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T.J. Maxx Headed To Underground Atlanta?

Gamma Real Estate
Gamma Real Estate President Jonathan Kalikow at Bisnow's Atlanta's Urban Core Event in 2018

A South Carolina developer who is underway with transforming Downtown Atlanta landmark Underground Atlanta is in talks with a handful of retail anchors, including T.J. Maxx.

Gamma Real Estate President Jonathan Kalikow confirmed on a Bisnow panel Wednesday that WRS Inc., which is redeveloping Underground Atlanta, is having “ongoing discussions” with TJX Cos., the parent company that owns the big-box discount apparel retailer T.J. Maxx, to locate a  possible store at the project.

New York-based Gamma Real Estate holds a $13M first mortgage on Underground Atlanta.

“[WRS] needs a big-box presence,” Kalikow said by phone after his speech at Bisnow's Atlanta's Urban Core event at Bank of America Plaza, where topics ranged from Underground to The Gulch to activity in Midtown Atlanta. "They need an anchor. There are a few on the shortlist, but nothing has been signed, sealed and delivered as of yet."

The nearest T.J. Maxx to Underground Atlanta is 4 miles north in a shopping center across from Ponce City Market in Midtown. 

WRS purchased Underground Atlanta — a six-block area in Downtown's Five Points neighborhood partly below street level — for more than $30M in 2017 after a protracted negotiation with the city of Atlanta. WRS now plans to revive it.

Underground Atlanta was first built in the late 1960s as a cluster for nightlife and music venues, but fell into disrepair. An effort in the 1980s to turn it into a tourism attraction fizzled.

While still expected to be retail-centric, WRS also plans to develop apartments and student housing, in part to lure in students from nearby colleges and universities.

News of a possible anchor comes weeks after WRS finally revealed its vision of Kenny's Alley and other parts of Underground Atlanta, including more than 150K SF of retail, office and public areas. While WRS has nabbed popular dance and concert venue The Masquerade as well as a coworking office pop-up called Post-Office Cowork, developers have been mum on the state of leasing of the project overall.

Kenny's Alley WRS
Rendering of the refurbished Kenny's Alley in Underground Atlanta

Officials with WRS previously told Curbed that it was working on securing leases with a hyperlocal grocery store, a movie theater, a pastry shop and a clothing store, without naming specifics.

“We’ve been contacted by several small — very small-format — national and regional grocers,” WRS Chief Operating Officer Steve Howe told Curbed. “We're trying to make the right play here.”

Kalikow said the struggle with Underground has been convincing national retailers to pioneer a store at the project, noting that conversations with both Apple and drugstore chain CVS Pharmacy have not come to fruition.

“Nobody wants to be the first over,” Kalikow said during the Bisnow panel. “[Retailers] still have a 1990s mentality. As soon as that trend breaks and someone has the balls to move in, we think the dominoes are going to fall."