Late last year, it came to light that WRS Inc. was planning to purchase Underground Atlanta from the city to develop a mixed-use center in the heart of downtown. The area, known more for its dereliction than destination shopping and dining, is past-due for redevelopment. A shopping mall for the past two decades, Underground has a storied history which makes the proposed redevelopment all the more interesting. With lots of ideas being floated, is Underground destined to become a reincarnation of its former self? Or will fresh ideas like offices, a music venue and the addition of law-abiding human beings be the antidote?
To begin with, Underground wasn't underground at all. Originally, Atlanta's train depot sat on the railroad tracks that now pass through Underground, and the heart of the antebellum city grew around the transportation hub. Following Sherman's incendiary expedition, Reconstruction saw a rebuilding of the city along the railroad right of way, which was restored and expanded. As the city grew, viaducts were constructed across the rails to stop unfortunate things that happen when streets and trains share the same space. And thus, Underground was born! Coincidentally, the creation of the underground area coincided with Prohibition, meaning the district was primed for being a popular nightlight spot before it was even legal.
Fast-forward to the 1960s, when the area under the railroad tracks was rediscovered after effectively being abandoned a half-century earlier. It was a time capsule in a city without many historic buildings left standing. Some entrepreneurial folks, empowered by Fulton's liberal drinking laws compared to the rest of the metro, developed a late-night hotspot with restaurants, clubs and bars. The district flourished in the 1970s before other counties dumped their blue laws in favor of the times, resulting in a major decline and eventual closure of the area by 1980 — just in time for MARTA to show up. It was almost a decade before Underground was reborn again, this time as a shopping mall. While nightclubs and bars still operated on Kenny's Alley, the majority of shops and restaurants catered to a day crowd, consisting of mostly lost tourists.
With the announcement of an impending sale to a private developer, maybe this is an instance of "third time's a charm." But, as the Atlanta Business Chronicle reports, in addition to exploring many new options for the area, including housing, offices and a much needed grocery store, WRS isn't ruling out including many elements that have been tried — with varying success — in the past. Proposals include restaurants and even a music venue. However, this time, with the addition of housing units, neighborhood amenities and a mojo boost from Georgia State University — the driver of much of downtown's redevelopment the last few decades — hopefully good things are on the horizon this time.
· Underground Atlanta developer would consider music venue [Atlanta Business Chronicle]
· Downtown's Depressingly Few Grocery Options, In a Cute Map! [Curbed Atlanta]
· History of Underground [Underground Atlanta]