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From boom to bust and back again

A timeline of Underground's many twists and turns



1837: The Zero Mile Post is planted to mark "Terminus," the end of the rail line that eventually grows into modern-day Atlanta. The post is located at the site of what is now Underground Atlanta.

1920s: Dozens of 19th-century buildings around the downtown railroad gulch are covered up and largely abandoned when the city constructs a series of viaducts over Old Alabama and Old Pryor streets.

1969: On April 8, Underground Atlanta debuts as a subterranean collection of bars, restaurants and shops lining cobblestone streets lit by gas lamps. Fulton is the only cocktail-friendly metro county, and the area quickly becomes Atlanta's answer to the French Quarter as crowds flock to such popular live-music clubs as Dante's Down the Hatch and Muhlenbrink's Saloon, where famed bluesman Piano Red performs nightly.

1972: In its peak year, Underground Atlanta draws 3.5 million visitors and earns $17 million in sales.

1975: MARTA begins work on its east rail line, a project that eventually wipes out many of Underground's 70 shops and bars. Underground begins a slow, continuous decline.

1982: The last business closes its doors in February, but incoming Mayor Andrew Young vows to reinvent Underground as the centerpiece of a downtown revival effort. Over the next few years, several of Underground's historic buildings are occupied by vagrants and destroyed by fires.

1987: Construction finally begins on a $142 million relaunch of Underground Atlanta as a "festival marketplace" attraction. The city pledges $85 million in bonds to the project.

1989: Underground Atlanta's second life begins June 15 as an expanded, more sanitized, mall-like version of its former self with 140 shops, bars and restaurants. Shops include Sam Goody records, Hattitudes hat store, and Olivia Newton John's Koala Blue boutique. Kenny's Alley is kept hopping by Blues Harbor, Banks & Shane, Miss Kitty's Saloon and the reopened Dante's.

1992: The April 30 Rodney King verdict sparks a downtown riot; the crowd sweeps through Underground Atlanta, smashing store and restaurant windows. The next month, sales plummet 40 percent. Management responds with an ad campaign built around the slogan: "The fun in town is Underground."

1996: Even with the Olympics in town, Underground Atlanta ends the year $6.5 million in the red.

1998: After nine years of missed revenue goals, Underground Atlanta's private investors write off $19 million in bad debt. The city's efforts to secure $15 million in federal aid are rejected.

1999: Atlanta developers Dan O'Leary and John Aderhold sign a 50-year lease on Underground Atlanta in a deal that requires the city to write off $22 million in debt on the complex.

2001: The city pockets its first -- and only -- Underground income under the lease's profit-sharing deal, about $500,000. But the revenue is offset by nearly $8 million in annual debt payments.

2004: In January, a new city ordinance rolls back last call to 2:30 a.m. everywhere but Underground. At the same time, Kenny's Alley debuts a half-dozen new club venues as part of a push to make Underground a nightlife destination.

2006: By mid-year, most of the new nightclubs have closed. In November, a study by the city's finance department predicts a significant revenue slump for Underground Atlanta once the World of Coke moves to Centennial Park and recommends a task force to study Underground's future.

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