A South Carolina developer has completed its purchase of Underground Atlanta after more than two years in pursuit of a deal.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed on Friday called the $34.6 million sale of the tiered mall “another milestone in the revitalization of South Downtown Atlanta.” The sale closing brings to an end a prolonged negotiation that required extraordinary measures on the part of the city to get the deal done.
Reed announced a deal with WRS in December 2014 with plans to complete the sale in mid-2015. But the sale of the 12-acre property missed multiple deadlines and was bogged down by technical aspects, including ancient property surveys and real estate records, and complicated easements for MARTA and railroad companies.
But the Underground deal joins City Hall East (now Ponce City Market), Turner Field and Fort McPherson among the sales of major city-controlled properties in Reed’s two terms.
Last year, the city and state of Georgia consummated a complicated and controversial land swap that saw the city take on state-owned land near Underground, while the state took over the city-owned Bobby Jones Golf Course in Buckhead. The land swap was necessary, Reed has said, to help provide needed parking for the Underground redevelopment.
In December, City Council approved a controversial plan to “abandon” or privatize parts of several downtown streets that would become private property upon completion of the deal.
The city announced plans to sell Underground in early 2014, hoping to take the money-losing property off its books and spark downtown renewal. The property, once a happening bar and music scene in the 1960s, fell into blight and disrepair. A late-1980s makeover that turned Underground into a tourist-driven shopping mall fizzled out after a fast start, and the property has been an albatross for city leaders ever since.
Reed said WRS “brings a high level of expertise and strong track record of successful developments to an area of our City in need of a fresh approach.”
WRS’s portfolio consists mainly of suburban strip retail, but its plans for Underground include a live-work-play community including apartments and a grocery store. Specifics of the purported $300 million-plus overhaul still aren’t known.
“We have always been and remain strong believers in the potential for great things in downtown Atlanta and Underground in particular,” WRS President and CEO Scott Smith said in the release. “The redevelopment of Underground is a truly unique opportunity, something that cannot be found anywhere else in the Southeast.”
Residents in the area tried to delay the sale on ground the public deserved more input in the deal, and one downtown group warned it might sue to stop the deal. In March, the board of Invest Atlanta, the city’s development arm, gave its blessings to the deal and Atlanta Downtown Neighborhood Association dropped its legal challenge after he city agreed to ensure public comment on the project.