Old Town, New Look: Athens Businesses Revitalize Downtown Buildings

By Kyle Wingfield

Business owners improve their downtown business spaces with restoration projects.

Businesses occupying historic spaces in Downtown Athens require repair and upkeep. These buildings were constructed near the turn of the 20th century, according to the Athens Clarke County website. City officials said many businesses downtown renovate their spaces, but the process behind restoration is laborious.

The Athens Downtown Development Authority acts as “a liaison between the Athens Clarke County Government and the Downtown Business community,” according to its website. The Athens DDA website said its mission is to “undertake and oversee the revitalization and redevelopment of the urban, central city areas located within the Downtown Athens Area.”

Pamela Thompson, executive director of the Athens DDA, said the Authority welcomes historic restoration projects for downtown business spaces.

“The ADDA would be happy to work with anyone interested in renovating a downtown property” she said, “and prefer that the work is sensitive to the historic character of the building and area.”

Ryan Moore, the Director of Economic Development for the Athens Chamber of Commerce, said that Athens offers “ample options for dining and socializing in close geographic proximity,” which leads to stiff competition.

“Athens supports [a] density of cultural amenities. It takes a very adaptable business model to support this diverse demand.”

A popular staple in the historic Athens business district is Transmetropolitan, a pizza restaurant started in 2001. The business renovated in 2013, a change that owner Wesley Russo said the building was ready for.

“The space in general took a beating,” said Russo. “We decided that we wanted to reinvest in our business […] and that’s when we hired a friend of mine who does construction and renovation. We liked his ideas, and we trusted him to design something that our customers would like as well.”

The process of renovating a historic building is not easy. Chris Blackmon, vice-chair of the Athens DDA, said the planning process requires consulting with nearly 14 departments and organizations before a renovation project is approved.

The departments send comments and plan changes to the business owners. “The owner must make those changes for approval. Then the owner would pull permits from the building permit office to get all of the actual work approved before they can receive a certificate of occupancy.”

Plans submitted to the departments are subject to revisions that potentially delay the renovation process. “The business owners must comply or quit,” Blackmon said.

“Sometimes there is difficulty because the list can be reviewed again and new items [are] added once the original changes have been made to the plans,” said Blackmon. “It has been likened to hitting a moving target.”

Russo said buildings downtown have more length than width. “It just changes the dimensions in which we had to design,” said Russo.

“They’re kind of narrow and deep,” Russo said to the Red & Black. “We wanted […] more of an open, left-to-right spatial setup instead of front-to-back. So that was kind of the basis for the design of the renovation.”

The fire escape imposed by the fire department created a challenge in renovating a narrow business space, according to Russo. “We lose about 12% of the width of the building because of the fire hall,” Russo said.

“The fire hallway runs the length of the building,” said Russo. “I wouldn’t consider that an obstacle; anything that the fire department wants us to do in the interest of public safety is in the interest of our customers. We want to make sure that we do what we need to in order to ensure the public’s safety.”

According to the Red & Black, Russo said the modern overhaul helped smooth out issues the restaurant previously faced. The new floor plan realigned the kitchen with the back central wall and relocated the cashier stand to the storefront.

“We no longer have the line that kind of forms through the middle of the dining area,” Russo said to the Red & Black.

Dr. Jason Rudbeck, an economics lecturer for the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business, said quality, service and reasonable prices are what businesses need to succeed in Athens.

“These restaurants and bars also need to meet the economic range of university students, as they make up a significant portion of their customers,” Rudbeck said.

Russo told the Red & Black Transmetropolitan improved its quality of service in addition to the restaurant’s new image.

“It’s a little more full-service,” Russo told the Red & Black. “Before, our customers ordered at the front and received their drinks and beer and wine and things like that from the cashier. [Now] they’re delivered to the customers at their tables.”

Incentives are available to those who want to renovate their building space downtown. Thompson, the ADDA’s executive director, said additional aid is obtainable for renovation projects if the building space qualifies.

Blackmon, the ADDA vice-chair, said a business owner could receive different forms of financial support if the building is eligible for these programs.

“There is often favorable financing through the department of community affairs” he said, “and there can be historic tax credits if proper regulations are followed.

Russo’s business qualified for some of these incentives. “When we first opened the restaurant, there were some property tax benefits that we received for restoring the building back to sort of original architectural look. I think there were probably more things available to us, but in the interest of time and expediency, we just went forward with the project.”

Underground construction unearths Athens history

By Ashton Adams

When City Engineer James Barnett developed a plan to install underground piping through downtown Athens in 1914, he certainly did not expect these pipes to remain in their place a century later.

Yet, there they lie and Athens construction crews will soon be encountering them and much more underneath the city’s streets.

“Speaking professionally, our department can map out and describe what crews will be running into during construction. Cracked pipes, leaking, rust. Those types of things,” said S.P.L.O.S.T Program Administrator Donald Martin. “However, when we speculate about the downtown area, knowing it is about 200 years old, we know we are bound to run into some interesting finds.”

Crews received the green light to begin excavation underneath Clayton Street after city officials approved a $7.1 million Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax project last year. This year long downtown streetscape project, which began in February, will focus on repairing and upgrading the in-ground utilities along Clayton Street and will conclude in August.

With or without specialist consultation, pieces of Athens’ history remain underground and crews will soon become privy to what lies below.

Generations of city developers since the start of the 20th century have had a history of paving or backfilling entire structures in an attempt to cut back on funds. Janine Duncan, a campus planning coordinator at the University of Georgia and member of the Athens Historical Commission, believes that many of these structures remain where they stood a century ago, surrounded by inches of thick paving material.

“History shows that humans have always taken the path of least resistance. What has resulted in Athens’ case is a lot of structures getting backfilled,” Duncan said. “By working with archaeologists and anthropologists here in Athens, we can distinguish human activity from a century ago. Human activity remains as a scar.”

According to Duncan, the city stands almost a foot taller than it did in 1914 because of the countless layers of pavement that have been laid over the years.

And underneath the pavement are indicators of the city’s age.

