Underground Atlanta: What to throw away, what to keep

It’s the time of year when people start to organize and cull their stuff (again). The time of year when they finally acknowledge that they’re not going to spend “twenty minutes a day, three days a week” on that exercise gadget and put it in the box to go to Goodwill. Out go the fondue pots, the graphing calculator from college, the too-small shorts and the “What is that thing, anyway?”

So, what are we going to do with this?Underground sign - northeast corner

It’s not rare to hear the opinion that Underground Atlanta has outlived its usefulness, but we can’t just put it on a truck, drive it up Marietta Street and leave it at the Salvation Army across from Georgia Tech. Besides, it’s not as if it’s not serving any purpose at all. The streets right around Five Points and Underground are very active during the day and the stores and restaurants there are managing to stay afloat because people do go there.

The problem is that not many of those people are downtown residents (who would keep the streets active at night) or tourists or business travelers (who tend to spend a lot of money). By about 6 p.m. the students, office workers and shoppers are gone and the place is mostly dead, left for a variety of unofficial uses.

The attempt to turn Underground into a nightlife destination to replace Buckhead Village was less than a blazing success and the leaseholders’ proposal to create a hotel and casino complex there isn’t likely to rise from the dead. Maybe what’s needed there isn’t necessarily something unique, but just something that will work. By “work” I mean it will get people of varying ages and backgrounds down there at least 12 hours per day and that it will be appealing to people who live, work and go to school downtown, and to people who are just passing through. If it attracts people from other parts of the city and even outside the city, so much the better, but that might be expecting too much.

If you had unlimited money but only about two years to do it, how would you turn Underground around?

1 Comment so far

  1. abby on January 7th, 2011 @ 3:42 pm

    Man. I just don’t know what to do about Underground. I used to work close by, and would occasionally end up at Johnny Rockets for lunch or DQ for a blizzard, or the candy shop for some swedish fish. Ooh, though I do end up at that Waffle House with more frequency than I oughta admit. That’s the extent though — I never had my name written on a grain of rice, nor did I buy any tight glitter pants.

    I thought Underground had a few clubs and bars that do okay? I’ve been told that they’re not “like the places we go” (which I suppose could be misconstrued, but really means that they’re not hipster dive bars).

    What does it need? I don’t know — a perfect storm of a variety of retail and restaurants (small grocery? deli? another burger joint? another veggie restaurant to replace the one that closed? more typical mall stores?) and a serious marketing and rebranding storm. I think a good number of readers here are city planners, or have studied it — what would you guys recommend?

    Maybe it could be one big roller skating rink. That’s what I picture when I think of its heyday in the 70’s, for some reason.

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