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Invest Atlanta board OKs master plan for Underground Atlanta

March 16,2017

Source: Dave Williams, Atlanta Business Chronicle

The board of Atlanta's economic development agency Thursday overwhelmingly approved a conceptual master plan for the redevelopment of Underground Atlanta opposed by downtown residents and business owners.

Meeting as the Downtown Development Authority (DDA), the Invest Atlantaboard signed off on a plan put together by the city and South Carolina-based WRS Realty, which hopes to complete acquisition of the property from the city by the end of the month.

The plan calls for converting the site into a mixed-use project including retail, housing and a grocery store.

During a public comment period at Thursday's DDA meeting, speakers complained the 3,500 parking spaces the plan envisions would discourage biking and transit, contrary to the wishes of those who live and work downtown. Opponents also criticized the city's intention to turn several public streets in the area into private property.

"There's a reason we chose being downtown," said David Emory, who owns a business in the downtown Flatiron Building. "When I see a plan like this, I see a plan in opposition to many of the qualities that attracted people to downtown."

Critics also complained city officials and WRS developed the plan without sufficient public engagement, a charge that drew fire from Mayor Kasim Reed, the board's chairman.

"We have had 25 public meetings," said Reed, who went on to list the dates of the meetings and which boards and agencies were involved. "We didn't have this many meetings on the Mercedes-Benz Stadium."

The mayor said Underground Atlanta has been a "financial disaster" for too long, an $8 million-a-year drain on the city's coffers, money that could have been used to support Atlanta's police officers, firefighters and other needed public investments.

He also dismissed arguments that the city should wait until a better deal comes along than is being offered by WRS.

"In 50 years, we've had no one except the city make a major capital investment in Underground Atlanta," added A.J. Robinson, president of Central Atlanta Progress, a downtown business organization, who spoke in favor of the plan. "Luckily, WRS appeared on our doorstep. ... We have a group that's ready. Give them a chance."