Hotel growth in downtown Athens

By Brittney Cain

With the University of Georgia’s growth and number of conventions being held in Athens, the downtown area is becoming a site of construction and further expansion for hotels to accommodate the increase of people.

The Holiday Inn on West Broad Street has submitted a permit application on the building for a renovation and expansion.

Modifications to the parking lot and driveway are included in the proposed work.

The hotel industry in Athens, according to Hannah Smith, director of marketing and communications at the Athens Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), is growing to meet the needs of increasing number of meetings and conventions.

In 2003, there were a total of 14 hotels in the Athens-Clarke County area, according to the U.S. Census. The most recent census data revealed that in 2011 the total number of hotels jumped to 22 in the area.

And the Convention and Visitors Bureau reported there are 10 hotels within one mile of the Classic Center.

Brands typically do better in the downtown area, said Mike Waldrip, President of the Athens Area Hotel Association (AAHA).

Because occupancies and rates are driven by this brand loyalty, past experience, service and location, he said hotels in the downtown district have to create originality to set themselves apart from others nearby.

According to Foundry Park & Inn‘s website, they “could have built 300 ordinary hotel rooms, but chose instead to create a warm, welcoming Inn that feels like a home away from home.”

In addition to hotels’ vision of creating a new experience for customers, Hotel Indigo’s website said they “offer a unique experience that reflects the culture of its neighborhood.”

Hotel Indigo instilled “green features” for guests such as natural light and views and thermal controls powered by energy-efficient systems in each room. In 2011, Hotel Indigo was nominated for North America’s Leading Green Hotel.

Other hotels try to set themselves apart by providing meeting and convention rooms for business or football “game-day” additions for fans.

Waldrip noted that expansion and renovation of the hotels in the downtown area is based purely on demand.

“City-wide occupancy is above 55 percent but hotels operate on such slim margins that for most hotels this number needs to be above 60%,” Waldrip said. “When occupancies reach around 65percent expansion may be warranted.”

Construction costs, Waldrip said, range from $70,000 to $100,000 to build a mid-level hotel room. And in the last 10 years, the market has added about 475 rooms.

“A new Hyatt Place is planned for construction later in 2014,” Smith said. “[It] will be the first connecting hotel to the Classic Center.”

And, Smith said, the Holiday Inn is not the only hotel attempting to upgrade its facilities. Foundry Park Inn & Spa is preparing a massive renovation this summer.

With the culture of the University and the tradition of football games, it is not surprising that hotels are more occupied during the fall semester.

Georgia Gameday Center is specifically designed to create a “home away from home experience that is perfect for a UGA football weekend,” with all 133 units tailored to any UGA fan with a sea of red and black furniture.

Meetings and conventions are also frequently held in the downtown Athens area. Smith estimated that each meeting attendee spends on average over $219 per day.

“Tourism brings in $246 million per year to Athens-Clarke County and supports 2,450 local jobs,” Smith said. “Due to tourism spending and tax collections, each Athens-Clarke County household saves almost $400 per year in taxes.”

Hotels pay an additional 7% hotel and motel tax, which funds the Convention and Visitors Bureau and parts of the Classic Center.

“It is likely that over the next two or three years there will be some expansion of the number of rooms available downtown,” Waldrip noted. “This will be driven by the University’s growth and the expansion of the Classic Center.”

 

 


Annoyances for residents of downtown Athens

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By Brittney Cain

After living in busy downtown Athens for 2 years, Lauren Klopfenstein has learned the ropes for getting around problems.

She has found a way to deal with one of the most common annoyances—loud noises.

Klopfenstein’s best advice is to find a different place where it is quiet to get schoolwork and studying done, since downtown isn’t always the best place.

When signing a lease downtown most people think they are aware of the living conditions, but not all actually are.

The growing heaps of trash, loud noises, and run-ins with intoxicated students are often the biggest issues with students and residents of downtown.

One “annoyance” often overlooked is parking in downtown Athens.

More residents are choosing to live downtown, officials say, because of the close proximity to the University of Georgia campus and convenience.

According to a 2012 study of Athens, nearly 2,000 people lived in the downtown Athens area.

Jack Crowley, head of the downtown Athens master plan project, believes that with recent and current construction of residential areas, numbers are set to more than double in the next few years.

With growing number of residents in the downtown area, annoyances are unavoidable.

Here are some tips from current residents and public officials.Trash remains one of the biggest problems with living downtown, according to UGA student Hannah Lech.  In addition to being a resident for a year, she also works downtown.

“I work at Athens Bagel Company downtown and can see all of the trash and litter piled up early in the morning,” Hannah Lech responded when asked about the claims of trash.

Among the Athens-Clarke County’s most commonly broken codes, unlawful dumping and littering can be seen downtown.

Garbage is collected by the Solid Waste Department in the downtown district. If garbage isn’t picked up on the proper days, residents can call the main office at 706-613-3501.

Living above Whiskey Bent, Hannah Lech also finds the noise to be disturbing.

“I can usually tell what song is being played at the bar below by the shaking of my floor.  It can get pretty loud even on weekdays,” said Hannah Lech.

She suggested future residents invest in earplugs or stay up late enough that they will immediately fall asleep despite the noise below.

Athens-Clarke County Staff Sergeant, Derek Scott, said “we notify bars if they are playing loud music after hours to prevent potential complaints from the residents of downtown.”

Another annoyance is one that is sometimes unavoidable.

Dealing with intoxicated students is bound to happen with nearly 80 bars downtown.

Christian Conover, a junior at the University of Georgia, said, “dealing with intoxicated students is annoying, but I think this comes with living in a college town and can only be fixed by increasing police presence and cracking down on underage drinking.”

Professor John Newton specializes in Criminal Justice at the University of Georgia.

He said that the main problem with intoxicated students is the threat of large crowds and disorderly behavior of those intoxicated students.

Professor Newtown said, “I would be concerned about the unpredictable nature of intoxicated people who may be more likely to resist with violence than a sober person.”

A tip for dealing with these unpredictable “drunks” is to travel in small groups if possible to avoid conflict, and for those that are deciding to drink to be responsible and aware of those that live downtown.

Although trash, noise and inebriated students are annoyances that you would think of when living downtown, most people are unaware of parking situations.

Danny Boardman, a resident on Broad Street, continues to be annoyed with the parking situation.  Not only are there small amounts of parking spaces available, but also the parking tickets given are beginning to increase.

Even though there are 750 short-term, pay as you go parking spots along downtown streets and 4 pay lots; it can be difficult to find parking for guests close to residential lofts and apartments.

“I have to be prepared to drive around downtown to find parking spots.  Parking is free on Sunday, so it’s the worst that day,” Lauren Klopfenstein said about the new annoyance of parking issues.

Despite all of the minor issues and annoyances of living in a downtown area, Hannah Lech claims, “she wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.”  She fully recommends others give it a try.

 

Videos:

Trash and students fill the sidewalks, making it hard for people to pass by downtown

Groups of intoxicated students crowd the walkways

Students crowd around Whiskey Bent, which is below where Hannah Lech resides downtown


Athens annual Water Conservation Event right around the corner

BY BRITTNEY CAIN

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.