“Chances are, what crews will find below ground are remnants of century-old paving bricks, Belgian block and entire water cisterns that horses and mules once drank out of,” Duncan confirmed.

Crews will see trolley tracks that once split the downtown area and ran down Lumpkin Street and various side streets as well. This railway service ran from 1885 until 1930 when G.I.’s returning home from WWII were hired to disassemble the tracks.

When it comes to underground utilities, both Martin and Duncan agree that the pipes installed in 1914 still remain in their place and are in good condition.

“I don’t think city developers a century ago built some of these underground utilities with an intention that they would remain there today,” Duncan said. “On the other hand, crews in the early 1900’s were using withstanding material like glazed terracotta and cast iron for the piping. I believe the city was putting more money into its projects than what today’s city would be doing.”

Smaller objects such as railroad ties, rough-stone stairs, fences, wells and outhouses from the early 20th century have been found under Broad and Clayton Streets.

Duncan, with the help of professor of anthropology Erv Garrison, has been able to scan the ground in and around downtown Athens and discover outlines of human disturbances underground.

Scanning these areas with radar and electromagnetometer equipment, Duncan confirmed that specific areas downtown also show to be areas of interest for archaeologists.

“The areas downtown where I can guarantee archaeologists will uncover human disturbances are in those small interior alley ways that run behind most buildings,” Duncan said. “They have virtually been left untouched since downtown’s original construction.”

It has been 40 years since crews have done an excavation project like this one, and one local administrator has been present for both.

“The last time Athens went underground like this, crews and officials were surprised at how well the piping had held together. Even then that was shocking to us,” said Glenn Coleman, assistant director for the Public Utilities Department. “And during our pre-construction evaluation on Clayton Street last year, we were yet again shocked. The cast iron piping below ground has evaded rusting, cracks and decay for so many years. It really is impressive.”

Per requirements of the Historic Preservation Act of 1966, S.P.L.O.S.T officials had to take into account their undertakings on historic properties, above and below ground, and allow opportunity for an advisory council on historic preservation to comment on the project. Martin said the S.P.L.O.S.T department fulfilled these requirements.

“We have certainly been in coordination with the Historic Preservation Commission in order to make sure we do not impact anything from a historical standpoint,” Martin said.

However, conflicting reports from a member of the commission revealed that S.P.L.O.S.T officials had not consulted the Historical Commission as previously stated.

“From my standpoint, city officials have commonly avoided approaching the Commission about local projects because they regard it as a pain or a waste of time,” Duncan said. “There is a preconceived notion with developers that if they consult the Historic Commission, they will not be able to proceed with their work and that is not the case whatsoever.”

Amber Eskew, Preservation Specialist for the city’s Planning Department also said she knew nothing about the S.P.L.O.S.T-funded project and had not been consulted or involved with the project in any way.

This Clayton Street underground construction will be the last of its kind for decades. Any replaced piping will remain where it is for another 60 to 70 years. Construction will be done on a block-by-block basis beginning on E. Clayton Street. Work will be minimal, non-disruptive and nearly invisible to the common passerby.




Athens working to solve downtown traffic congestion

By Clay Reynolds

The UGA arch looks out over the T-shaped interchange of Broad Street and College Avenue – a crossroads that is one of downtown Athens’ most active traffic junctions and a role-player in frustration many drivers experience when it comes to traffic delays.

The intersection’s activity mainly comes from the vehicles on Broad. Yet the signal governing the intersection, which runs on a fixed timer, gives what little traffic is on College Avenue just as much green time.

Except at the busiest times of the day, it’s rare to see more than a few vehicles waiting at the light on College to turn left or right onto the main thoroughfare. The 60 seconds usually afforded to them late in the afternoon on a weekday is ample time for them to move through after the waiting pedestrians cross over.

So in most instances, half of the time in that cycle length goes to waste as drivers on Broad idle at the red light watching the opposite signal remains green for no one.

These situations, at peak traffic hours, often lead to congestion around the Broad-College intersection and others downtown. This causes some minor, albeit significant, delays for motorists and other travelers through the area.

The Athens-Clarke County Transportation and Public Works Department’s approach to remedying the problem entails a technology upgrade for many of these fixed-time traffic signals downtown. Drivers, according to ACC head traffic engineer Steve Decker, could see a “major difference” in the amount of traffic congestion downtown as a result of these improvements.

The strategy, termed “actuation,” involves the addition of pavement sensors, cameras and pedestrian buttons that allow signals which previously ran on fixed time to self-adjust to fluctuating traffic patterns and run more efficiently.

Current plans call for eight intersections on Thomas, Dougherty and Pulaski Streets, which form part of the downtown perimeter, to receive these upgrades by the end of the fiscal year in June.

Actuating intersections on Broad from Newton Street to Thomas Street would be the next step in the process, although the project, taking place on a state-maintained highway, requires partnership with the Georgia Dept. of Transportation and therefore more time.

Decker says rebuilding the signals on the bordering streets will improve the flow of traffic around downtown and better complement the fixed-time system still in place at intersections inside that boundary.

“What we’re trying to do is get the traffic flow on those four roadways and eventually Broad to go around the city, then when you’re leaving it should allow you to get around much more quickly and reduce the delays and congestion,” Decker said. “I would prefer that the bordering streets all be actuated. That way I can do a much better coordination system. It’s not working to the degree that I’d like it to work.”

Actuation is the antithesis of “coordination,” whereby traffic signals run on preset cycle lengths determined by studies of traffic volume at different times of day. Athens-Clarke County currently runs 11 coordinated signal systems chains of related intersections on or adjoining major roads or in a particular area that are calibrated to optimize traffic flow and efficiency. One of these networks covers the downtown area, also known as the central business district (CBD).

Planners and traffic engineers make common practice of using coordination in CBDs like downtown Athens where intersections are equally-spaced and in close proximity to one another. Consistent traffic flow in all directions allows these signals to run efficiently together, and they’re cost-effective, according to a handbook by Robert L. Gordon on signal timing practices in the U.S.

But what’s atypical about downtown Athens is Broad Street, which is more of an arterial highway fed by tributary roads than a downtown street crossing with traffic paths of equal significance. Broad’s size and traffic volume are both greater than that of any of the streets that intersect it, yet the signals at its intersections operate as if their traffic patterns are comparable.

