Shaneel Lalani, CEO of Billionaires Funding Group (BFG) and Lucky Fortune, is acquiring Underground Atlanta, according to a press release Wednesday. News of the acquisition arrives as WRS, Inc. is at the height of the downtown mixed-use center’s redevelopment. Lalani is pushing those plans forward, but with his own twist to “maximize the potential of the historic entertainment destination and connect the storied district with the investment and growth happening” in the area.
“Recognizing the size and scale of the Underground Atlanta redevelopment, Lalani is focused on bringing together a team of top real estate experts to collaborate on the project, including civil engineers, urban planners, architects and JV partners. He is also commissioning a feasibility study for the district,” according to the release.
The four-block property is surrounded by Pryor, Central, Wall, and Alabama Streets and Newport’s South Downtown project, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Georgia State University, and Centennial Yards, the $5 billion development by CIM Group.
“The investment happening in Downtown has created the opportunity for Underground Atlanta to finally become what it was always meant to be: A vibrant, highly animated retail and entertainment destination that enlivens the streets, with residential, hotel and office uses overhead,” Lalani said. “Collaboration is key to the success of this redevelopment, collaboration with the city, collaboration with best-in-class partners, and collaboration with our neighbors. Underground Atlanta has long been a part of the fabric of this city. We will do what’s right to elevate the district to its highest and best use.”
Lalani has worked in retail his whole life, starting out as a store clerk, and he bought his first real estate property in 2012. He has since grown BFG’s real estate portfolio to more than one million square feet of commercial, retail and office space, with the vast majority of properties located in Georgia. The core business strategy for BFG is to buy underperforming assets and add value through renovations and leasing strategies. Lalani is also the CEO of Lucky Fortune, a coin operated amusement machine (COAM) company, which is licensed by the Georgia Lottery Corporation to support the need to educate Georgia’s children through the HOPE scholarship program and pre-kindergarten funding.
“Lalani’s real estate company has the financial strength and stability to develop the project on its own, though he is open to exploring partnerships with the right investors,” according to the release. “He intends to retain an ownership stake in each parcel to ensure consistency throughout the district.”
Similar to previous ownership’s plans for Underground Atlanta, Lalani envisions a multi-phased redevelopment completed in four blocks. His initial focus is on Block Two, which will comprise multifamily residential, street-level retail, and structured parking. The other three blocks will encompass a mix of uses with street-level retail, restaurant, and entertainment concepts. In addition to vertical development plans, Lalani’s company owns Alabama Street and intends to transform it into an activated, walkable streetscape. Security throughout the district will also be a priority for Lalani.
In the five years leading up to Lalani’s acquisition, Underground Atlanta has seen new investment and renewed interest. After purchasing the property from the city in 2017, previous ownership, WRS Inc., started redeveloping the district and bringing the buildings back to stable condition. In 2016, The Masquerade moved to Kenny’s Alley and opened three uniquely designed venues that host an incredibly diverse lineup of live music performances and festivals. The Masquerade has since become a signature experience for the property, and Lalani plans to extend the nightlife and energy created by the music venue along Kenny’s Alley, with outdoor patios and places for bands to perform.
“We are passionate about Downtown Atlanta and its future as a lively city center with walkable streets and exceptional entertainment,” Lalani said. “We look forward to immersing ourselves in the community and working with the brightest minds in the business to bring the vision for Underground Atlanta to life.”