Storeowners angered by new downtown loading policy

By Lauren McDonald

Due to a new traffic law downtown, Jim Adams can no longer see Jackson Street out of his single storefront window for a majority of the day. Instead, he now stares at the side of a delivery truck.

Adams, owner of Adams Optics, said the newly painted loading zone for distributors is seven and a half feet from his store’s entrance.

“Number one, I can’t see out,” Adams said. “And number two, nobody can see in. And people will think we’re closed. I’m not happy at all.”

Adams is one of several storeowners on Jackson Street who feel that their businesses have been negatively and unfairly affected by the recently implemented loading zone ordinance downtown.

The new “center lane policy,” passed by the Athens-Clarke County unified government in December, has been in effect for four months.

According to the policy, it is now illegal for all delivery drivers to load or unload in the center lane of Clayton Street. These vehicles must park in the new loading zones painted on the north-south streets, such as Jackson Street.

The new policy has been delayed by the painting of the new loading zones, but storeowners have recently begun to notice the effects of the change.

And several wish they’d been consulted.

“I just can’t imagine what they were thinking,” Adams said. “Nobody from the city came into my office and discussed it with me, so I had no idea that this was coming about. When I questioned them, they said ‘Well it was in the paper.’ Well, who reads that sorry paper?”

Adams said only two parking spots were left in front of his store.

“If a car is parked there, somebody can see my store,” Adams said. “But if a beer truck, a UPS truck or FedEx truck is, nobody can see me at all.”

The Athens government passed the new policy as an attempt to address the ongoing issue of allowing stores downtown to receive deliveries, without the delivery trucks impeding traffic.

“Everybody knows downtown Athens is unique because it was built without alleys, so there’s not anywhere to put your trash, there’s not anywhere to accept deliveries,” said Pamela Thompson, director of the Athens Downtown Development

Authority. “So everybody knows you have to make accommodations to get goods into the businesses.”

In 2002, Mayor Nancy Denson attempted to address this issue by allowing delivery trucks to park in the center lanes of Clayton Street and Washington Street.

But while this policy appeased distributors, Athens drivers, pedestrians and some business owners were unsatisfied.

“The concern was that the delivery trucks, especially on Clayton, were creating a potential traffic hazard – because you have parking, a travel lane, then the delivery truck,” Thompson said.

Delivery trucks parked in the center lane also became an eyesore, she said.

“You lose some visibility, if they had an outdoor restaurant or café, when your view is of a delivery truck,” Thompson said. “For the retail stores, sometimes if you’re just window shopping, you may be on one side of the street, you look across the street and see a store that you want to go visit. But if there’s a delivery truck in the way, you wouldn’t see that window.”

So the Commission took the issue up again in 2014, with the help of Mayor Denson. They sat down in April to discuss a solution to this difficult problem.

Officials decided to create loading zones on the north-south streets, allowing the center lanes to be used only for traffic flow from noon to 3 a.m.

“We wanted to make sure that delivery drivers didn’t have to walk too far, so we just picked four businesses that seemed pretty far from the loading areas and measured that, to see that the farthest any one business would be from a loading zone was 162 feet,” Thompson said.

She said traffic downtown has improved since the policy went into effect.

“One reason we think it’s going to be successful is because we have created enough larger, longer loading zones on the north-south streets that weren’t there before,” Thompson said. “So we think we’ve provided enough alternate spaces to park to do your loading and unloading that it will be successful.”

Chris Stallings, director of sales and marketing at the beer distributor Leon Farmer and Company, said his deliverers have not faced any issues since the policy took effect.

“We haven’t run into anything that has prevented us from servicing our customers,” Stallings said. “But from a whether it’s positive or negative standpoint, it’s such a work in progress right now, that I really would hate to say anything positive or negative about it.”

Since the policy took effect, the ADDA has worked to educate the downtown community about the change, and for the first month they only gave warnings for those violating the new law.

“We gave to all the business owners the new ordinance, so that they could give it to all of their delivery drivers, because this applies to everyone – beer delivery, food delivery, linens, anything you’re getting,” Thompson said. “For about a month, we ticketed with warnings.”

But Adams said he never received this information.

