’s capacity to do great things based upon our history of cooperation and collaboration.Report

    Reply
  2. Na Anderson says:

    No amount of redevelopment, improvements or rebranding will make a difference if the area is not more secure. The panhandling and risk from petty criminals, enabled by the Beaty / Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless building nearby (which has done nothing to actually help homeless people get back on their feet but which does appear to have enabled petty crime) controls the success, or the complete lack of it, in that location.Report

    Reply
  3. Stephen Fleming says:

    At the risk of repeating myself:
    Guarantee the liquor permit renewal of any strip club that relocates there (I’m looking at you, Cheetah and Magic City). Allow pouring until 6:00 am. Allow open containers. Let MGM spend $1 billion on a casino. Flood the place with cops.
    Then sit back and collect the tax dollars. Mostly from the pockets of out-of-town conventioneers.Report

    Reply
  4. DebAz says:

    That homless shelter isn’t near Underground, it is all the way up on Pine and Peachtree. However, many of the churches in that area do provide services to the homeless.Report

    Reply
  5. AlexBrow924 says:

    “What a lovely place to be shot or mugged or both… I cant wait to step on a used condom or some chicken wing bones outside of that beautiful facade. Maybe that $100 million dollar trolly we have that only goes two places could start coming here too!” One Atlanta resident remarked.Report

    Reply

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