Maria Saporta: Finally, A Vision for Underground Atlanta

At long last, a developer has come up with a viable plan for Underground.
At long last, a developer has come up with a viable plan for Underground.
Credit Charles Edwards/WABE

Broadcast Version of Maria Saporta's Commentary

At long last, a developer has come up with a viable plan for Underground.

It’s not surprising it had to be someone from out of town who was willing to take the risk to realize Underground’s true potential.

Many Atlantans are jaded when it comes to Underground. They may remember the lively nightspot of their youth, a distant memory of what it is today – a place visited by the confused tourist, the occasional office worker or people who don’t have anything better to do.

Over the years, there have been many goofy ideas for Underground – turning it into a casino of video lottery terminals or into an outlet mall.

But what Underground really needed was to become a community – a place people called home. It needed a game changer.

Welcome T. Scott Smith, a developer from Charleston. He is willing to pay $25.75 million for Underground. He and his partners want to turn the 12 acres into a place where people live, rather than just visit.

Smith told me they will invest up to $200 million to build three residential towers above ground with retail at street level – including a grocery store. The historic Underground area will remain intact.

That’s the vision that the downtown doctor ordered. While Atlanta developers may be too timid to take on Underground, Smith says it’s all about timing and trends. He’s riding the wave of people moving back to the city’s center.

And what’s more central than Underground, Smith says. It sits at Atlanta’s zero mile post and next the main MARTA station in the region – Five Points.

While Atlanta naysayers view the Five Points MARTA station as a liability, Smith sees it as a gateway to the future. Privately he shakes his head, wondering why Atlantans don’t see what he sees.

By making such an investment in Underground, Smith is leading the way for others to join in – MARTA, Georgia State and other developers.

Sometimes it takes an outsider to show us the way.

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