Adams and other storeowners on Jackson Street, including the owners of Dynamite Clothing and Community, complained to the ADDA. He said they have not yet been offered a solution.

“If you’re a store on Clayton Street, and a beer truck is parked in the center lane, it is probably 50 feet from the beer truck to the front of the store,” Adams said. “If a beer truck is right there, it’s seven and a half feet from the front of my store. Nobody will be able to see me.”

Adams said he feels that the new law was created with bar owners specifically in mind.

“Let’s not kid ourselves. Eighty-five percent of the trucks there are beer trucks,” Adams said. “Well the bars don’t open until 10 o’clock at night. Well, why not deliver at night? They said, ‘Oh, we don’t want to inconvenience any body.’ Well, it inconveniences me when I don’t have any business because of it.”

Adams would like to see the loading zone in front of his store removed.

“They better be concerned about the merchants – the few remaining merchants that aren’t bars,” he said. “This town caters to the bars, and that’s just facts.”

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Commission Considering Expansion of Drinking Freedoms in Athens

By Luke Dixon

Drinking alcohol in Athens could become less restrictive in the near future, at least the area where you are permitted to do so.

The Athens-Clarke County Commission is set to consider making consumption of alcohol easier and allowing additional outdoor portable signage at sidewalk cafes in Athens.

The original sidewalk café ordinance was adopted by the City of Athens in 1979 and has been amended three times since then in 1994, 2003 and 2011. There are two types of sidewalk cafes as defined by the Legislative Review Committee’s proposal. One is a common area café on College Square, Walker’s which have open space in front of the bar property.

The proposed amendment to the ordinance also states that “cafés attached to the building which are limited to 50% of the sidewalk width and must allow a minimum of 5 feet for a pedestrian path, alcohol is allowed, and dividers are required” according to the commission report and recommendation.

The current ordinance calls for required physical barriers and railings that are placed outside the cafés to mark the territory where patrons can consume alcohol on the sidewalk and patio area.

There are multiple parts to the proposed amendment of the existing ordinance. The first part would allow an option of a physical barrier to be put up or sidewalk cafés no that are not in downtown Athens proper, but rather outside the downtown district. The Legislative Review Committee has proposed two zones– one in downtown, one for the rest of Athens-Clarke County outside of downtown.

The major difference is bars outside downtown wouldn’t require a physical rail boundary. Instead they could use a non-physical marker throughout the sidewalk that would mark where patrons could and could not drink. This would allow sidewalk cafés like Go Bar, which is located on Prince Avenue outside of downtown, to not have to put up a physical barrier on the sidewalk drinking area of their properties since it would fall under the scope of the outside downtown cafés.

The second part of the amendment would allow a place like Creature Comforts Brewery, which is located at the intersection of two streets and has its property on both streets, to be able to apply for a sidewalk café permit on both streets.

The third part of the proposed amendment states that owners of the establishments will be responsible for enforcing the boundary at their particular establishment. This means that any obstruction of the boundary i.e. a person crossing over the boundary could result in a fine to the owner/permit holder of the café. The fourth part of the amendment would eliminate the required pressure washing of the sidewalk by each sidewalk café.

During their discussion, the commissioners agreed with many of the provisions and amendments to the sidewalk café structure in downtown, but some also had some reservation and concerns.

Commissioner Jerry NeSmith was wary about the new boundary requirements outside of downtown. He questioned who would be held liable for any misteps and making sure patrons would be made aware of the new boundary. NeSmith requested the city manager and others proposing the amendment clarify the exact boundary requirements for those cafés.

“I wonder if we should require a sign that tells [patrons] because otherwise if no one tells them, then they’re just not going to know,” NeSmith said.

Commissioner Andy Herod shared the same concern and asked Athens-Clarke Attorney, William Berryman, about the enforcement of the proposed policy.

“I still believe if the patron steps out on the sidewalk, with an open container, that patron is going to have full responsibility,” Berryman said in response. “The government might be able to take an administrative action against the owner of the establishment for not giving the warning, but it won’t change the responsibility of the person with the actual open container.”

