Will the third time be the charm? From what I’m told, during the 1970s, Underground Atlanta was a thriving place for Atlanta’s happy hours and night life. Fulton County’s liquor laws were much more permissive than surrounding counties, and before the era of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Underground was the place go to wind up the workday. Nightlife abounded.
Two, maybe three, things changed that. The first was MARTA rail. Construction of the East-West line made access more difficult, and took up some of the area’s space. DeKalb county allowed liquor by the drink. And white flight stoked fears of hanging around downtown. No longer the hangout of locals, Underground wallowed for a while, re-opening in 1989 as a $142 million project of the Rouse Company, hoping to duplicate its success at other locations like Baltimore’s Harborplace.
Underground Atlanta never was able to capture the excitement it generated 40 years ago. Eventually the complex’s ownership reverted to the city of Atlanta, and Underground sits … waiting for its third iteration.
Underground’s new life could begin this fall, as WRS Corporation envisions a new purpose for the 12 acre site: people might want to live there. The New York Times writes of the possibilities:
The new plan, said Kristi Rooks, a WRS project developer, will focus on attracting residents, now that this city, for so long defined by suburban development, appears to be looking inward.
In the 1970s, a decade characterized by white flight and suburban sprawl, the city of Atlanta shed roughly 70,000 residents. But recent population estimates suggest that the city is adding thousands of residents per year, with some looking for a more soulful urban experience, or at least a way to avoid a soul-deadening commute.
The population boom is helping drive other developments in the city, including the BeltLine, an unfinished 22-mile pathway for pedestrians, bikes and possibly public transit that follows old railroad lines; and Ponce City Market, a project that is transforming a historic Sears, Roebuck & Co. building into new retail, residential and office space.
“I don’t think that our idea is revolutionary,” Ms. Rooks said of Underground. “I think that our timing is spot on. People want to be in urban centers, and they want that authenticity, and they want to be on transit. And that wasn’t always the case.”
Midtown Atlanta is bursting at the seams, with plans to add additional floors to an existing building. Access to transit is becming a lifestyle choice for many, a factor companies are taking into account when deciding where to locate. South of Underground Atlanta and Capitol Hill, there will be room for redevelopment after the Braves relocate to Cobb County.
Will the WRS vision for an urban community be the phoenix to revive the heart of old Atlanta? Time will tell.