These signals often give more time to movements on secondary streets than is needed, forcing those on the main road to wait on traffic that has already cleared the intersection. Because of coordinated signals’ inability to sense real-time changes in traffic patterns, intersections like those on Broad operate below optimal efficiency and often intensify congestion.

“Waiting when there’s nobody there – that’s a lot of unnecessary delay,” Decker said. “That goes away with actuation. Time goes back to the main street and it reduces people sitting there.”

Decker says the plan to upgrade the intersections on the perimeter streets should amount to a 20-30 percent improvement in efficiency.

“Efficiency is fluctuating,” he said. “Our goal is to try to make it as efficient as possible.”

Congestion, while never significant, makes the difference of several minutes added onto the commute through downtown for motorists.

“It’s pretty annoying,” UGA junior Andy Bedingfield said of the traffic he’ll sometimes experience downtown around 5 p.m. “There’ve been times that a place I’d normally get to in 10 minutes would take 20 or more.”

Cars aren’t the only vehicles that have problems with congestion downtown.

Buses on Campus Transit’s East-West route shuttle passengers from west campus through downtown via Broad Street toward the main library.

Jerod Beck, a sophomore from Dacula, drives the East-West route during the noon hour on Mondays when traffic reaches its midday height due to UGA’s 12:05 class change and a tide of motorists headed to lunch.

Cars traveling east stack up on Broad between Lumpkin Street and the arch bus stop near College Avenue, making it hard for buses like his to make their way back into the right-of-way. This ordeal adds five to seven minutes to the time it takes him to get between stops at Hull Street and the Main Library, in essence doubling the time it takes for passengers to ride that portion of the route.

“All the delay is primarily due to moving in and out of the arch bus stop,” Beck said. “We’re dependent upon other buses, courtesy of other drivers or open space to merge back in.”

The plan will offer moderate benefits to pedestrians. Crosswalk signals downtown will now have buttons on them to record the presence of foot-traffic waiting to cross the road.

A number of pedestrians surveyed said they generally had no problems with delays while walking downtown.

UGA student Sophie Archer, who lives downtown, said traffic at the Broad-College intersection is bad at certain times of day, but never delays her as a pedestrian.

Another student who frequently walks through downtown said the wait time to cross is not a problem for her. “It doesn’t make me late to class or anything,” she said.

Both, however, said they would be in favor of improvements to the intersection if it made things faster.

Actuating intersections involves installation of either “inductive loops,” electronic sensors embedded in the pavement behind an intersection’s “stop bar,” or mounted cameras. Either or both of these technologies serve to detect vehicles as they roll up, and feed that information into a computer that also takes input from pedestrian “push for walk signal” buttons and adjusts the timing of cycle patterns accordingly.

Outside of programming, the process of putting this equipment in place isn’t extensive. Decker’s staff cuts their own sensor loops, and he says they can usually get everything done for a given intersection in a day or two. But gadgetry for all the intersections must be in place before they can program the network and flip the switch.

A number of factors hold his office back from completing the project. Staff limitations have forced them to make upgrading the intersections a side project balanced with other priorities related to traffic signals, street markings and signage across town.

Ill-timed construction and maintenance work downtown has undone much of their progress in the past year.

Construction of The Standard on the corner of Thomas and Dougherty streets destroyed the instruments that were already in place at the intersection. A recent road resurfacing project downtown also invalidated much of the work they’d done and forced them to start over.

“We’re doing it as we can,” Decker said. “Every time we start on it something happens.”

The costs of the actuation updates are within their budget, since signal efficiency upgrades fall within a stated goal of ensuring “maximum roadway capacity and reduced delay at signalized intersections through a comprehensive signal upgrade and signal system re-timing program” outlined in last year’s Transportation and Public Works biennial report.

Sensor loops, according to Decker, cost between 300 and 500 dollars. Combined with the cost of programming and other required mechanisms like wiring, buttons and signal heads, actuation upgrades can add up to a price tag of thousands of dollars apiece – a ballpark figure of 250,000 dollars, according to the ACC Traffic Engineering Division webpage.

Is shaving off a few minutes from the commute time through downtown worth that cost?

Decker believes the project will return on the investment once the upgrades to Broad Street are fully completed. The congestion issues that continue in the meantime, he says, aren’t serious.

“It’s not efficient,” Decker said, “but it will be once GDOT does the project. (Otherwise) the downtown central business district works really well. We’re blessed because we don’t have major traffic issues like Atlanta does.”

Boom Baby Boom


By the end of 1945 World War II ended, American troops were returning home, and birth rates began to steadily increase giving rise to a generation we now refer to as the “baby boomers.”

During this demographic boom nearly 79 million Americans were born. Due to advances in medicine and modern technology these individuals, the first of whom celebrated their 60th birthdays in 2006, are experiencing much longer lifespans.

With more than 72 million Americans over the age of 65 by the year 2030, what can be done to assist this large group as they age?

Athens Community Council on Aging member Madeline Van Dyck explained: “Our graves used to be filled with people who died from phenomena, and child birth complications, we now have antibiotics and anesthetics, so people don’t easily die anymore, when they otherwise would have.”

This very same trend is happening in many communities around the nation, but more specifically in college towns, like Athens. The Athens Community Council on Aging became aware of the growing number of boomers and created the Athens Area Village to accommodate aging citizens’ needs.

Van Dyck states, “2012 marked the beginning for the next 18 years of the second ‘silver tsunami,’ which is made up of the members of the baby boomer generation; in a way, demographically, this has not been represented before. We now have the sixty-something-year-old and the eighty-something-year-old in the marketplace and we [boomers] are the ones holding the wealth for the most part, so it’s a huge consumer market.”

According to the 2010 US Census there are 9,952 citizens ages 65 years and older in Athens-Clarke County. This makes up 8.5 percent of the total population. The National Institute on Aging predicts that “by 2030 almost 1 out of every 5 Americans – some 72 million people – will be 65 years or over.”

