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Underground developer has yet to secure permits for construction at downtown site

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With coronavirus precautions frustrating the city’s permitting processes, it’s unclear when cranes might ascend over the downtown site

A rendering of people walking in a retail corridor with glassy storefronts and blue sky overhead.
The planned look of what developer WRS is calling Block 3 at Underground Atlanta.
Rendering courtesy of S9 Architecture

The development team spearheading Underground Atlanta’s eventual redevelopment has previously said that cranes could ascend at the downtown site this spring, but it appears those plans, like many related to development, could be delayed.

The desolate shopping mall above and below the intersection of Alabama and Pryor streets has seen a few updates on the entertainment front, with the Masquerade music venue migrating there from Old Fourth Ward, the FreeMarket Gallery coming online late last year, and nightclub Future on the way.

Plus, IScream Ice Cream Rolls debuted at one of Underground’s four blocks last week.

But as City of Atlanta planning commissioner Tim Keane told Curbed Atlanta recently, South Carolina-based developer WRS hasn’t yet applied for any permits to kick off new construction. (The city’s permitting and plan review processes have been held up in response to the coronavirus outbreak, complicating matters now.)

Nevertheless, there have been changes to the mixed-use proposal since October, when we last checked in.

At Block Two, the northeast corner of the property, WRS had previously announced two development partners, but plans changed, according to a WRS spokesperson.

“After doing additional research, one of the residential partners [Prestwick Companies] shifted their project vision because it is too cost prohibitive to build over Marta and CSX [rail lines],” the rep told Curbed in an email. “After the research, they worked with WRS to move to Block Three.”

WRS severed ties with the other partner, she said, noting the developer sought “a much longer timeline to even begin this project.”

Now, WRS has inked a deal with another residential partner for Block Two, although the firm is not yet ready to reveal details of the agreement.

Construction of that piece of the puzzle, per WRS materials, is slated to kick off in 2021 and wrap in 2023.

At Block Three, the southeastern piece, construction of the residential and retail complex by Prestwick is expected to launch later this year and deliver in 2022, barring any coronavirus-related delays or other snags.

Also: “We did have a tenant that was going to go on this block that backed out,” the spokesperson said. “When they changed their mind, the overall vision changed, since we didn’t need to meet their specs any longer.”

The Masquerade, which has suspended all forthcoming concerts because of COVID-19 concerns, has launched construction to relocate into another part of Kenny’s Alley, which bisects Block Three.

Additionally, the east end of the former Underground Atlanta mall and food court, as well as the east end of Kenny’s Alley will soon be demolished “to accommodate many of the changes we released with renderings in 2018,” per the spokesperson.

Expected to house the trendy YOTEL hotel, the northwest Block One is currently seeking street-level retail tenants, the WRS representative said.

The hotel could go vertical next year—and wrap in 2023, rather than 2022, as initially planned—and WRS is “working on a multifamily, market-rate developer for the south side of Block One” for a project that could start rising in 2022, the spokesperson said.

The revived Underground is now expected to be complete in 2025, as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently reported.

Asked about delays, WRS CEO Scott Smith said in a statement to Curbed: “Some of the leasing has taken longer than we had hoped, but we think that the community will be very happy that we have taken our time in curating the right residential partners that will in turn be key to support the vibrant community we are creating.”

Keane said the city’s planning department will pull out all the stops to ensure the redeveloped community includes “quality urbanism out of the gate and at every step.”

He added: “If anything is executed in a mediocre way (or worse), it will make what’s possible here very limited.”

WRS officials are working to line up a meeting with Invest Atlanta and the city’s planning department to assess how to move forward.