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