The South Carolina-developer hoping to buy Underground Atlanta has agreed to a handful of restrictions meant to preserve parts of the downtown attraction, including prohibiting modifications to historic buildings and ruling out opening a casino or adult entertainment establishment.
WRS Real Estate will be required to seek approval from the Downtown Development Authority to make any major changes to Underground as part of its agreement to buy the city-owned facility, Ken Kraft, a real estate attorney with law firm Parker, Hudson, Rainer & Dobbs, told an Invest Atlanta review committee Thursday.
The developer will also continue to offer pedestrian travel and biking on streets on the property currently owned by the city and add an affordable housing plan to the development.
The release of the covenant restrictions comes as the city is trying to settle a dispute with the Atlanta Downtown Neighborhood Association, which in January filed a demand letter questioning the legality of the Underground deal. The letter raised concerns with title insurers just as the city was preparing for closing on the deal.
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“The threat of litigation impacted our ability to get title insurance,” Mayor Kasim Reed told radio station V-103 in February. “We met with the citizens group, we’re trying to address their issues so that they’ll withdraw the letter. “
Downtown residents at the Thursday meeting complained that they did not get the latest update to the plans for Underground until earlier this week, despite city assurances they would be kept better informed as the process proceeded.
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Zelda Jackson, a member of the ADNA, said she wasn’t even told about the meeting until just hours before it started.
“I’m very dismayed,” she said. “I don’t see how you can vote on something so fast.”
Others said they were concerned that Kenny’s Alley, which dates back to the 1870s, was not being preserved, according to documents provided. They said the addition of 2,200 new parking spaces for a proposed grocery store, hotel and residences would hamper efforts for Atlanta to develop a more walkable community.
Kraft said Alabama Street will be closed in the deal while Pryor Street will be open for service vehicles. The historic storefronts on Upper and Lower Alabama Streets will be preserved as well as those on the upper and lower levels of Pryor, but buildings built in the 1980s could be altered.
“This is a master plan,” Kraft said. “It will be flushed out as each phase of the project develops.”
Several board members asked Kraft if WRS is planning a Walmart for Underground, a persistent rumor of the project. WRS has mostly built suburban shopping centers, several of which include Walmart anchor stores.
“If there is, it would be news to me,” Kraft said.