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Alley of broken dreams

What can be done to save Underground Atlanta – again?



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CL: Do you think there is a perception that crime surrounding Underground Atlanta is a problem, and how is that overcome?

Hall: We haven't totally addressed our homeless problem. We need to clean up Broad Street Plaza. But I don't think there is crime in the sense of heavy-duty robbing and shooting. I think the old perception of downtown being dangerous is almost over because the folks who used to say that are buying expensive condos downtown.

Henderson: I think downtown is probably the safest place to be in the city, with regard to the number of officers I see. If you're unfamiliar and you're visiting downtown Atlanta, the people are of different races, the shops are selling things that you're not familiar with seeing in the shop windows, the smells are different. And the misperception comes from people being outside of their element.

Farris: I have to disagree. While I have no real concern over my safety, I'm unimpressed with Underground's efforts to improve that perception. All it takes is a few bad incidents; last summer someone was shot in the parking deck that I park in, and it was all over the news.

Hall: I hear you. I moved to City Plaza [across from City Hall] right after the Olympics in 1996, and I felt the pain that comes from being an urban pioneer. Every day we got stuff stolen off our porch. But what changes neighborhoods is people such as yourself getting involved. Neighborhoods don't change by themselves, and bureaucratic bodies don't change them. It's going to take us bringing more people to the area. One of the things that actually makes streets feel safer is pedestrian traffic. If you go to New York, Chicago, San Francisco, there are homeless people and all kinds of folks on the street, but because there's so many people walking the streets, you feel comfortable.

Skach: The more ownership you get, the more vested interest in the neighborhoods, the better it will be. There needs to be a focus on getting it cleaned up, getting some retail uses in there, getting some folks on the street, getting some policing on the street. And that will go a long way.

Henderson: We keep talking about retail, but there's all sorts of retail down there right now, selling hip-hop apparel, wig shops, oils. It's not that these stores are empty, but we have somewhat of a classist approach to the area. It's not serving our needs, so we each want to project our own idea of downtown on that area, and I don't know that that's necessarily fair. Underground and that area is only appealing to a very narrow demographic right now. If we can get more buy-in from more diverse groups, we may be able to find something that is symbolic of the city that we live in. And right now, Underground is not symbolic of the city.

CL: Kwanza mentioned mixed-use at Underground to get away from the tourist-only approach. What did you have in mind?

Hall: Residential, for sure. We need two, three, four thousand people in that area. There are retailers who don't want to pioneer; they want to wait until they have sure numbers before they'll set foot there.

Skach: When the Georgia State dormitories are finished, you're going to see a lot of things go into Auburn Avenue. I totally agree with Pablo about cities being able to satisfy all sorts of needs and that's their great strength, that they are these melting pots. A good student population would help down there a lot. If it could be in the south on one of those surface lots or at Underground, that would be great.

Farris: There are more people that are going to appear out of nowhere in the next 18 months living down there. You've got the Mitchell Street project and the Norfolk Southern project, and they're going to want to walk to things.

CL: How extreme a repositioning of Underground is necessary to serve downtown and bring new people in? Where would you put the housing, for instance?

Hall: It's been on the table for a long time. Maybe you build on top of [the fountains], and that becomes an underground shopping area and upstairs is residential.

BACK IN THE DAY: In 1975, with 70 bars, shops and restaurants, Underground Atlanta was considered the place to be for dining, drinking and live music. - ATLANTA HISTORY CENTER  KENAN RESEARCH CENTER, FLOYD JILLSON COLLECTION
  • Atlanta History Center
    Kenan Research Center, Floyd Jillson Collection
  • BACK IN THE DAY: In 1975, with 70 bars, shops and restaurants, Underground Atlanta was considered the place to be for dining, drinking and live music.

Skach: If the World of Coke doesn't transition into a state history museum or something like that, that's a great place to put high-density housing.

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