The Classic City has also been cited as a popular retirement destination in the past several years. In 2013 Forbes and AARP named Athens as one of the top places to retire in the country and U.S. News and World Report listed Athens as one of the cities to which baby boomers will move.

Boomers are attracted to the Athens-Clarke County area for the rich culture and atmosphere, relatively low cost of living, affordable and available healthcare in the area, a less congested environment, and possibilities for continued education through the University of Georgia through programs such as the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.

In 2012, in response to the “silver tsunamis,” the Athens Community Council on Aging (ACCA) started the Athens Area Village to accommodate the growing numbers of adults over the age of 50 in the Athens area.

The program is designed after the Beacon Hill Village in Boston, Massacusettes. Their mission was to provide aging citizens assistance by using local resources and volunteers and provide a way for aging adults to do so within their own community.

Beacon Hill Village began in February 2002 and quickly became a trendsetter for assisting aging adults over 50 to age comfortably in their own homes and communities. In 2006 the Beacon Hill Village published “The Village Concept: A Founder’s Manual” which shared experiences and advice for creating a new village.

The Athens Area Village is the first village program in Georgia and serves as the model for the state as well.

The Athens Area Village, much like the Beacon Hill Village it is modeled after, provides services for adults over the age of 50. Volunteers from around the community offer services to Village members, who pay an annual membership fee.

The Athens Area Village has no physical location, but is made up of a community of volunteers and service providers from the Athens area that offer personalized assistance for Village members.

Unlike retirement communities or nursing homes, the Athens Area Village program allows aging adults to the freedom to age in their own homes and receive volunteer help or services as needed. The Athens Community Council on Aging does however have an office in Athens located on Hoyt Street.

“You have your members, your volunteers, and your providers,” Said Matte Barkdoll, a social worker at the ACCA. “Providers go through a vetting process and then they often offer a small discount to our village members. So our main focus is to have our members remain in their homes, age comfortably in place, and provide community and volunteer services like assistance in transportation and simple home repairs that help our members to remain comfortably where they are living.”

The Athens Area Village also offers a variety of additional services to it’s members including: fitness classes, special events, book clubs, and outings around the Athens community.

Other establishments in Athens also provide services for aging adults and disabled citizens. Iris Place which opened its doors in Athens in 2000 is an independent living community which also provides services for aging adults.

Members of this group live within the Iris Place Community, pay rent (including all utility expenses), are provided with three meals a day, and a variety of activities and events offered through the community.

Iris Place has 22 condo spaces and 118 apartments. In regards to whether Iris Place would be able to accommodate an influx of aging individuals in the community, manager Ken Grindele stated: “We’re at a limit now.”

For more serious care-related issues, facilities such as Arbor Terrace offer assistance and facilities for anyone who needs assistance.

Judee Odonell, a worker at Arbor Terrace said “Most of our residents are over a certain age, or simply people due to health-related issues that need help with medication management or a great deal more. For those that have serious dementia or Alzheimer issues, we have a memory care unit for that.”

While both types of assistance and care are necessary within a growing community, the Athens Area Village has adopted an innovative way of providing assistance for aging adults in their homes.

“What is happening is we are aggressively under-cared for across the frailty continuum of aging until we are suddenly permanently over-cared for. This means, we [boomers] have to find a way to die more gracefully, which is coming. Now there are these huge aging dynamically and wisely movements all around the country. Hospice is now not the last three days, but the last three years.” Said Van Dyck.

The Athens Area Village has adopted an innovative approach to assist aging adults in our community at a low cost, comfortable lifestyle, and ultimate ease. When faced with the question of if the Athens Area village could accommodate a large increase of members in the next several years, social worker Matte Barkdoll responded with a resounding “Absolutely.”

The Athens Area Village’s reliance on volunteer work and no risk of reaching a physical capacity with facilities, the program has potential for growth.

Athens annual Water Conservation Event right around the corner


When the Athens Community Council on Aging sensed its Hoyt Street building was wasting water, it decided to take action with the Athens Water Conservation Office.

After they reviewed and inspected the building, experts from the Water Conservation Office knew a solution for their problem.

The Council on Aging retrofitted 10 toilets, which cut their water bill in half.

For their ability to save water and attract citizen attention, the Council on Aging won the 2012 Fix-a-Leak week competition, awarded annually by the Water Conservation Office.

The Council on Aging is similar to organizations across Athens who strives to save water daily, and officials offer a solution.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that household water leaks waste nearly one trillion gallons of water each year.

In hopes of educating citizens about wasted water, they organize Fix-a-Leak weeks in cities across the United States.

These selected cities across the U.S. sponsor educational events and leak-fixing efforts.  In the North Georgia area, local governments within Districts planned a Water Drop Dash 5K race and Water Festival.  The festival features water conservation education and related activities.

Athens, the EPA noted, runs alongside the best cities and organizations partnering with the WaterSense program.  The WaterSense program encourages water efficiency across the U.S. through the use of a special label on consumer products.

In 2012, the EPA congratulated Athens for its outstanding approach to fixing leaks with “helping hands” by partnering with the University of Georgia.

“Volunteers from student organizations at UGA performed water conservation audits at local businesses, showed residents how to audit their own homes and distributed free water saving devices,” the EPA stated in regard to the 2012 partnership.

Currently, the 2014 Fix a leak week is in the process of receiving nominations.

Last year, there were nearly seven to eight applications.  This year, they received two to three.

The Athens Community Council on Aging remains one of the biggest success stories with the Fix-a-Leak week program.

Toilets persist as the main source of water use in homes and account for nearly 30 percent of the average home’s water consumption.

Older toilets use as much as six gallons per flush, while WaterSense toilets use 1.28 gallons per flush or less.

By replacing the inefficient toilets with WaterSense models, the average family can reduce water usage for toilets by 20 to 60 percent, saving nearly 13,000 gallons of water every year and more than $110 per year in cost.

In comparison to households, the Council on Aging replaced a total of 10 toilets, which cut back on their water cost tremendously.

The Athens Community Council on Aging stood as a perfect candidate in 2012 for the Fix-a-Leak week project due to its massive size and the media attention that it would gain.

