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Alley of broken dreams

What can be done to save Underground Atlanta – again?



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Henderson: There's another option, where nothing happens and you're left with empty stores, or a scene that starts to decay in the evenings and your property value really will drop. We think that we're at the bottom right now, but it really could get a lot worse. It's like watching a stock; you know it's going to crash, what can you do?

CL: How do you draw a healthy nightlife to Underground, including some restaurants and live music venues, which back in the day was what Underground was all about?

Henderson: Nightlife can't be artificially created. You can't say, "I really need a Bourbon Street, so I'm going to make one happen." It has to be organic. I think the approach being taken right now is somewhat shortsighted. If everybody is brought there with just alcohol and no other reason to be there, I think that you're going to find yourself with a very ugly, Buckhead-type scenario.

Skach: I'm not sure it's even something for which you can find a formula and have it be a success in the next year or so. I live in Little Five, and I'm sure that it was a long struggle before it became the destination that it is today.

Henderson: Everywhere I go, whether it's New York, London, Paris, Milan, nightlife is a culture, it's not a club. And the beauty of going out to hear a band in Little Five Points is you would park your car many blocks away and walk, maybe stop in and have food somewhere, window shop, catch a band, have a couple beers. That's nightlife.

Farris: I do think Underground does one thing well, and that's large events. I mean they brought 175,000 people [for Peach Drop], and that could maybe be a shot in the arm if the events are well-planned and designed with another aim in mind.

CL: Should the city think about simply selling Underground?

Hall: The facility may need some additional investment, so I would be open to hearing ideas. But it's probably more important to let the market come to us instead of the bureaucrats pushing what they think is best. Then you figure out if you need to sell.

Skach: I always get a little bit queasy when there's talk of closing public streets and giving them away. And part of Underground is still a public street. Privatization of public space is always something that's difficult to grapple with.

CL: Are there any other uses for the World of Coke site? What about a downtown amphitheater or a place for gatherings and events?

Henderson: One of the nice things about the World of Coke is that it brings foreigners to downtown. Whatever solution for Underground should include something global or international.

Skach: It seems like the push is to consolidate all of our new museums around Centennial Park, but I think that if the state History Museum were to move to that site, there would be some benefit to that. It would be a beautiful relationship to the state Capitol building. But I personally like the idea of a cultural facility still remaining on the site.

Farris: I think that's a great idea. It could serve as sort of a link between things going on at the King Center and Centennial Park. You could connect all of these, and someone could visit the city and hit that group of three. I think there is a very big danger in not getting it right. Whatever it is, it needs to not be stale. It needs to be appealing on many levels.

Hall: That residential idea jumps out at me just because it might be a place that can move quickly. But a cultural institution would be exciting.

CL: If there's any one thing that you would like to see at Underground, what would it be?

Henderson: At Covent Garden in London, performers come and do all sorts of eccentric things that you would only see at Cirque du Soleil. That creates an environment that would be really impressive. That, along with a good fresh market. Organic produce is something that's coming back, and Georgia's always been a great farming state.

Skach: Just off the top of my head, a really great five-star restaurant.

Farris: I'm going to have to go with a bookstore, something that I could go in and sort of get lost in.

Hall: I miss Café du Monde. I think it was the only one outside of New Orleans. And, just thinking about Harvard Square, a string of used bookstores, and kind of the cafe feel.

CL: The study done by the city's finance department suggests forming a task force to consider options for Underground. What options should the task force consider?

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