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Let’s build Atlanta as a city, not a suburb

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It’s 2018, and the massive amounts of large-scale developments in Atlanta astound both long-time residents as well as newcomers.

The current pace of development rivals any of the other construction booms that Atlanta has had at any time in the modern era.

The danger is that we are replicating the suburban aesthetic and cultural environment of decades past by focusing on parking, car-oriented retail and a suburban design ethos with little regard for how these design choices work within the city.

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Greg Green Masquerade

The Masquerade commits to Underground

As published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on October 20, 2017

Underground Atlanta’s first permanent tenant will be long-time Atlanta music venue The Masquerade.

The concert venue known for its three stages – Heaven, Hell and Purgatory – has signed a lease to stay at least 10 years at the downtown project.

The Masquerade had first moved to Underground last November. At the time, it was pegged as a temporary location after the venue had to leave its long-time home on North Avenue when that property was bought for redevelopment.

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Steve Howe of WRS

Underground Atlanta project progressing well, developer WRS says

As published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on October 20, 2017

Since buying Underground Atlanta last April, WRS Inc. has been moving forward with development plans for the property.

WRS is partnering with Peak Campus, a student housing developer, to build a 700-bed building across from Georgia State University. The building also will have about 25,000 square feet of retail at street level. The student housing development should be open by the fall of 2020 for that school year.

For Underground Atlanta the beginning was almost the end

Looking at photographs of downtown Atlanta in the late 1800’s one cannot help but be impressed with the number of railroad tracks that populated the area we now call The Gulch. By some accounts, at the height of Atlanta’s railroad history there were over 350 trains a day that traveled through the city

Atlanta was indeed a “railroad town.” But for pedestrians and horse drawn carts, all those railroad tracks that meant so much to the economy and the growth of Atlanta presented major challenges for transportation around the city.

City, developer still committed to Underground Atlanta deal

By Maria Saporta and Amy Wenk
As published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on February 5, 2016

Despite another delay in the closing of the Underground Atlanta sale to WRS Realty, both the city and the developer said they are committed to the deal.

The transaction has gotten held up over a proposed land swap between the City of Atlanta and the State of Georgia.

The city has committed to the developer that the sale would include a state-owned parking facility located in between Underground and Georgia State University. And the state is interested in swapping that for the Bobby Jones Golf Course in Buckhead.

Commentary: Atlanta must keep New Year’s Eve tradition alive

Original Story on WABE by Maria Saporta

The Peach Drop – the New Year’s Eve celebration at Underground Atlanta – almost didn’t happen this year because the property is being sold.

Peach Drop celebration (Photo by Amy Wenk)

Maria believes Atlanta needs to keep an annual New Year’s celebration for the public. (Photo by Amy Wenk)

It was not clear who should put on the Peach Drop – the city or the developer who is buying the property. At the 11th hour, the city decided to take it on, and thousands of people showed up, as they have for years.

Over the years, Atlanta has held a variety of public New Year’s Eve celebrations. We used to welcome the New Year at the Coca-Cola sign next to what is now the Georgia Pacific Building, until the sign came down in the early 1980s.

In the 90s, the Midtown Alliance organized the family-oriented First Night with a number of arts and cultural events along with a fireworks display at midnight.

Then came the Peach Drop – a gathering place where Atlanta’s diverse population could enjoy the uplifting feeling of starting a new year.

With redevelopment plans for Underground, it’s unclear if the Peach Drop will continue.

But Atlanta needs to keep an annual celebration for the public.

We could ring in the new year at the new neon Coca-Cola sign, overlooking Woodruff Park.

Centennial Olympic Park would be a good place to bid farewell to one year, while ushering in a new one.

Or we could recreate First Night in downtown or Midtown – closing off Peachtree – and creating an Atlanta Streets Alive experience.

A New Year’s Eve celebration is important, because it’s the one day of the year when we can remove our fears and reach out to people we do not know – to simply wish them well.

We also can show off our hospitality to out-of-town football fans here for the Chick-fil-A bowl.

It’s moments like these that bring out the best in us.

Happy New Year Atlanta.

Commentary: Underground Atlanta sale is a deal city can’t miss

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)

Intro: The city of Atlanta’s sale of Underground Atlanta to a developer from South Carolina for $25.75 million was supposed to have closed on Sept. 30. Instead, both parties delayed the closing until Jan. 15 because the complicated real estate deal has run into some hurdles.Mayor Kasim Reed describes them as “solvable.”

Developer T. Scott Smith is willing to invest up to $400 million to revitalize Underground Atlanta and its surrounding area.

And he is anxious to take ownership of the property. Right now his company is managing the Underground retail center for the city but receiving no fees for the work. That’s only one reason he wants the deal to close.

Smith also wants to begin developing high-rise residential towers, a grocery store and other retail on the above ground area while revitalizing the historic storefronts and old city that we know as Underground.

But the state of Georgia owns a parking lot that sits between Underground and Georgia State University ─ a key bridge for the project. The city promised it would acquire the parking lot from the state so it could be incorporated in the overall development.

But securing that parking lot has proven to be more difficult than the mayor originally thought.

Underground is one of several signature projects that Mayor Reed wants to get completed during his term.

It should be the first to get done. The retail and entertainment complex has been a drag on the city’s books for years. And it sits at what is the most significant intersection in Atlanta ─ where MARTA’s two main lines cross. It is the heart of Atlanta.

Because of long-held perceptions by Atlantans against the Five Points MARTA Station and Underground Atlanta, it took an out-of-town developer to see the opportunity of this nexus.

If this deal were to fall through, there’s no telling how long that would set us back as a city or as a downtown.

Mayor Reed does have a lot on his plate, with redevelopment of Turner Field and the Atlanta Civic Center. But the city would be well-served if he focused on solving the problems related to the Underground deal before he moves on to anything else.

This one is too important to let slip away.

Who’s tending the chicken coop? Atlanta activists question sale of public assets to private investors

The question of who’s tending the public chicken coop is arising as Atlanta moves with all deliberate speed to promote private development around the Falcons stadium and several publicly owned properties in or near downtown Atlanta – including Fort McPherson, the shuttered Army base.

The general public isn’t alone in raising questions. Atlanta City Councilmember Joyce Sheperd made this comment about the potential sale of most of Fort McPherson to filmmaker Tyler Perry: “I’m a little concerned about the fact that I first heard it on the news.”