Marilyn Hall, Coordinator at the Water Conservation Office, said that everyone reaps the benefits, not just the official winner.

“Runner-ups also get water assessments.  The Water Conservation Office visits their facilities, checks for leaks and offers them water saving advices,” Marilyn Hall stated in regards to the remaining nominees.

Although the Water Conservation Office does not directly fix their leaks, the assessment and advice serves as a starting point in conserving water.

“Our Daily Bread” Soup Kitchen was one of these runner-ups in 2013.

They installed a new pre-rinse spray valve, which helped conserve water when spraying down dirty dishes.  The advice given by the Water Conservation Office stated that the kitchen spray valve continues as a major water waster.

Organizational kitchens that switch to WaterSense labeled pre-rinse spray valves can save more than $115 yearly in water and energy costs.

Action Ministries was the 2013 retrofit winner during the Fix a leak week.

As a part of their winnings, they received a Water Sense toilet and a new kitchen faucet, which expected to cut the cost of their water bill.

According to Erin Barger, Executive Director of Action Ministries, they are grateful for the support of the Water Conservation group, but unfortunately their facility burned down in April 2013 shortly after installation.  They were not able to see the benefits from the project.

Downtown takes parking into 21st century

By Taylor West

Downtown in the Classic City — comprised largely of curbside parking — is making it easier for people to get where they are going.

A move to make simpler by replacing the old coin meters with modernized digital IPS meters had been on the table since before Downtown Athens Parking Director Chuck Horton took the helm, but it really gained momentum last year.

“It wasn’t anything new I just brought it back up — it was just something that needed to be done,” Horton said. “The machines that were on the street were just way past their time.”

Now, finding an old school meter in downtown Athens is next to impossible, a reality that will streamline the parking process for anyone who ventures out to one of the many bars, shops or restaurants.

Athens, however, is not the first city to follow the trend of convenience through modernization with the IPS meters.

San Diego introduced 51 of the high-tech devices for a four-month trial in 2009, according to the San Diego government website. And according to the City of Berkeley website, North Berkeley, a neighborhood in Berkeley, Calif., ran a pilot program with 30 of the meters in January 2010.

These new solar-powered meters, which made their way through downtown over the last couple of months, take credit and debit cards as well as the traditional pocket change.  Now those who find themselves in the historic city center can use the new meters on most streets.

Even the pay and display boxes are on their way out. Horton said it is in the works for Clayton Street and Broad Street to follow the lead of the rest of downtown and replace the boxes with the new IPS meters.

Horton said the boxes are a real problem for downtown Athens parking — just the act of having to find a box, pay, get a ticket and return to your car generates complaints.

“A lot of the folks don’t like them. It is not uncommon to have five complaints in a morning based on what happened the night before,” he said. “I just don’t get those kinds of complaints from the IPS meters.”

John McArthur, a downtown Athens attorney who works across the street from the courthouse, said he likes the new meters better than the old ones and better than the pay and display boxes.

“[The pay and display’s] are OK. I kind of like [the IPS meters] better because you don’t have to go looking for the box and print the receipt,” he said.

Scott Cassady, a retired Athenian, shares McArthur’s distaste for the pay and display meters, saying they are “a pain in the butt.”

“Whatever happened to where you just walked up and stuck your coins in and walked away?” he said. “[The IPS meters] actually look like they make sense. It’s way better than the other one.”

And on top of being a grievance for those who frequent downtown, the pay and display boxes are difficult and costly to fix when they break. Horton said Athens doesn’t have the in-house tools to fix the machines so the city has to call in people from Norcross.

The IPS meters pose much less of a problem. Horton said they break less frequently and are easier to fix and to monitor.

“It will send a message to my email if they are jammed if they are having some problems,” Horton said. “For us its easy to trouble shoot them you can switch them out pretty easy.”

In addition to the ability to pay with credit and debit cards as well as the traditional coins, users can pay for the new machines by calling in on an app and paying on the phone.

“I can pull up on their software and check the amount of money that’s coming in,” Horton said.

A given meter’s income varies by location — the area by the courthouse doesn’t get as much business until court is in session or there is an event at the Classic Center. On the other hand, Horton said the meters on Lumpkin Street, Jackson Street and S. Washington Street “really get used.”

Athens-Clarke County purchased 510 IPS meters at $465 a piece — a total of just over $230,000 — that arrived in the middle of last October. Horton said of the vote in favor of the purchase, “I think it was unanimous.

And the opinion on the amendment to the downtown landscape met with positivity from Athens’ citizens, too.

“They are well received,” Horton said. “I like them and I think the customers like them because … they can read them and it’s easy to use them. Your generation is going to use plastic; the older generation may not want to do that.”

Barbara Brown, an employee of Downtown Athens Parking, has the job of writing tickets for the vehicles which are illegally parked — whether in an off-limits parking space or with an expired meter.  She said the dual nature of the meters makes them easy to use for Athenians of all ages and backgrounds.

“They are easier for the older people and easier for the students, you know, it’s old school and new school,” she said. “Credit cards, five cents, ten cents and quarters — you can still get by with it.”

McArthur said he supports the new, high-tech meters’ downtown takeover because they are convenient and good for the price. His only complaint — “I wish they would take dollar bills too.”

Athens-Clarke County is getting a new recycling center

By, Evan Caras

Glass and paper are easily recycled materials.

However, many materials cannot be easily recycled, such as, grease, pesticides, mattresses and batteries.

Athens-Clarke County’s leadership has recently taken steps to ensure that local citizens will be able to recycle new materials-the easy ones as well as well as the hard ones.

In order to recycle those materials, the Athens Commission recently approved a motion to have a recycling center placed at 1005 College Avenue.

However, Jim Corley, the Solid Waste Department Director, said, “there was no money in the budget for such projects since 2008.”

The center itself had been voted for a special-purpose local-option sales tax (SPLOST) project.  The center will offer the means to recycle materials that cannot be easily recycled or are potentially hazardous to do so.

To help offset the potential costs of constructing a new building, the center will replace a county-owned building currently used by the police to store evidence.  Their new storage facility will be built at 3035 Lexington Road, Athens, Georgia.