From a business standpoint, Jake Fisher, the manager of The Cabin Room, formerly known as The Bury, thinks the physical barriers are necessary to most bars downtown. He said that more space could allow for a less restricting barrier and that if a café has the space, like Creature Comforts Brewery for example, to allow freer roaming drinking space, they should do so.

“I think it has its pros and cons as far as clearing up some sidewalk space and allow some of these bars to expand out for the people who do like to go outside and drink a beer,” Fisher said.

Customers and in particular University of Georgia students would favor expanded drinking space, especially in the warmer months, according to UGA students Brandon Estroff and Logan Booker.

Estroff, said the idea of having more space is great even though it likely won’t effect him following graduation in May.

Booker on the other hand was ecstatic to hear of the possible expansion.

“I think it would just be a more lively atmosphere,” Booker said. “Just being outside in general is more of a festive drinking, not just drinking, but more of a social setting. In spring and fall in Athens, it’s nice to be outside.”

The proposed change in the sign ordinance calls for wall mounted board signs and additional sign allowance for all Athens sidewalk cafés.

These are signs that include menus and drink specials among other information, according to the Legislative Review Committee’s (LRC) report. The LRC is recommending that sidewalk cafes be permitted to use mounted wall signs to display menus and specials outside that are currently on portable signs that are placed outside during a businesses operating hours.

Presently, the ordinance does not allow for mounted wall signs that do not count against a café’s allowed signage space. If the mayor and commission approved the proposed amendment to signage ordinance, the mounted wall signs would not count against sidewalk cafés allowed signage space. The mounted wall signs would be restricted to one per business, two per property if the businesses are stacked on top of each other like Taco Stand and Blue Sky was the example Girtz described during discussion. Each sign would not be able to exceed six square feet.

During the discussion, three commissioners raised concerns about the proposed sign ordinance proposal. Link wanted to clarify the difference between signs and posters under the sign ordinance citing many of the downtown business owners concern of not wanting to further hinder their business’ signage and display, with more upcoming construction in the downtown area.

“I’m hoping that we can tweak our ordinances or at least clarify what constitutes art and what constitutes a sign in the very near future because we are going to be seeing some big giant retaining walls popping up in our downtown area and I know that it would be nice if we had the opportunity to brighten them up a little bit without jumping through a bunch of hoops,” Link said.

Herod was concerned that the change in the downtown sign ordinance could affect the proposed café boundary or hinder the marking of the boundary and Girtz was concerned about the content neutrality of the signs.

“Legally speaking, if they allow one type of signage, they have to allow all type of signage in the public space because we have to have content neutral approach,” Girtz said.

The additional signage allowance would be welcomed by sidewalk café businesses, according to Fisher.

“Having a hanging sign would alleviate some of the problems because when it does get busy, sometimes those signs can get trampled and get in the way,” Fisher said. “It’s happened before where I’ve been to other places where it happens. I’ve seen it happen at our bar, other bars.”

If the commission approves these measures at their montly April meetin, it will allow sidewalk cafes with the space and ability outside of downtown additional space in the outdoor and patio area of their establishments. All bars will be able to hang additional signage without hindering the walkway. It will also give more freedom for their customers to enjoy an alcoholic beverage outdoors just as spring fully arrives in downtown Athens.

Both amendments to the ordinance were tabled for further discussion at the Mayor and Commission’s March 17 agenda setting meeting. They will continue to discuss the proposal during their April monthly meeting.


Crowdfunding campaign for steeple reconstruction shows promise!

By Esther Shim

 

 

Money flowed in through a Nuçi’s Space crowdfunding campaign which proved to be an efficient source of fundraising for the reconstruction of the rehabilitation center’s crumbling steeple.

The 145-year-old St. Mary’s Episcopal Church’s steeple was falling apart, and the church was demolished in 1990. “The remaining steeple stood unprotected and ignored till 2013,” said Dave Schools, the bassist for the band Widespread Panic, ”when the Homeowners Association transferred ownership to Nuçi’s Space.”

Now, thanks to crowdfunding, the steeple will be restored, and the area surrounding the steeple will be converted into a meditative garden for Nuçi’s customers and guests.

