Atlanta may soon get the opportunity to repeat at least one event from its storied past with a possible second rising from the ashes. While Atlanta’s surface area and general cityscape remains relatively in tact, the once popular tourist destination, Underground Atlanta has fallen victim to a series of maladies, making it an area that many tourists and residents avoid at all costs.
But on Wednesday, March 19, Atlanta City Council gave mayor Kasim Reed the green light to explore restoring Underground Atlanta to the city’s control – a move that could lead to the possible sale of the 12-acre downtown entertainment complex.
Reed met with council members behind closed doors during an executive planning session regarding a “real estate” matter. Following the closed-door session, the Atlanta city council returned with a rapidly delivered 11-0 vote to approve a proposal that gives the mayor permission to spend up to $8.8 million to enter a sublease purchase agreement with CV Underground LLC, the holding company owned by real estate executive Dan O’Leary. The arrangement will end an 88-year contractual agreement.
Fulton County property records show that Underground Atlanta is worth an estimated $4.5 million. The city also owns two parking decks adjacent to the retail, restaurant and nightlife complex along Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. Those lots, according to property records, have a combined value of approximately $21.3 million.
Political insiders report that Reed has speculated about ways to remove the now nearly defunct attraction from the city’s coffers, which costs the city approximately $8 million in annual maintenance.
If a sublease arrangement is approved, the property could be sold to a third-party buyer for redevelopment as a downtown retail and entertainment district.
“The time is right for us to reposition Underground Atlanta and stop the bleeding on our balance sheet,” Reed said in a statement. “With this move, we have the ability to market the property and solicit the best, most innovative ideas to transform it into a vibrant component of downtown. Based on the city’s track record with Ponce City Market, the Lakewood Fairgrounds [now EUE Screen Gems] and Buckhead Atlanta, I am confident we will succeed with Underground.”
Reed’s spokeswoman, Melissa Mullinax said the city intends to close on the deal within a month and will then market the property to private entities.
City officials, residents and a litany of interested parties have expressed hopes for a Ponce City Market-like development which is underway at Old City Hall East.
“We will actually be able to develop this into something vibrant and worthy of downtown,” Mullinax said echoing mayors and boosters of the past who have championed the site.
Once a thriving and nationally renowned tourist attraction, Underground Atlanta in recent years earned a reputation for crime, panhandling and second rate retail establishments.
Undergrounds’ current shop owners and vendors would be allowed to continue business operations while plans are finalized.