Ua_1 I've been to Underground Atlanta, the "premier retail entertainment center" that occupies six subterranean blocks of downtown Atlanta, twice in my life.

The first time, I was 11. It was 1991. I ate some rock candy, listened to a man play the saw, and came down with pneumonia. (These are probably unrelated events.)

The second time, I was 17. It was 1997, and I was on my way to an REM concert. At Undergound Atlanta, I ate a very bad hot dog and purchased a green candle in the shape of a buffalo.

The fact that Underground Atlanta seemed lame to me as an angsty 17-year-old is perhaps unsurprising. But even when I was 11 -- only two years after the ballyhooed relaunch of the retail development -- something about the place seemed stale and sad.

Well, anyway, Underground Atlanta has managed to stay afloat until now. But it's been on the backs of taxpayers:

Atlanta taxpayers currently foot the bill for about $8 million a year in debt service on $85 million in bonds the city issued to relaunch Underground Atlanta in 1989. Right now, the only money the city earns from Underground comes from the adjoining parking decks, not from its shops, restaurants or bars.

When the new World of Coca-Cola opens in May, tourists will be attracted to a different part of town, and the city's finance department predicts that Underground Atlanta will tank even further.

Creative Loafing, an alt-weekly in Atlanta, recently talked with several people -- including an urban planner and an Altanta city council member -- to hear ideas about what might save the beleaguered development. It's a really interesting roundtable discussion, which you can either read or listen to a podcast.

Photo via Flickr, from NicnBill