However, the building will be used by the police for evidence storage until their new building will be completed which is expected to be by winter 2015 at the very latest.

The total costs to convert the storage facility into a recycling center are estimated at the Athens-Clarke County website at $193,000.

However, the yearly operating costs ($66,000) will not be included in the SPLOST funds.  The funds themselves can only be used for capital improvements.

The building itself will shift functions in January 2015, according to Corley.

The materials the center will recycle include (but are not limited to) items such as carpet, mattresses, tires, electronics, paints, batteries, and Styrofoam.

 “These materials cannot be picked up at the curb and can often end up in a landfill,” Corley said.

However, on average Solid Waste will also take in roughly 50,000 tons or 100,000,000 pounds of waste annually.  This waste also includes various objects that cannot be recycled without the future center.

The system that the recycling center uses will be different than the one currently used by Solid Waste.

In the current system, the businesses or homes will be given bags for recycling and bags for trash. Solid Waste charges a fee to use the bags for trash, but the bags for recycling are free of charge.

 “Citizens and businesses would have to bring their materials to the facility to be recycled. These are not normal curbside recyclable materials. Some like household chemicals, pesticides, paints, etc. can be considered hazardous. There will be a fee for some of the materials to cover the cost of processing and shipping. Others we get paid for from different vendors so we would not charge a fee.”

The process can be summed up in three steps.

First the consumer will bring their materials that they do not want to throw out, but are not collected under the current system.

After that they might have to pay a fee for certain items (the more hazardous ones).

Finally, once the materials are put in a container, they get sent elsewhere.

However, the biggest issue that faced the recycling center had nothing to do with either funds or the method used!

In reality, the decision of where to place the center was more challenging.

The issue stems from the fact that in order for the recycling center to serve the people it had to be placed somewhere that the average person or small business would be willing to drive to with hard-to-recycle and potentially hazardous materials.

However, to make the problem more difficult, it also should be relatively out of the way so that the traffic would not bother a large number of people.

Eventually the commission picked 1005 College Avenue

The location had two problems; it is very near the University of Georgia and the location functions as a gateway to the city.

In addition, as Kelly Girtz, the District 9 Commissioner, noted in a regular meeting on Feb 4, “more funds would be nice for things such as landscaping.”

The reason why the aesthetics have significance is that the area is on the corner of Cleveland Avenue and it also functions as something a lot of people will see when they come to Athens.

If one of the first things they see is a congested mess then, that will leave a negative impression since the first ones are important.

However, even though the aesthetic issues provided a challenge it might not have been a real choice.

According to Suki Janssen, Waste Reduction Administrator, the commission picked the location since the Clarke County government would not need to transform the existing land and the Clarke County Government owned it.

As a result when the issue came to a vote on February 4, 2014 it was seconded then passed unanimously and quickly.

Nancy Denson, Mayor of Athens, Georgia even noted, “We’re moving fast!”

Downtown development brings headache and promise

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By Emily Curl

As Carley Gainous walks up Broad Street every day, she confronts the SunTrust building construction.

“There are fewer parking spaces around my lot and portions of the sidewalk are closed,” she says. ” I know it’s temporary, but it has been harder getting to and from class.”

Gainous is not the only one faced with the hassles of construction. She is an example of what pedestrians, business owners, and workers experience with downtown construction: temporary inconvenience followed by an improved downtown.

Construction is nothing new to downtown Athens, but projects taking place this year are expected to bring major disturbances and changes to downtown development.

The SunTrust building’s neighboring property redevelopment, along with the Clayton Streetscape infrastructure work, are two of the largest projects occurring simultaneously downtown. Many businesses anticipate an initial loss, but hope upon completion the new construction improves the downtown area and attracts more customers.

After interviewing pedestrians, business owners, and employees, a temporary disruption and loss is anticipated, but ultimately, once downtown construction is complete, businesses are expected to return to normal or even experience a rise in business, and pedestrians can look forward to an improved downtown.

While both projects promise limited disturbances, businesses and pedestrians are already beginning to feel an impact. The Clayton Street infrastructure project is expected to last until mid 2015 according to SPLOST Project Manager Derek Doster. And according to reports on OnlineAthens.com, the multiuse development in progress beside the SunTrust building is not expected to be complete until Summer 2015, leaving businesses and pedestrians to deal with the construction for another year.

This is not the first time large-scale construction has appeared downtown. After fire damage in 2009, the Georgia Theatre began a major reconstruction project. Ophelia Culpepper, an employee of Horton’s Drug Store remembered the construction on the corner of West Clayton and North Lumpkin Streets.

“It was pretty noisy, but if anything, I think the construction helped business, especially once the construction was complete.” she said. “The construction workers came into the store often to buy snacks and drinks, but I think it would have been different if we were more of a specialty store.”

When asked about the new construction beginning on Clayton Street, Culpepper was worried that parking might be a problem, but she hopes to once again gain business from the construction workers.

While Horton’s Drug Store may not be facing a decrease in sales, many other businesses are already feeling a loss.

With jackhammers buzzing and bulldozers in action just steps away from the front door of Heery’s Too, employee Martha Easton McLemore already noticed business has been slower than usual.

“[The construction] has definitely affected the flow of customers in the store and all the heavy machinery outside seems to turn people away,” McLemore said. ” It’s really loud and a hassle, but I do think Clayton needs a facelift. I can only hope all this [construction] will be worth it.”

According to the Athens- Clarke County Downtown Streetscapes Improvements website, the infrastructure of Clayton Street is expected to be improved and upgraded. Utility, sidewalk, and exterior improvements are all expected to bring multiple benefits to businesses and pedestrians. The benefits  include water system and street light improvements, wider sidewalks, and improved crosswalks.

Work will also be done in sections in hopes to minimize disturbances and so the entire street will not be affected at once, according to Doster. He expects large traffic or parking problems to be very limited.

According to the website of the construction company in charge of the SunTrust building redevelopment, Juneau Construction Company, “the project will consist of more than 300,000 square feet of a mix of retail, apartment, and restaurant space. Five stories of apartments totaling 266 units and 165,000 square feet will sit above one level of retail totaling more than 40,000 square feet and below grade parking that will consist of 266 parking spaces.”

