Plan to abandon streets at Underground Atlanta draws critics; developer responds

By Maria Saporta

Update: The plan was approved by the Atlanta City Council in a 10-4 vote.

The Atlanta City Council today will hear a proposal to turn several streets in and around Underground Atlanta into private property.

Underground Atlanta

ThreadATL.com’s illustration of the proposal to turn over the streets to Underground Atlanta’s private developer (Source: ThreadATL.com)

Over the weekend, several concerned citizens and community activists wrote about the proposed legislation, which has not been introduced through the normal committee structure where they would be fully vetted.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed is expected to present the proposal at today’s City Council meeting, and the assumption is that the abandoning of public streets is part of the city’s plans to sell Underground Atlanta to South Carolina developer WRS Realty.

Matthew Garbett, a concerned citizen, wrote a column on ThreadATL.com that was titled: “Don’t let downtown Atlanta become privately owned: Our public streets must remain public.”

T. Scott Smith

Developer T. Scott Smith is willing to invest up to $400 million to revitalize Underground Atlanta and its surrounding area. (Photo by Maria Saporta)

In his column, Garbett expressed concern that this would allow the developer to control access to the property. He also questioned why this unprecedented move was being taken.

I sent Garbett’s column to T. Scott Smith, CEO of WRS Realty, for his response.

Smith sent me back an email stating: “We are not going to close the streets to pedestrian or bike traffic. We would like to stop vehicle traffic so that we can join the four corners and make a community feel to the development. At no time would the streets be closed to thru walking traffic or bicycles.”

The city’s sale of Underground Atlanta is scheduled to happen early in the year – days after the Peachtree Drop will bring in 2017 – the final year for the celebration at Five Points.

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.

7 replies
  1. atlurbanist says:

    “We are not going to close the streets to pedestrian or bike traffic. At no time would the streets be closed to thru walking traffic or bicycles.”

    In God we trust. Everyone else, make it legal. Public ownership is legal right. And I’m not impressed with turning this into a car-free section of Pryor. 

    If you’re not closing access, why do you need to own the streets? Just leave them public and work with the city to reduce car flow on Pryor. Private ownership isn’t needed here.Report

    Reply
  2. Chad Carlson says:

    Its not about closing, its about discretionary access being made by a private security firm if the streets become private. Closing streets off completely to traffic is a failed concept. Vibrant city streets should have both vehicles and pedestrians, with safe corridors for pedestrians and bikes. Alabama Street should be reopened to traffic, with priority given to pedestrians. Our streets are not for sale. Lets make a real city, not a fake one: http://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2015/10/21/granularityReport

    Reply
  3. ATLieno says:

    If the streets will never be closed off from pedestrian/bike traffic, the developer should be willing to record a permanent easement for public use.Report

    Reply
  4. mnst says:

    T. Scott Smith’s response doesn’t really address the core concern in the original article: that WRS will be free to enforce rules of their own making with regard to who’s allowed to use these streets after they’re given over to a private owner. WRS may not plan to “close” the streets, but what if they just remove people who loiter too long, or wear their pants too low? A private company being allowed to selectively enforce who gets to use these streets is worse than them being closed altogether.Report

    Reply
  5. JimBackstrom says:

    There are four streets that take traffic south from downtown thru south downtown in evening rush hour.  Forsyth, Peachtree, Pryor and Washington.  Washington,  the widest,  will be closed for two years very soon,  and Pryor, the second widest,  will be permanently closed.    70% of the southbound travel lanes will be blocked for the next two years.Report

    Reply

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