What do New York's South Street Seaport, Boston's Faneuil Hall Marketplace and Atlanta's Underground Atlanta all have in common? They were all originally created by the same developer, the former Rouse Companies (now part of the General Growth Properties juggernaut). And that's where the similarity ends. These three retail and entertainment districts, along with other major cities' such as Chicago's Navy Pier, have all fared differently in terms of economic success, but changes are afoot for at least a few of these destinations-of-the-family-trip. The Wall Street Journal notes a trend to move developments like these away from themed centers that mostly draw tourist into locations that integrate with surrounding neighborhoods and cater to a more local crowd.
Underground Atlanta was noticeably absent from this article, but we would love to see a plan that could turn Underground into an asset for this city rather than albatross. What is it about Underground that makes it so undesirable? The lack of success for Underground isn't for a lack of trying. The retail area has a storied history rife wth efforts to make it an Atlanta destination. Most recent efforts include making it "party-zone" with later closing times for bars and the ability to carry drinks from location to location. Plans for making it a casino were discussed and summarily scuttled. Perhaps the best idea bandied about was to turn it into an arts district, but we've heard nothing of that since last year.
Maybe the solution is an approach that makes it a more functioning space for locals. The bones of Underground have so much potential. The exposed brick and history of the area give character, texture and some heft to the space. Reimagining it as a place for local foods, artisans and artists shops in the mold of New York Chelsea Market would have great potential (though Jamestown's Ponce City Market already has the inside track on that play, and and this town just ain't big enough for two artisan markets...yet.
Atlanta isn't exactly pouring over with meaningful non-Civil War historical sites, so it's a shame that one with so much potential is so underutilized. We can only hope that at some point someone comes along with a vision, the will and the capital / business plan to create a successful concept for Underground. If we may, the first step might be a major rebranding starting with the name. Maybe it's just this 80 degree day in March, but the idea of hanging out under ground in downtown Atlanta just doesn't sound that great.