Another downtown business affected by the construction is Private Gallery, an apparel store located on Clayton Street. When asked about the construction, employee Jordan Garner was not happy about the noise surrounding the work but agreed that Clayton Street needed street and sidewalk improvements.

“Once this is all done, I think we will have more customers stopping by the store and all other stores on Clayton in general,” Garner said.

When asked about the SunTrust building redevelopment Garner added “When people live downtown they are more likely to shop downtown as well. I hope we will gain some more customers as people move towards downtown.”

The new apartments, along with street improvements, also have Cat Bobon, owner of Cillies Clothing, hopeful for the future of her business.

“It’s a pain now since the construction is taking up parking spaces, but I know it will eventually be for the best. I haven’t had many customers today, but hopefully that changes soon,” Bobon said.

Cillies Clothing is a vintage store located on Clayton Street, and while the business profits on customers buying clothing and accessories from the store, they also count on customers to sell the store their gently used apparel.

Although this is the largest construction to take place recently in downtown Athens, if businesses and pedestrians can cooperate with the construction, they will ultimately benefit. While businesses may be beginning to experience a loss now, that loss is seen as temporary and business owners can expect to return to normal or better after construction completion.

“More people living downtown just means more opportunities [for the business] to buy and sell, which is always a good thing,” Bobon says. “And once the street is in better shape, even more people will want to come shop on Clayton.”

Pedestrians enjoy downtown’s “unregulated” music

By: Lacey Davis

As Rachel Ehlinger walks home from dinner on a Friday night downtown, she pauses to appreciate the tunes of the guitar that a musician plays just outside of her apartment, which rests above a small store on Clayton Street.

The peaceful music before the craziness of the night begins on the overcrowded sidewalks is one of the many reasons Ehlinger loves living where she does. The musicians are friendly; the music is moving.

“The same older man plays guitar on the bench outside of my apartment most nights,” said Ehlinger, a sophomore from Roswell, Georgia. “We’ve never had a real conversation, just a smile and casual greetings. It feels homey to have him around now.”

The government does not step in to regulate the street musicians and performers, often referred to as buskers, in downtown Athens.  According to Sgt. Derek Scott who is in charge of downtown operations for the Athens Police Department, there are not ordinances that directly deal with buskers’ limitations, only ones that may apply to them, including obstructing sidewalks and noise control.

The police rarely bother the buskers. The only time the authorities interfere with the music scene on the street is when safety or noise control become an issue.  “I am not aware of any citations being issued,” said Sgt. Scott. “Years ago I recall getting called to College Square in reference to an altercation between musicians. A violin player was upset because a flutist was playing too closely to him.”

“My band hasn’t seen any altercations,” said Sean Stephansen, a sophomore from Suwanee, Georgia majoring in business. He plays banjo, guitar and sings for his band, Manmade Mountains. They play on the corner of Clayton Street and College Avenue on weekends between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m.

According to Daniel Krieger, a 27-year-old resident of Athens who works a “tedious nine to five job” during the week and plays ukulele on weekends, “Some guys out here get real defensive of their territory. If you aren’t in the spot you want at the start of the day then someone will come up and kick you out of their spot.” He enjoys playing to relieve stress. Krieger will play on any open bench he can find; he isn’t picky.

In many cities across the nation, including Asheville, North Carolina, for example, there are guidelines regarding when and where busking is permitted, according to the official Asheville, North Carolina government webpage. Athens is fortunate to have musicians from all ages, backgrounds and cities around the country who come and play for free on the streets.

“Buskers add to the atmosphere of Athens as a music town. The downtown district is an entertainment hub,” said Sgt. Scott. “I think the buskers understand and appreciate the fact that if they are to be successful and stay welcome that they must be respectful of the laws and the citizens they perform for.”

Sgt. Scott is not the only one who believes the musicians add to the atmosphere. “I love live music,” said Katie Tiller, a sophomore from Atlanta who DJs for the University of Georgia’s WUOG radio. “Just being able to walk the streets at any time of day and hearing live music makes my day a little better. I can’t imagine Athens without them.”

Athens has been known as a music town since before the B-52s arrived in 1976. Students such as Stephansen are able to enjoy the freedom from licensing and strict laws. Without a second thought, Manmade Mountains is able to have a fun night on the town with a few friends and good music. “We play downtown because we enjoy it. It’s an amazing experience. The tips are on and off, but the experience is always great,” added Stephansen.

Speaking of tips, they are few and far between. Krieger said, “I used to leave my case open for tips but there were so few anyways that I decided to start keeping it closed. It’s more about the music.”

When pedestrians were asked about their tipping habits, the majority had comparable responses.

“I don’t have cash on me very often. I feel bad because I’d love to tip some of the musicians. I definitely have a few favorites,” said Tiller. “On the rare occasion that I’m walking around downtown with some extra money, I’ll put it in their case.”

Not only do the buskers add to the music atmosphere of Athens, but they also receive very few complaints from residents or pedestrians. Sgt. Scott remembered a man playing drums loudly on a five-gallon bucket. After several complaints the drummer was cited and never returned. Most calls concern outside concerts or bands. There have not been many complaints regarding buskers recently, according to Sgt. Scott.

The lack of regulation on the music scene in the quiet college town has added to the overall experience of several students. “The music is one of my favorite parts of walking around downtown on a sunny afternoon,” said Anna Roberto, a senior from Atlanta majoring in finance. “I’ll smile and say hello to them as I pass by. The combination of live music, sunshine and shopping is a cure-all remedy for me.”

If rules, regulation or licensing were a necessity in Athens, there are differences that would ensue. With an added legal step, many musicians may not find the process worth it and not perform at all. This is more likely among the students who spend most of their time split between school, work and spending time with friends. With pedestrians, residents and students enjoying the music with few complaints, this is unnecessary to even consider.

Downtown Athens, Georgia has revolved, with few issues, around the free-spirited music and compelling musicians behind the tunes. This musical scene has thrived for decades, and as the saying goes, there’s no need to fix what isn’t broken.