Nuçi’s Space’s “Reconstruction of the Steeple” Indiegogo campaign is an example of funding a project through the assistance of a community, a fan base, or a group of supporters through an online platform.

“Crowdfunding is by definition, the practice of funding a project or venture by raising many small amounts of money from a large number of people, typically via the Internet,” said Tanya Prive, a Forbes contributor. “Crowdfunding offers individuals a chance at success, by showcasing their businesses and projects to the entire world.”

The first successful crowdfunding event, according to Fundable: the History of Crowdfunding, was documented in 1997 as a British rock band funded a reunion tour from its fans’ pockets. Inspired by the campaign’s success, ArtistShare originated in 2000 as the the first creative platform to use fan funding to make musician-to-fan connections. 

Crowdfunding exploded after its initial start, and  according to Fundable, it immediately became a popular financing option for entrepreneurs to unleash their creative beasts. In the United States, crowdfunding revenue drastically increased from $530 million in 2009 to $1.5 billion in 2011, showing the popularity of crowdsourcing for funds..

So what makes crowdfunding so successful?

“The idea of it’s not what you do,” said Prive, “ but why you do it.”

Campaigners find a driving force behind a project, said Prive in an article on crowdfunding, or some special purpose that creates a sense of connection or relatability between people in a community. The general public then becomes the major source of revenue behind projects such as the campaign to reconstruct the Nuçi’s Space symbolic steeple.

The rich, musical history of the steeple inspired Nuçi’s Space to begin its campaign in November 2014 to preserve the iconic structure made famous by the band R.E.M., that lived in the steeple and had its first performance there. The 60-day campaign lasted until January of this year, according to the Athens-Banner Herald.

The goal was to raise $250,000 through the community’s charitable care and support. Entertaining incentives such as posters, CD recordings, posters, shirts, and much more were offered for various monetary donations.

The $100 “Steeple Brick/Name Recognition” package was the most elite and important one. Through this purchase, donors would not only take a part of Nuçi’s Space’s beloved Steeple but also have their name engraved on a wall that will be built in a meditative garden during the renovation of the Steeple.

The crowdfunding efforts raised $147,620, just a little over half of the campaign goal, according to the IndieGoGo campaign profile. Despite missing the goal, Bob Sleppy, the executive director of the campaign, said that the project was far from a failed effort.

The most important thing, Sleppy said, is that the campaign put Nuçi’s Space in the limelight. Crowdfunding drew attention not only from new people but also from top-tier media such as Rolling Stone and Billboard magazines.

Individual donors fund 70 percent of the facility’s operational costs, according to the Athens-Banner Herald, with donations ranging from $25 to thousands of dollars each year. Through the crowdfunding campaign, Nuçi’s Space has experienced more contributions from different businesses and individuals outside of its normal source.

$70,000 of the funds raised from the campaign will go into a reserve fund, said Sleppy, to use during hard times or low-budget circumstances.

The rest of the funds, said Nuçi’s Space counseling advocate Leslie Cobbs, will not only help construct a meditative garden around the steeple, but also help fund mental peer group sessions for anyone in the community who needs people to talk to.

Although Nuçi’s Space didn’t reach its campaign goal, it still raised enough funds to help kickstart a project to improve its facility. The campaign proved to be an excellent representative of crowdfunding as a source to support a community center..


Businesses still struggling to comply with recycling ordinances a year after deadline

By Evelyn Andrews

Krysten Dryfus finishes a milk container, but walks past the trash can to her outdoor closet where she stores her recyclables. Dryfus lives at the Connection at Athens and she is not aware of any recycling at the complex, so she keeps her recyclables and takes them to a recycling center.

“I just want to help the environment and recycle, but it’s so difficult and inconvenient because I have to collect all my trash and take it to a recycling center,” said Krysten Dryfus. “I wish more apartments in Athens recycled like they do in the dorms at [The University of Georgia].”

Under an Athens-Clarke County ordinance that took effect on Jan. 1, 2014, businesses and apartment complexes are required to have recycling bins, educate residents and customers about their recycling program and have adequate recycling space.

It turns out that the Connection does have recycling bins, but residents seem to be unaware of them because the apartment has failed to educate their residents at the proper level, said Joe Dunlap, a commercial recycling specialist at the Athens-Clarke County recycling division.

