ADNA Update – Underground Atlanta

Kip Dunlap
Atlanta Downtown Neighborhood Association

Atlanta Downtown Neighborhood Association Board Votes to Withdraw Support for Demand Letter Against City of Atlanta

ATLANTA – Since 1996, the Atlanta Downtown Neighborhood Association (“ADNA”) has worked to strengthen the downtown community for its residents, businesses, and visitors. ADNA’s efforts have focused on building a vibrant neighborhood in the heart of the city through its nonprofit leadership, advocacy, social activities, communication, and education. As part of these efforts, ADNA has closely monitored the City of Atlanta’s efforts to sell Underground Atlanta.

In early 2017, ADNA retained legal counsel to publicly voice its concerns regarding the City’s lack of transparency in the proposed sale of Underground Atlanta. To date, the costs to retain legal counsel have exceeded $10,000. ADNA’s concerns resulted in a Demand Letter that was delivered to Mayor Kasim Reed and the Atlanta City Council. As a result of the Demand Letter, ADNA and the City entered into continuing negotiations with the ultimate goal of increasing transparency and ensuring the community’s goals were heard and implemented in the proposed sale.

While the City did not agree to accommodate all of ADNA’s concerns, ADNA was successful in ensuring public access to the streets abandoned by the City, meaningful affordable housing requirements, as well as a public notice plan by which modifications to the proposed development will require advertisement in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, submission of plans to NPU-M, and a public comment period prior to approval by Invest Atlanta.

As a result of the Demand Letter and the threat of an impending legal action, the City was unable to close the sale without the withdrawal of the Demand Letter by ADNA. To that end, ADNA held a public meeting on March 14, 2017, at which ADNA’s legal counsel, Chris Collier of Williams Teusink, LLC, advised ADNA and the community as to the status of these negotiations. Mayor Reed and his staff were also present at the meeting and engaged the community to address the status of the negotiations and the concessions made as a result. At the meeting, the ADNA Board voted to table discussion of the withdrawal of the Demand Letter.

After the meeting, the Board met with its counsel to discuss the urgency of this matter and upon advice of counsel, called a special meeting in accordance with the notice requirements of its Bylaws. At the specially called meeting, the Board discussed the City’s concessions and the concerns of the community at length. While the Board opposes the lack of transparency in the process to date, the deadlines, threats of litigation by the City, and ongoing costs of retaining legal counsel demanded an immediate response. After almost an hour of intense debate, a vote was called, and the Board voted 5 to 4 to withdraw the Demand Letter and to continue its negotiations with the City. As a result of this vote the Board and ADNA ensured that the concessions made by the City would be upheld in a meaningful and enforceable manner.

While ADNA understands and shares the continued concerns of the community regarding this matter, failing to withdraw the Demand Letter only ensured that the development would continue without the assurance of any meaningful public comment. Withdrawal of the Demand Letter does not, and should not, be interpreted as the end of ADNA’s opposition to the lack of transparency to date and what some members of the community view as a disconnect between the downtown community and the developer. However, as Mr. Collier was quoted by the Atlanta Journal Constitution, “we’re not going away and our concerns are not going away.” Instead, ADNA believes that its efforts to influence and ensure meaningful community engagement were meaningfully achieved through the City’s concessions and encourages the community to continue to engage the City, Invest Atlanta, the developer to voice its concerns with the redevelopment of Underground Atlanta. Additionally, the actions taken by the ADNA on this matter have thrust our organization and our neighborhood into a position of respect. Both public and private organizations are seeking the ADNA’s input and approval for future projects in our neighborhood.

ADNA and Mr. Collier will welcome public questions and comments at the April general body meeting on April 11th, 2017, 6:30pm at the Rialto Theater, 80 Forsyth St. regarding this matter. Going forward, the ADNA will continue to take an active role in opposing development that is inconsistent with the values and goals of the downtown community.

For additional information on the Atlanta Downtown Neighborhood Association’s involvement with Underground Atlanta please see the general body meeting minutes from the March 14, 2017 meeting.

A recap of the ADNA Underground Atlanta vote can be found here.