Underground Atlanta photo by Thomas Moeller.
Underground Atlanta photo by Thomas Moeller.

It’s official: the city of Atlanta now owns Underground Atlanta. According to a report in the Atlanta Business Chronicle, the city bought out the remainder of an 88-year lease with the project’s operating partner Dan O’Leary for $8.8 million.

The official owner is the Downtown Development Authority, but the city doesn’t plan to hold onto the property for long. It’s already shopping for a buyer to transform the collection of shops and restaurants into a true destination for Atlantans and visitors. There have been previous proposals to turn Underground into a gambling casino, a museum or an arts district.

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.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.