“If an apartment complex installs a recycling Dumpster and doesn’t tell anybody about it, yes, they are recycling but they’re not compliant with the ordinance,” he said.

“All residents are given information on recycling the day of move-in and we do encourage them to utilize the resources provided,” said Melissa Brand, the bookkeeper at the apartment.

However, Dryfus said that she doesn’t remember receiving information and has not heard about recycling programs since moving in.

Apartments are also not compliant if they do not have adequate recycling space. The Connection has one recycling container, the same size as a typical garbage disposal container, Brand said. However, Dunlop said one container is not enough space for a complex of that size.

Dunlop said about one-third of all businesses in Athens, which includes apartments, comply with the regulations. The number is fluid, Dunlop said, but a January Red & Black article said about 74 out of 284 apartments comply. Many apartments that are not compliant do have recycling, but lack education.

“A lot of apartments have put recycling in place, but it hasn’t been promoted as well as I would like and there is not the education level that I would like for residents,” Dunlop said.

Other businesses or apartment complexes are either unaware of the ordinances or waiting to see if Athens-Clarke County will enforce them. The recycling division is now pursuing businesses that don’t comply with the regulations more aggressively since the deadline to comply was Jan. 1, 2014.

“We are now more aggressively going after those that are not compliant,” Dunlop said. “If we have been working with somebody for a while and they still do not have the recycling in place, then there is a process where we turn them over to code enforcement and they are issued a citation.”

The Club apartment complex is the most recent to be turned over to code enforcement, Dunlop said, but an apartment representative reported that they do now have recycling.

The county has a benchmark to reduce waste in 2015 by 40 percent from levels in 2010 and Dunlop said they are ahead of schedule. The county has reduced waste by 47 percent and is working toward their next objective – reducing waste by 60 percent in 2018 and 75 percent in 2020.

All of this work by the county was in jeopardy of being stopped before completion. Earlier this month, the Georgia Senate passed a bill, Senate Bill 139, intended to prohibit local governments from restricting the use of plastic bags.

The bill, which is co-sponsored by Athens Sen. Frank Ginn, also would have had significant consequences for Athens – it originally eliminated local governments’ ability to regulate recycling. This would have overturned the ordinances that require businesses and apartments to recycle.

However, work by Jerry NeSmith, the ACC District 6 commissioner, and Dunlop helped convince legislators to change the language so that local governments still had control over

regulations. NeSmith argued in an opinion piece for Athens-Banner Herald that the bill “does exactly the wrong things.”

Environmental factors also motivated NeSmith to try to stop bill, citing statistics that 24 million tons of plastic are disposed of every year and less than two million are recycled.

“My effort was, of course, to completely kill the whole idea of not allowing us to have ordinances regulating plastic bags,” NeSmith said, “but at the very least, don’t make us go backwards by making our existing recycling ordinances illegal.”

Although the part of the bill that would overturn the county’s ordinances has most likely been changed, it may still be included when it leaves the House Rules Committee.

“We’ll have to wait and see what comes out of the Rules Committee, but I believe we have been successful in changing that part of the proposal,” NeSmith said.

Dryfus is grateful that the bill has been rewritten so that recycling will continue to become easier for her and others in the community.

“I’m glad the bill won’t make it so that Athens business don’t have to recycle,” Dryfus said. “I hope the Connection starts to make it easier to recycle and more businesses and apartments start to recycle.”


Celebrity Farmer: Nathan Brett finds fame at Athens Farmers Market

By Lauren McDonald

A young farmer discovered last month at the Georgia Organics Conference that his farm has formed a reputation among Georgia farmers.

“They would ask me, ‘What does your farm do?’” said Nathan Brett, owner of DaySpring Farms. “I’d tell them ‘We produce stone mill flour.’”

“Oh, you guys are the stone mill flour guys.”

Brett laughed and replied, “Yeah, that’s us.”

Customers will return to the Athens Farmers Market on April 4 at Bishop Park, and Brett is one of several young farmers who have emerged as local market celebrities.

