The real story on the Underground Atlanta deal

Lots of misinformation is out there about the sale of Underground Atlanta. Let’s get some of it straightened out.

The first public meeting about Underground Atlanta’s sale was a presentation the developer gave in this leaky hallway above the food court. The developer has been managing the property (still owned by the City) for a couple of years.

[Note: this piece was written collaboratively by a group of Downtown residents]

The City has to sell Underground quickly — I’ve heard we’re losing millions per year!

Nope. The millions of dollars we were losing every year were for bond payments. The final bond payment was made on July 1, 2016. We no longer have debt on the property, so it’s not a money drain anymore.

The City can take all the money from selling Underground and spend it on other things!

Not really. After paying off the sublease from the previous operator of Underground ($8.8 million), plus the last of the bond debt, plus all the legal fees associated with the sale — the city will basically break even. This is not a big profit-generating sale.

The storefronts of Underground Atlanta before they became “underground” after the construction of a series of viaducts.

Only one company is interested in buying it, we have to sell it to them!

Not true. The city quietly advertised the sale in 2014 and gave bidders three weeks to respond. It’s tough to come up with a competitive proposal for a 10-acre historic site (over active rail lines, no less) in three weeks.

Yes, only one developer submitted a proposal. But sources report that they’d been looking at the site for a couple of years. They likely had plans ready when the City requested bids.

The Mayor recently said there are other developers who want to buy the property if the one currently under contract can’t close on the deal. We do have other options.

Won’t it just be good to put the property back on the tax rolls?

Yes, having a private owner pay property taxes will be good, but it’s not like Underground hasn’t been producing revenue. Before the City bought them out, the sub-lessee was paying over $70,000 per year in property taxes.

Without the sublease, the City now directly receives rent from all of the tenants. It’s bringing in some money.

Local and national stores are still open at Underground, paying rent directly to the city.

What tenants? I thought Underground was dead already.

Much of the vacancy is in Kenny’s Alley. But The Masquerade has recently moved into Kenny’s Alley helping to bring activity back to that portion of the property. And several stores are still operating in the other half.

Underground is getting a big grocery store! Isn’t that what Downtown needs?

Grocery stores are located a short distance away in nearby neighborhoods. Downtown’s Curb Market has fresh produce and meat. There are multiple produce markets located around downtown during the week, and the new two-story Walgreen’s sells a lot of necessities.

Yes, we could use more grocery options and a chain store would work, but we certainly don’t need a massive (70k square feet, per the developer’s renderings, and that’s massive) central store.

One giant supermarket with a ton of parking is not a “Downtown” store. That’s a store that brings in shoppers in cars from all around, which actually works against locals who’re trying to walk in safely.

A true Downtown solution might be multiple grocery stores smaller than what’s proposed here, so that residents throughout the city center can be in convenient walking distance of one.

One of the levels from the plan for Underground Atlanta’s redevelopment. Notice the amount of new parking (over 2,000 spaces) that’s going in next to the Five Points MARTA station in the heart of historic Downtown.

I’ve read complaints about there being too much parking, but this is Atlanta & people need a place to park!

No one has said there should be no parking. Just not this much. Downtown has over 90,000 publicly-available parking spaces. Even at peak occupancy, only 60% of the spaces have cars in them.

Underground Atlanta is across the street from the Five Points MARTA Station, the busiest transit station in the Southeast, with four heavy rail lines and almost forty different local and regional buses stopping nearby.

If there’s one place you can live and shop in Atlanta without a car, it’s in Downtown — which is a unique asset to the neighborhood and to the city. Spurring a lot of new car trips that compete with pedestrians would undermine that asset.

Why do you have a vendetta against Mayor Reed?

There’s no vendetta. Reed has done lots of good things. But like any leader, he has faults. Chief among them: Reed has a history of using City resources to benefit wealthy and powerful allies, with little or no input from the neighborhoods affected. It happened with the new Falcons stadium, with the sale of Turner Field to GSU, with the sale of Fort Mac to Tyler Perry, and it’s happening again with Underground.

ACTION ALERT: The City’s development arm, Invest Atlanta, is voting on the final sale of Underground this week. If you are concerned about the project, please contact the Invest Atlanta Board of Directors.