Student housing is a key component of Underground Atlanta’s redevelopment

Development Officer of WRS Realty Kevin Rogers answering questions from downtown Atlanta residents about The Underground redevelopment. Photo by Wesley Dunkirk | The Signal

Earlier this month, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed set a deadline for the sale of Underground to be finalized by the end of January. An important vote on Jan. 19 has made meeting that deadline a more realistic possibility.

Atlanta’s Downtown Development Authority board voted to pass an amendment to the sales agreement that will resolve some real estate title issues that complicated the deal. With the deadline still looming, Kevin Rogers, the development officer for WRS  told the Atlanta Journal Constitution that WRS hopes to close on the property “as soon as possible.”

At a meeting to soothe concerns over Underground Atlanta’s redevelopment, WRS, Inc. Real Estate Investments (WRS), the property’s redevelopers, held a meeting at the Underground site on Jan. 14 to present project plans and take community feedback.

At the meeting, WRS said a key component of the redevelopment of Underground is the production of student housing facilities within the property. While discussing these plans, Rogers made claims based off of what Georgia State described as “outdated” documents.

Rogers cited Georgia State’s 2006 “Master Plan”, a document created by Georgia State in 2006 to express its goals and aspirations, as evidence of Georgia State’s desire to increase the amount of students housed on campus and said private housing on the Underground property would support this goal. Rogers claimed the plan suggests “a need for an additional 1.3 million square feet of student housing .. to be achieved by actively seeking partnerships with the private sector.”

While the 2006 plan did call for roughly an additional 1.3 million square feet in building space, it did not call for that space to be exclusively in student housing and nowhere mentioned additional space would be procured through partnerships with the private sector. Specifically, it stated “the remaining deficit (1.29 million ASF) includes residence halls to meet the campus housing goal as well as additional laboratories, classrooms, and offices.”

Georgia State previously considered constructing university dorms near the Underground property on its own. In the 2006 Master Plan that Rogers cited in his speech, the university described a planned housing construction project known as “Wall Street Student Housing.”

“Consequently, in partnership with the Atlanta Development Authority, a new 1,500-student residence adjacent to Underground Atlanta on four blocks flanking Wall Street would be built,” the 2006 plan stated.

The university later abandoned the idea, as it does not appear in the updated 2013 version of Georgia State’s Master Plan. Andrea Jones, Georgia State’s Associate Vice President for Public Relations and Marketing Communications, said the 2006 plan is no longer an accurate portrait of Georgia State’s goals.

“[The 2006] master plan is out of date and doesn’t reflect the housing along Piedmont Avenue,” Jones said. “The university decided not to build housing near Underground around that same time period.”

Rogers said that Georgia State “correctly noted adding such housing to portions of Underground Atlanta would help reinvigorate Underground Atlanta and its surrounding commercial uses.”

Rogers told The Signal he believes additional privatized on-campus housing constructed on the Underground property, which sits virtually across Decatur Street from Georgia State’s Atlanta campus, would be a popular option for the Georgia State student body.

“We believe pretty strongly that privately developed student housing across the street from campus will be a compelling product for students to consider when weighing their choices in the marketplace,” Rogers said.

Although the university eventually decided against constructing a housing complex of its own near the Underground property, Jones said that Georgia State warmly welcomes additional privatized student housing options.

“We’re always happy to see private developers give students options,” Jones said. “It is a sign of the growth and trajectory of the university.”

But other Downtown residents who have lived near Underground for years showed up at the meeting to voice the concerns that they had about the redevelopment.

Sheldon Schiffer, a Georgia State professor in the Creative Media Industries Institute living one block away from Underground, described himself as a member of Downtown’s artistic class and told the developers he hopes to soon become a member of the “family class.”

Schiffer said he and his partner have been debating whether or not to remain living in the Underground area or to move to a suburban area as they prepare to raise their first child.

“What I’ve observed over the 19 years [that I have lived here] is that in my building … when couples decide to have a child, they leave, and that’s because there’s not much for children to do,” Schiffer said. “I would like you to have an environment here for families who are probably a part of the creative class.”

Schiffer went on to express his desire for the redevelopment to include daycare and places for families to play with their children.

Though the meeting brought together many residents who expressed frustration and concern over the preservation of Underground’s arts community, affordable housing options, and the inclusivity of minority owned businesses and family-oriented centers, there were some in attendance who fully supported the redevelopment of the Underground property.

Lukas Babusak, a student at the meeting who plans on moving into the Underground area with his girlfriend, said he is excited for what the redevelopment will bring.

“I see a very positive impact at the end of the four years or five years of completion,” Babusak said. “One thing that I really liked was how it would connect with Georgia State. It would be more student housing, it would grow Georgia State as a university.”

Babusak said the convenience added by the redevelopment played a major role in his support for the project.

“The grocery store would be a big one for us, whether or not we’re living down here,” Babusak said. “To me it’s exciting. I also want to understand the residents’ point of view, and I completely do, but like I said at the end of the day it’s going to be a huge positive impact on Atlanta as a whole.”

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