“We heard that soon enough, instead of having celebrity chefs we would have celebrity farmers,” said Jan Kozak, manager of the Athens Farmers Market. “And lo and behold, we’ve got some farmers in our local market that are not necessarily celebrities but have done a good job of marketing themselves to where they’re really recognizable.”

Nathan Brett, with his wife Simone and son,  at DaySpring Farms on March 2, 2015.

Local farmer Nathan Brett, with his wife Simone and son, at DaySpring Farms on March 2, 2015.

DaySpring Farms is one of the nearly 100 small farms in and around Athens-Clarke County, all of which contribute to what Kozak calls a “burgeoning” local food scene.

“In the case of Athens, we have a fairly young farmer scene, and all that really contributes to the really great, vibrant local food scene that we have,” Kozak said.

Brett and his father Murray opened DaySpring Farms in 2011 in Danielsville, about 20 miles outside of Athens.

DaySpring Farms produces organically certified wheat, corn and produce. The 90-acre farm’s most well-known feature is its stone mill, which grounds wheat into flour.

“There may be a handful of other farms in Georgia that are growing organic wheat,” Brett said.

DaySpring Farms has expanded rapidly since it began four years ago.

The farm produced 30,000 pounds of organic wheat in 2014. Brett said they hope to sell 60,000 pounds this year.

But before 2011, Brett had very little interest in running his own farm.

Brett studied music business at the University of Georgia until 2008. He then moved to Nashville, Tennessee, to pursue a career as a musician.

He dreamed of seeing his name up in lights.

“For the better part of my college career and afterwards, I was very intent on making a name for myself as a singer, songwriter or performer,” Brett said. “I wanted to the next Ryan Adams or Bob Dylan.”

His father convinced him to make a career in farming instead.

“He grew up on a farm in South Georgia,” Brett said. “He moved away from the farm to go to school. He says that he wishes he had never left. In about 2009, he got in my ear and talked me into moving back to the farm.”

So the Brett family bought a piece of foreclosed property in Danielsville.

DaySpring Farms sprung up on the local Athens food scene by taking part in the Farmers Market and building a client base. The farm began with just three acres of wheat.

Their biggest buyers have been Heirloom Café and the Independent Bakery, Brett said. Last month, he also began selling to The National and Five & Ten in Athens.

Chef Hugh Acheson, owner of The National and Five & Ten, buys 70 percent of food for both restaurants locally.

He said several new young farmers like Brett have sprung up on the local food scene in Athens lately, many of whom are finding ways to distinguish themselves, just like Brett has done by grinding his own flour.

“There’s a lot of new people doing some really cool stuff,” Acheson said. “As much as there’s new stuff on the rise, though, there’s also a lot of old timers that I still want to support.”

DaySpring Farms' stone flour mill, which grinds wheat into flour.

DaySpring Farms’ stone flour mill, which grinds wheat into flour.

Brett said the Athens community recognizes the stone flour mill as his farm’s trademark, which he said improves his sales, as well as his notoriety.

DaySpring Farms has more control over where it sells crops, Brett said, because it owns its own stone mill. The farm can grind and store the flour because the mill is on-site, rather than outsourcing to a separate mill.

Brett keeps his business viable by storing and then selling the wheat throughout the year.

Brett did not expect to develop a passion for organic, sustainable farming.

In the past four years, though, he said his goal has become to share this philosophy with the Athens community, and he hopes to use his new-found fame to do so.

“Not only is there a need for farmers to produce real food, but it’s also extremely important to be a productive contributing member to society,” Brett said. “Farmers have an extremely unique responsibility in that. They provide one of the most essential things to the local community, and that’s food. Responsible farmers lead to more responsible communities.”

Brett no longer aspires to be a celebrity. Today, he only hopes to sustain his business, educate the community on organic farming and spend time with his wife and 3-month-old son.

“Living with that kind of mentality where you want to see your name in lights can be pretty damaging,” he said. “I’m grateful to have moved away from that, and I don’t really care if people know who I am. If I can provide a good living for my family, then I’m happy for that.”