On this particular night, Ehlinger drops a single and few coins into the man’s guitar case. “I know the song this time. I don’t always, and I don’t always have extra change. Tonight I do. Must be a sign that it’s going to be a good weekend,” she said as she walked through her apartment entrance.

Tim Denson: An Athens for Everyone

By Eli Watkins

Tim Denson rides a scooter. He enjoys craft beer. He makes his own music. He works at Barnes & Noble in the digital department and runs a vintage goods business with his wife.

And, Denson is running for mayor of Athens-Clarke County.

The Campaign:

By some accounts, Denson faces an uphill battle. Current Mayor Nancy Denson (no relation) enjoyed a comfortable margin of victory in the 2010 election.

This relatively well-known, sitting mayor is Tim Denson’s competition, possibly along with local tattoo artist and declared candidate Ryan Berry. According to the Athens-Clarke County Board of Elections, we will not know the names on the ballot for certain until candidate qualifying ends on March 7.

According to financial disclosures reported at the beginning of this year, Mayor Nancy Denson has raised $17,615 in contributions. That is a formidable war chest compared to Tim Denson’s paltry $504.To put that figure in perspective, the qualifying fee to join the mayoral race is $1,350.

He recognizes the fiscal challenge he faces. Denson boasts, “[This campaign] is all volunteers. We’re not being run with large donors and being bankrolled by anybody. It’s just people being willing to work and volunteer.”

While he may not have large signs dotting the streets of Athens Clarke County like Mayor Denson, he has quite a few people sporting trendy buttons with his image on them.

Even with the odds against him, Denson’s supporters appear optimistic. Former Occupy activist and ardent Tim for Athens volunteer Adam Lassila said, “This whole campaign is bubbling over with promise and attainable awesomeness founded in compassionate ideals.”

Denson’s campaign staff comprises mostly former Occupy Athens activists, like him. Some of these people volunteered to create his website, and others, like Lassila, have logged hours canvassing neighborhoods in Athens.

Running a volunteer campaign with almost no funds is difficult, but Denson seems to believe sincerely that it is worthwhile. He also does not hesitate to criticize his opponent.

“We need to have a mayor who has a plan. I think we’ve been lacking that for the past few years: lacking focus and vision for the commission,” said Denson, “We want to make an Athens for everyone.”

All of the fundraising, campaigning and volunteering comes down to May 20, Election Day.

On that day, voters will not only face a nonpartisan mayoral election. They will also vote in a number of races, including the Georgia Republican Senate Primary, which is sure to bring many conservative voters to the polls.

The Athens Everyman:

While Tim Denson is not from Athens originally, his allegiances bend toward the classic city on a range of subjects.

Denson is a self-proclaimed fan of the Georgia Bulldogs and a plurality of Athenian musical acts.Still, he plays the part of a politician. Asked about his favorite beer, he answers wryly, “That has to be from Terrapin, right?”

As Kurt Gloede, third year advertising student from Roswell, sees it, “Tim Denson is the hipster mayor Athens deserves.”

When it comes to qualifications, Denson stresses his everyman appeal.

I come from a place that most Athenians come from. I’ve worked in the service industry, the retail industry, the agricultural industry. I know what it is like to have to scrape by. I’ve lived under the poverty line,” said Denson.

He brings up his involvement in the grassroots political scene. Indeed, anyone familiar with local Athens politics will recognize some of the movements Denson joined in the past, from Occupy Athens to opposing the proposed construction of a Wal Mart store adjacent to downtown Athens.

Whatever reputation the Occupy movement has today, Denson embraces his experience with its Athenian chapter.

“I’m proud of a lot of the work that Occupy Athens did, and the Occupy movement in general. It helped empower a lot of individuals, including myself,” said Denson before clarifying, “This campaign is something outside of the Occupy movement, but I don’t think I would be where I am right now if it wasn’t for the movement.”

The Platform:

The platform Tim Denson released focuses on a number of policy areas including poverty reduction, expanding public transit, economic development, and law enforcement reform.

Like many left leaning figures across the country, Denson’s main concern is poverty.

“The big thing I want to see change is our 38 percent poverty rate. It’s the number one issue we’re focusing on.”

For every problem he brings up, he has a possible solution jotted down in his little red notebook. On poverty, for example, he prescribes a range of remedies.

“From the mayor’s office, first and foremost, my agenda is focused on trying to reverse the course of that poverty rate,” said Denson, “Another thing we could be doing is offering quality childcare and early education so that the parents that are trying to pull their families out of poverty know their kids will be taken care of.”

His fixation on poverty ties to his enthusiasm for public transit, where his answer is red and black.

I think the easiest way for us to get more affordable, and eventually free, public transit will be to merge the Athens and UGA transit systems together,” said Denson, “Right now, we have two publicly funded transit systems serving Athens-Clarke County, the smallest county in Georgia. That just seems absurd that they’re both doing the exact same thing and funded the same way. I think that if they worked together, we could have one strong system.”

Despite his idealistic promises, he takes care not to overreach.

I’m not saying that right when I take office, with a snap of my fingers, we will have free public transit. But, we could be moving toward making our main lines free,” said Denson.

Another major area in his platform concerns law enforcement.  After taking a small survey of Athenians, he decided to address police profiling and marijuana decriminalization.

We’d like to work with our police department and make sure the training covers that [profiling] is not something we want to be pursuing, that [profiling] is not the way that we want to be enforcing the law,” said Denson.

On the issue of marijuana, Denson said, “Right now, we spend millions of dollars incarcerating nonviolent offenders who had as little as less than an ounce of marijuana. That’s wasting our tax dollars and the abilities of the people who are sitting in prison… I am sure that we can work out some kind of resolution that permits us to decriminalize, or at least deprioritize [marijuana] in Athens-Clarke County.”

The Decision

By all accounts, Tim Denson is an underdog. By his own admission, he has no experience in an official public position.

However, he does have organic, grassroots appeal and a thoughtful set of policy stances.

The voters of Athens-Clarke County will have to decide if that is enough to defeat Mayor Nancy Denson.