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WRS’ Scott Smith urges Invest Atlanta, ABI to reconsider Murphy Crossing deal

Maria Saporta
Developer T. Scott Smith at Underground Atlanta in December 2014 (Photo by Maria Saporta)

By Maria Saporta

T. Scott Smith, CEO of WRS Realty, said in a telephone interview Friday morning that Invest Atlanta and Atlanta BeltLine Inc. need to revive Place Properties’ proposed Murphy Crossing development.

Smith also confirmed that he had told Place Properties CEO Cecil Phillips months ago that WRS was stepping away as the retail partner of the development team.

Developer T. Scott Smith at Underground Atlanta in December 2014 (Photo by Maria Saporta)

“We told Cecil that if WRS was the problem, we would back out in a heartbeat,” Smith said during a 40-minute interview. “If they want to do what’s best for the city, Invest Atlanta will give that project back to Cecil, and WRS will not be part of it.”

Smith said he realized that WRS has been controversial in Atlanta with its purchase of Underground Atlanta three years ago.

“Obviously Underground is taking longer for us to develop it the right way,” Smith said. “There seemed to be groups of people who didn’t want us to be involved (with Murphy Crossing). The project had a very good lead developer in Cecil. Instead of us causing another project to not be developed because of our slower time frame at Underground, we backed out of the deal.”

On Wednesday, Atlanta BeltLine Inc. (ABI) sent a letter to Phillips canceling its Memo of Understanding with Place Properties to redevelop the 20-acre Murphy Crossing site. Apparently, the hiccup occurred because Invest Atlanta would not transfer the property for the development.

“It just doesn’t make any sense,” Smith said. “They need to give that back to Cecil. His plan for that piece of property is absolutely terrific. It creates jobs. It creates housing. The only thing we were going to do was bring in a grocery store and a few small shops. I think it’s a tremendous mistake on Invest Atlanta’s behalf not to go forward with it.”

Smith was asked about what was going on with Underground Atlanta, and he said the project is still moving forward, but not at the pace he had hoped it would.

A rendering of the Murphy Crossing development (Special: Place Properties)

“We are still trying to finish up an anchor deal,” Smith said. “I’m just hoping that the activities that happened down there this past week don’t delay the timing. We had hoped this would move much faster. We’ve put millions of dollars down there with reroofing and rewiring. But the tenants we were looking for have not decided to come back downtown – yet.”

Part of the problem, Smith said, is that WRS wants to fill Underground with top quality tenants.

“We could have already leased up Underground 100 percent,” Smith said. “However, it would not have been the development that the people of Atlanta were looking for. It’s costing us millions and millions of dollars to hold out to find the tenants that can enhance downtown.”

Meanwhile, Smith insisted that Atlanta is still benefitting from the Underground sale.

“Before we bought Underground Atlanta, the city was paying $8 million in bonds annually, plus the millions of dollars they were losing on Underground,” Smith said. “Since we bought it, we haven’t been making money, but we have been paying property taxes to the city.”

Smith said that translates into an annual benefit for the city of more than $10 million, and that number will only increase once the development starts moving forward in a significant way.

T. Scott Smith in December 2014 when then-Mayor Kasim Reed announced WRS as the developer of Underground Atlanta. A.j. Robinson of Central Atlanta Progress, on the right (Photo by Maria Saporta)

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Maria Saporta
Maria Saporta

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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3 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Facts June 5, 2020 7:39 pm

    I agree that the Place Properties plan makes a lot of sense. But if T.Scott Smith wonders why it was canceled, he should look in the mirror. WRS has completely flubbed their ownership of Underground. There is NO reason why anyone in this community should trust a project that includes WRS as a partner. It’s interesting to hear now that they haven’t been associated with the project for months, but clearly the public didn’t know that. Whatever the factors were that led to the project being canceled, WRS and their boneheaded decisons with regard to Underground are a major part of it.Report

    Reply
  2. Avatar
    Mr. Underground June 8, 2020 11:52 am

    “I’m just hoping that the activities that happened down there this past week don’t delay the timing.” Like bringing awareness to the lack of minority businesses involved in your project? Developers like you come in and hurt black people.Report

    Reply
  3. Avatar
    SW Resident June 15, 2020 4:47 pm

    So what does this mean for development? A 5 year horizon v a 3-year? Worse? Why include WRS in the first place?

    First the moratorium on the Bellwood Quarry, now this.The thing is, the development will happen, but now it’s going to be delayed, it seems. They don’t seem to care about the urgency the much-needed revitalization in this area warrants.

    We need this to start happening today. By the time the economic recovers from COVID – the residents will be ready. The residents are itching for the execution of the project. Investors should be clambering to get this executed, instead of delaying it.Report

    Reply

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