Georgia laws stymie craft beer sales

By Evelyn Andrews

Many people visiting breweries come in expecting to buy beer or bottles to take home. Laws restricting brewery sales make that impossible in Georgia, a fact Erin Moschak, a manager at Creature Comforts Brewing Company, says causes confusion for customers and ultimately, lost profits for breweries.

“At least 10 people a day will just not understand. They want to walk in and buy a beer,” Moschak said. “They don’t understand that they cannot buy a beer directly and sometimes they will get extremely confused and even leave.”

Instead of selling beer, Creature Comforts and similar breweries sell a glass that the beer is distributed in along with a wristband that allows a customer six samples of free beer since they are not allowed to sell beer to consumers. Moschak said this system “essentially the same” as selling beer directly.

The laws in Georgia restricting breweries that cause these situations were enacted during the post-Prohibition era and have remained largely unaltered since then. These laws restrict breweries ability to sell alcohol directly to consumers, force them to be open to the public for a certain number of hours and do not allow them to sell beer that consumers can take home. Georgia beer brewers and state legislators are hoping to change that.

Sen. Hunter Hill (R-Smyrna) introduced last week the Georgia Beer Jobs Act, Senate Bill 63. The bill would allow breweries, such as Creature Comforts or Terrapin, to sell up to 72 ounces of beer per person. Copper Creek Brewery and other brewpubs, breweries sell food in addition to beer, like it would be able to 144 ounces per person. Both breweries and brewpubs would be allowed to sell a 12-pack of beer that a customer could take off the premises of the business.

Sen. Frank Ginn (R-Athens), one of five co-sponsors of the bill, said Georgia is losing revenue and tourism because of the restrictions.

“I think we are missing some opportunities on growing our industries and, more particularly, a lot of tourism capabilities,” said Sen. Ginn, the chairman of the Economic Development and Tourism Committee.

However, the amount of revenue that Georgia would gain if the laws were repealed is unclear, Sen. Ginn.

Many local brewery owners agree that the laws hurt their businesses’ growth and stifle the creation of new breweries.

Data from the Brewer’s Association shows Georgia is No. 44 in the nation for breweries per capita, a fact many hypothesize as a result of the restrictions placed on the businesses. The state is No. 29 in the nation for total breweries with a total of No. 22, according to data by the New Yorker.

Only five states in the U.S., including Georgia, do not allow breweries to sell alcohol directly to customers, according to statistics from the Brewer’s Association. The last in the Southeast to continue enforcing these laws is Georgia.

Repealing the three-tier system comprises a core part of the bill, which has to be done in order to for breweries to sell alcohol to consumers. The three-tier system divides the groups involved in selling beer into three sections that define their limitations on selling beer.

“The three-tier system keeps a strict line between the people that manufacture alcohol, distribute alcohol and retail alcohol,” Sen. Gill said.

Breweries manufacture the beer that is sold to distributors who then sell the beer to retailers which consumers buy the beer from. This system was created to stifle the creation of monopolies and protect consumers.

Distributors of alcohol comprise the majority of the support base for the current laws, contending that the laws protect concerns, according to a Flagpole Magazine article. However, Sen. Ginn said that while that was a concern during the Prohibition era when the laws were created, enough consumer protection laws now exist to eliminate that issue.

“There were not as many consumer protection laws during the Prohibition era that there are today,” Sen. Gill said. “That is one of the arguments against the three-tier system, that there is more opportunity to protect the public today.”

The three-tier system still in effect, in part, because of the effect religion has on people’s perceptions of alcohol, Sen. Ginn said.

“The way that we treat breweries in Georgia has a lot to do with our history and people’s upbringings and beliefs, such as people look at like alcohol is a sin,” he said.

Passing the bill could be a formidable task due to the power of distributors’ lobbying efforts, according to a Flagpole Magazine article, and could amount to a two-year process. However, Sen. Ginn said the bill has been assigned to a committee and will vote on the bill in the coming weeks.

The supporters of the bill hope that the bill will also define brewpubs restrictions, allow breweries to set their own hours and change tasting room restrictions.

Creature Comforts will still likely have a wristband system to limit consumers’ beer consumption to the legal amount, but the law will still help their business, Moschak said.

