WRS not part of Murphy Crossing development team for monthsAn aerial view of the Murphy Crossing proposed development showing two buildings that would have been preserved and reused (Special: Place Properties)
By Maria Saporta
South Carolina developer WRS Realty has not been part of the Murphy Crossing development team since Christmas.
Cecil Phillips, the CEO of Place Properties, said Thursday that T. Scott Smith, CEO of WRS, had stepped back from the project last December.
On Wednesday, the Atlanta BeltLine Inc. confirmed it was canceling its Memo of Understanding with Place Properties, as the selected developer of Murphy Crossing, and that ABI would be launching a new request for proposals.
The $200 million deal did not move forward because it had not received approval from Invest Atlanta to transfer the land. Bill Bozarth, an Invest Atlanta board member, said he understood there were concerns about the capacity of the development team.
Speculation in the community has been that the deal was killed because of the involvement of WRS, the retail developer that bought Underground Atlanta three years ago, and it has shown little progress in that development so far.
Neighborhood activists had objected to the BeltLine choosing a “Walmart developer” for Murphy Crossing. Historically, WRS has done several big box developments, but there were no plans to put a Walmart at Underground or Murphy Crossing.
Despite the perception in the community, the reality is that WRS has not been involved with Murphy Crossing development for months.
“We have not considered WRS to be our retail partner since Christmas,” Phillips said. “WRS was still on the team when we signed the MOU in early December. After that, we got feedback that certain people in the community did not want WRS on the team. Scott then told me: ‘Just consider us off the team.’”
Phillips said he had signed a confidentiality agreement with ABI, and he could not talk publicly about the project while there was still an MOU. Now that the agreement has been terminated, Phillips unveiled the details of his development proposal.
It included 552 multifamily units (40 percent affordable), 14 townhomes (40 percent affordable), 57,000 square feet of retail, a modular manufacturing enterprise that would have employed 180 living-wage jobs for people without a college education, an innovation center and a maker space that would have been an adaptive reuse on two existing buildings on the 20-acre site, and 20 percent of the site devoted to public areas and green space.
Even when WRS had been part of the team, the South Carolina firm was playing a minor role as the retail partner. About half of the retail space would have been a grocery store.
Place Properties had a desire to create a complete community where residents could work at the factory, shop at the neighborhood retail, enjoy the public spaces and take advantage of the innovation and maker space.
Phillips also said ABI had done its due diligence of looking into the capacity of Place Properties to do the development, which would have taken three years to complete.
“We understand a financial audit by the BeltLine was done, and we passed muster,” Phillips said. “We also were talking to the BeltLine about a suitable replacement for WRS, but we had not yet selected one.”
It is not known whether Invest Atlanta had been informed that WRS was no longer a partner on the Murphy Crossing development team.
Scott Smith of WRS had not respond to a text as of the time this was posted. The story will update the story once it receives a response from WRS.
Also, inquiries have been made to Invest Atlanta officials. We will update the story if we get a response.