City closer to selling Underground Atlanta?

City leaders are moving closer to selling Underground Atlanta and have quietly advertised a request for redevelopment proposals for the infamous downtown tourist attraction.

CBRE Brokerage Services, acting on behalf of Atlanta’s Downtown Development Authority, recently placed a legal notice in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for redevelopment concepts and proposals for the property. The request comes with a laundry list of requirements, including a detailed redevelopment plan and financial statements of the interested parties. The legal ad states that proposals are due July 14.

The advertisement allows the city to test the waters for interest in the property, and comes within a few months of Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s decision to sell the nearly 12-acre struggling downtown mall. The Atlanta City Council approved legislation in March to buy out the rights of CV Underground, the real estate company that manages the shopping and entertainment facility, for $8.8 million.

Reed spokeswoman Melissa Mullinax noted the advertisements were placed in accordance with state law, but declined to elaborate on whether the city has a buyer in mind.

“The City’s goal for the redevelopment has been clear since the original press release was issued in [March], which is to leverage the property as a catalyst for economic revitalization while minimizing the cost to taxpayers,” she said in an emailed statement. “The Reed Administration has a successful track record on similar redevelopment projects.”

Mullinax has previously said the mayor envisions a Ponce City Market-like redevelopment of the underground mall. The property has undergone myriad iterations in the past century. But it’s best known as a hub for Atlanta nightlife in the 1960s.

Reed also has said he foresees a “university” feel to the site near the campus of Georgia State University. But Georgia State President Mark Becker has said he’s not interested in purchasing the property.

But given Underground’s location adjacent parts of the Georgia State campus, and the influence the university has had on downtown redevelopment, it wouldn’t be a surprise if would-be developers have students in mind as potential customers.

A.J. Robinson, the president of Central Atlanta Progress, the influential downtown business coalition, said he was encouraged by the move to gauge developers’ interest in the struggling multi-tiered mall.

“Urban real estate is pretty hot these days,” said Robinson, who calls the post-recession period a “new era” for downtown property.

Indeed, with a new $1.3 billion Atlanta Falcons stadium and the recent additions of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, the soon-to-open Atlanta Streetcar and College Football Hall of Fame, the city’s core is going through a period of rapid investment.

Robinson, who also leads the Downtown Improvement District, a self-taxing business coalition that invests in downtown infrastructure projects, said the city’s plan to sell Underground has ignited speculation about the project’s future. But Robinson said he’s not heard of any specific plans.

The request for proposals does not obligate the city to sell the property, but it does help reveal what parties might have interest and what developers think is feasible on the site.

“If you don’t stick your toe in the water,” Robinson said of the city’s solicitation for buyers and concepts, “you may not know if you want to jump in.”

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