The Atlanta City Council unanimously voted during Monday’s meeting to spend $8.8 million to buy out the remaining part of an 88-year lease for Underground Atlanta. The city has been paying $8 million a year to keep the Downtown attraction running, but only receiving $100,000 a year in rent from lease-holder Underground Festival/CV Underground.
Councilman Ivory Lee Young said in reading the motion that 72 years was left on the last lease agreement, signed in 1999, and that all the council members had signed on to the legislation granting Mayor Kasim Reed to enter into the agreement to buy out the lease.
What will happen with the redevelopment of Underground Atlanta remains to be seen. The city could sell the property to a private developer or it could enter into an agreement with another entity.
The retail and entertainment district, best known for hosting the annual Peach Drop on New Year’s Eve, was created after the Civil War as bridges and viaducts were built over Downtown’s railroad tracks. The five-block section, containing about 12-acres, was eventually covered and forgotten as the street level was raised one-and-a-half stories by the end of the 1920s.
Underground was rediscovered in the 1960s and the original store fronts, brick streets and gas lamps were renovated and turned into a restaurant and nightclub district in 1969, including the original Dante’s Down the Hatch. The heyday was short-lived and Underground became home to vagrants until the late 80s, when it was resurrected again in 1989.
The second heyday didn’t last long either as the upscale retailers and restaurants fled and were replaced by small shops, chain stores and fast-food restaurants. There have been proposals to turn Underground into a gambling casino, a museum or an arts district.