“We do not even know yet what we will do if the bill passes, but it definitely will help stop how confused our customers are,” Moschak said.


20th Anniversary of the Classic Center Brings Reflection on Community Impact

By: Patrick Adcock

Downtown Athens would not be the same place it is today without the Classic Center.

This year, the center celebrates its 20th anniversary of serving the community. For the past two decades, the center put on events and shows for all ages and became the nucleus for large-scale entertainment in Athens and northeast Georgia.

According to a 2012-2013 economic impact report carried out by IMPLAN, a group that provides economic impact modeling data, the center brought in 360,000 attendees for 1,275 event days that year. This activity resulted in $65 million in economic impact for Athens.

Overnight visitors to the town spend, on average, $277. 19 per day and 9% of the hotel rooms in the surrounding area are related to convention business.

Georgia Public Service Commissioner Tim Echols came to the center in 2013 as part of his Clean Fuel Roadshow. The spacious halls allowed for many people to come, and the driveway in the front displayed several eco-cars.

The Classic Center is a big deal for the economy of Athens and the visitors who use the center’s rooms, but the center has not always operated at the same level it does today.

According to the official website of the center, the oldest portion of the center dates back to 1912 and was originally known as Fire Hall No. 1. Several decades ago, it was the town’s fire station.

In 1987, the local government created the Civic Center Study Committee to decide what type of public assembly area would best serve the interests of the citizens. The end result became the Classic Center, and construction began in 1994.

The original building plan would have demolished Fire Hall, but the community spoke up for its preservation.

In 1995, Paul Cramer, the executive director of the center, opened the doors to the public. The first production put on by the theatre was the musical “Cats.”

“The Classic Center has grown tremendously in the past 20 years,” said Cramer, “from one event on the books in 1995 to now 700 events per year.”

During that time, the Classic Center grew with the community of Athens.

Several expansions over the years, most recently in 2013, allowed even more events to be put on for even more attendees. The area of the many rooms and halls now totals 500,000 square feet.

The expansions were the solutions to trouble brewing for the center. If they didn’t expand, the community would outgrow them and the center would gradually lose significance. At the same time, the town of Athens eyes any grand developments suspiciously, hoping to retain its small town origins.

Marketing Manager Elizabeth Austin is pleased with the way things have turned out.

“It was really important to expand when we did,” said Austin. “Certain groups that we serve, such as the North Georgia United Methodists, were beginning to outgrow us.”

“Another one of the great benefits of expanding has been our newfound ability to put on sporting events,” said Austin.

In the end, the people decided to continue funding Classic Center expansions because of what the center was able to give back to the town.

The Classic Center also enjoys a close relationship with the University of Georgia. Sporting teams such as UGA’s club ice hockey team, the Ice Dogs, use the center for tournaments. The Classic City Rollergirls also frequently make use to the center’s arena.

In addition to sporting events, the center’s partnership with UGA allows Broadway shows to come to Athens that would be too costly for either to hire alone.

Thinking forward to 2015, Austin sees a shift in the kinds of events on offer.

“With the expansions, the sheer size of the Classic Center has become an asset for us to put on bigger events while still serving the core Athens community.”

SPLOST, the special-purpose local-option sales tax, funded the 2013 expansion as well as all previous expansions. In Georgia, counties have the ability to levy a sales tax specifically for the development of parks, roads and buildings such as the Classic Center. SPLOST matters to the center, because the retained earnings from the events are relatively small.

In the same IMPLAN study, the projected earnings for fiscal year 2014 are $6.6 million in revenue. Projected expenses of $6.3 million closely match that number. The remaining $300,000 in retained earnings goes toward maintaining the facilities. The Classic Center must continually reinvest in itself in order to continue putting on events.

Looking forward into 2015, there are no more expansions coming down the pipeline for now. For the center’s 20th anniversary, the team plans to put on an event in the spring to make the most of the outdoor pavilion.

Announcements of the time and date for that event will be revealed in the next few months.

Cramer looks back on his time with the center with fondness and sees a positive future ahead.

“I believe we will continue to invest in tourism, expand our entertainment offerings in a way that exceeds expectations of our guest, benefitting the local and regional communities and reap those benefits for years to come.”