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Officials: Cranes could start ascending at Underground Atlanta site soon

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It’s been more than two years since developer WRS purchased the aging retail district

Concrete pillars decorated with public art jut up from the street level at Underground Atlanta.
Painted pillars are among the few visible changes at Underground in recent months.
Zephaniah Peterson, via Underground Atlanta

More than two and a half years since South Carolina developer WRS purchased downtown’s suffering Underground Atlanta, real estate wonks are tapping their feet, wondering when visible construction will finally begin.

Some observers, such as the urbanist bloggers at ThreadATL, have contrasted the project with developer Carter’s Summerhill revamp. The latter’s efforts have enlivened a rundown retail corridor with new businesses and are bringing several hundred new residences to the area near Georgia State Stadium.

“Consider that developer Carter bought the Turner Field property only two months earlier than WRS got [ahold] of Underground,” reads a recent ThreadATL post, pointing to the lack of visible progress at the downtown retail district.

But a WRS representative insists that ThreadATL and others are comparing apples to oranges.

Underground’s revival entails the redevelopment of four whole city blocks and the spaces beneath them, much of which has been long neglected and in need of fixes to meet code, WRS spokeswoman Tara Murphy tells Curbed Atlanta.

Nonetheless, says Murphy, major construction could be on the horizon.

Cranes could begin ascending over three of the four blocks between spring and late-2020, Murphy says.

Block One is expected to house a trendy YOTEL hotel, which is supposed to break ground next year and open in fall 2022. Developers are currently in the planning and design phase for the hotel, says Murphy.

A workforce housing complex called The Avery is set for Block Three, a 3-acre site where Central and Alabama streets intersect.

Developer Prestwick Companies aims to earmark 104 of those 130 planned residences for families earning 60 percent of the area median income or less.

The “Live” page of Underground Atlanta’s website, which was last updated in September 2018, says 220 student apartments and 184 affordable apartments above 150,000 square feet of new retail space would be available at Block Three in 2020. But plans have changed, and cranes are now expected there in the spring.

(Additional housing is still planned for Block Two, but the partner for that piece of the puzzle has not yet been announced, per Murphy.)

Early next year, the Masquerade’s Hell and Purgatory music venues are expected to be temporarily relocated to another part of Kenny’s Alley while construction crews take over Block Three.

Also recently announced is an LGBTQ+-friendly dance club and caberet called Future planned for Block Four.

A grocery store and a movie theater could also be in the cards for Underground, although the timeline for those components is still unclear.

Asked in May for details about what’s been happening behind the scenes, a WRS spokesperson sent the following statement to Curbed:

“We have so much planning/design/permitting happening in conjunction with getting systems replaced and/or back to code in many of the older parts of [Underground Atlanta] that you can’t see from above ground. It is imperative that these are not only done in the right order, but also that each move fits into the bigger picture of the four-block redevelopment.”

Murphy says much of that work is still ongoing.