Underground redo could expand to Peachtree Street

The planned redevelopment of Underground Atlanta could expand the tiered downtown complex to include more than a dozen nearby historic buildings.

Kevin Rogers, an executive with developer WRS, said Thursday his firm is about 30 to 60 days away from closing on its purchase of Underground.

Rogers also said his firm has about 15 buildings under contract along Peachtree Street, south of the Five Points MARTA station.

Rogers said there are “great and hard-working merchants” who are anchors for the street, but his firm hopes its investment will breathe new life into these buildings.

His comments came a day after renderings of the redevelopment showed a denser complex with more high-rise buildings.

The idea of expanding Underground outward and upward is ambitious given the development’s history. A hub of downtown’s nightclub scene in the 1970s, it was closed before being reborn in the 1980s as a city-backed retail-entertainment center. The project again gradually lost its luster and became a financial albatross before Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed pushed for its sale.

Now, the more than $150 million re-do is viewed as a potential shot in the arm to downtown.

Rogers said it’s important to the project as well as current and would-be tenants to improve the surrounding area and make use of the forgotten and unused floors above aged storefronts.

“We’re intending to not only buy and repurpose them but bring them back to the original architecture,” Rogers said. Some of the buildings have been “skinned” with stucco or other cladding that’s hidden architectural gems, such as original brick surfaces. Rogers said many would-be office tenants and apartment dwellers seek such authentic aesthetics.

Many of the properties are currently occupied by ground floor retailers, such as Payless ShoeSource and Metro Mall. Upper floors in many of the structures are mostly empty.

“It’s like someone shut the lights off on them 40 or 50 years ago and no one has been in them since,” he said.

Rogers said the team at Atlanta-based design firm Square Feet Studio spent four days crawling through the buildings compiling a report on their conditions and hidden architectural details.

Rogers said WRS will honor leases with existing tenants if his company exercises options to purchase surrounding buildings. He said the firm wants to restore the buildings to create unique ground floor or two-story retail and restaurant space, as well as loft offices and apartments.

The firm has talked with technology firms about leasing 86 Pryor Street, former home of the city’s development authority, Invest Atlanta, Rogers said.

Rogers said WRS could start construction in about a year, with rehab of the Peachtree buildings starting sooner, if the group buys them.

The city and the state recently reached a deal that will involve the city taking over a downtown parking deck and other property owned by the state near Underground. In exchange the state will take control of Bobby Jones Golf Course in Buckhead.

Rogers said his group expects to eventually purchase the state property for additional development, including ground floor retail and residences that would surround structured parking.

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