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..

Last Sign Standing: Athens Restaurant Battles Code Enforcement

By Kyle MacArthur Wingfield

A little sign is catching big attention.

Ryan Myers, owner of Amici Cafe, said for years his restaurant used a sandwich board to market deals to the public.

“We have an A-frame sign we’ve been using for three years to advertise daily specials,” Myers said. “It generates money for not only us but the city in tax dollars. Whatever we put on this sign, it sells. The sidewalks create business for everybody.”

The sign did not become an issue until recently, according to Myers. A code enforcement officer would “come around once a year and tell us not to do it,” Myers said, “and that’s all you’d hear from them. We’d put the sign out, the code enforcer would come by, we’d take it in for a week, then put it out again. It became a battle, and we kept getting warnings.”

The warnings are the result of a sign ordinance passed by the Athens-Clarke County Commission in 2005 due to safety concern and Americans with Disabilities Act compliance, Sarah Anne Perry wrote in Flagpole. The ordinance came to fruition due to a visually impaired man who was tripping over signs in the sidewalk and had threatened to sue, according to Perry.

The ACC government established that it is “unlawful for any person to direct, order, or instigate placing of signs in the public right-of-way,” according to Section 7-4-9 of the ACC Code of Ordinances.

A business usually receives two code violation warnings before consequences escalate, according to Mike Spagna, Community Protection Administrator for Athens-Clarke County. If the violation does not improve after the initial warnings, said Spagna, business owners are then brought before a judge.

Myers’ restaurant continued receiving warnings until his business was issued a citation to appear in court. “I get that,” he said. “You can only write so many warnings.” But Myers is determined to seek change in the county’s sign ordinance.

“I feel petty, getting wound up about it because it’s such a silly thing,” Myers said. “But it is such a silly thing. It’s a very grey area […] the code needs to be revised and revisited.”

Local business owners side with Myers. A recent survey conducted by the Athens Downtown Development Authority asked businesses for their thoughts on sidewalk sandwich boards. The ADDA received responses from 16 local businesses saying sidewalk signs have a positive impact on business.

Myers said sidewalk signs add to the Athens experience. “A lot of times, we’d put something funny on it that would make people look at it,” Myers said. The signs “give character to downtown; some people are funny with them. It allows you to see something.”

Athens business owners told the ADDA survey that sandwich boards are “creative and tasteful” and “add a charm downtown area.” Even owners who do not advertise with signs felt strongly that other businesses should be allowed to use them, so long as they are “reasonably sized and do not block pedestrian traffic.”

Amici’s sign sat flush against the building, according to Myers. “In no way does anybody have to change their pathway to get around it,” he said. “What they do have to change their path for is the railing, our café area.”

So Myers looked for ways around the ordinance. “We asked if we could move the sign into the doorway,” he said, “but that was still in the way.” Myers also questioned the code enforcer about removing a table and placing the sandwich board inside the railing of Amici’s dining area. “But they said no,” he said. “There was no way around it.”

A walk down Clayton Street Wednesday afternoon revealed multiple businesses with similar signs. The sandwich boards were placed in doorways, walkways, and inside the railings of restaurants and shops.

Athens local Ross Thomas, a junior at the University of Georgia, walked past a portable sign entering an Athens venue Tuesday. Thomas became heated when informed of the city’s sign ordinances.

“I think the city should spend time fixing broken and uneven sidewalks instead of fining honest businesses,” Thomas said. “A sign is a more visible obstacle than uneven cracks and curbs and presents a less physical danger.”

Amici’s sandwich board is currently in storage. “Part of me wanted to keep putting it out and just take the fines,” Myers said, “but I’m not sure what would happen if the sign were out again when we’ve already been ordered to court.”

Myers is awaiting the verdict of the court before placing the sandwich board on the sidewalk again. “The battle is being fought,” Myers said. “I don’t want to add fuel to the fire. I’ve been pretty vocal about my thoughts on it.”

Setting vision a priority for new AthFest director

By Clay Reynolds

Jill Helme brings a unique mix of skills to her new position as director of the downtown Athens based nonprofit AthFest Educates.

A former English teacher and school administrator, she left her job working with a school system in Orlando Florida to pursue a masters degree in nonprofit leadership – a step she took with an ultimate objective of becoming the executive director of a nonprofit organization centered around education or youth.

A nonprofit like this one was exactly what she had in mind.

“My entire path has been leading me to this,” Helme said.

Helme, named director of the organization this past week, replaces previous director and founder Jared Bailey, who stepped down earlier this year. She takes over the position April 15.

She comes into the job hoping to help the organization set a more of a future vision in its efforts at sponsoring music and arts education programs for kids in local schools.

AthFest Educates supports grants to local educators through its two well-known fundraisers: the AthFest Music and Arts Festival each summer and the AthHalf half marathon every fall.

Highly successful with those events, the organization’s board wanted to bring in someone who could help better translate those dollars into the community impact they want to make.

Helme fit into their plan perfectly.

“Their mission is so clear. They just want to make sure they can achieve that mission,” she said. “I felt like I was a big piece of that puzzle.”

Helme moved to Athens last year when her husband took a job with the University of Georgia’s Dept. of Student Affairs.

She joined in on his trip to interview for the position, and made sure to bring along their 2-year-old son so they both could scout out Athens as a place to live, work and go to school.

It made the cut.

“It was really important to me to feel like we could live and work in a college town even though we were not directly connected to the school,” Helme said.

She graduated with a bachelors degree from the University of Florida – a college town atmosphere she said is totally different from Athens.

“Living in a place like Gainesville, truly the whole culture was the college,” she said. “Athens has a complete separate identity. People who aren’t connected to the university still have a whole separate culture.”

Quite a bit of that culture will reside just outside the door of her new downtown office, housed in the AthFest headquarters on Clayton Street. She’s only been there a few times, but is still new enough to not have memorized the address.

Helme expects the change in leadership to be largely transparent, especially since she’ll leave much of the organizing work behind this year’s already-scheduled music festival and race to those who have done it in years previous.

She will mostly throw her efforts behind evaluating the programs AthFest helps fund for effectiveness and purpose, and look to develop long-term plans for improving them.

“They’re clear on who they want to serve and the kind of impact they want to have,” Helme said of the AthFest board’s objectives. “What’s not perfectly clear is where they want to be in three years. They want somebody to help pull all those ideas together and to get it into some kind of vision.”

She describes her passion as working with youth, ages 13-20. She realized that in five years spent teaching English and language arts, four of them in Orlando and a fifth in Valencia, Venezuela.

Helme eventually moved out of education to do more work dealing with youth development and after-school programming. Her family spent time living in Orlando, Philadelphia and Chicago before making their most recent move to Athens.

They felt attracted to the Classic City for a number of reasons, especially the low cost of living, which has enabled them to spend more time together. But she was most intrigued by the sense of community she noticed in all spheres of Athens life.

“It’s definitely a community effort,” Helme said. “Everybody is focused on doing what’s going to build and better their community.”

Athens is different from places she’s previously lived, but is great in its own way.

“There are a lot of things I miss,” she said. “But a lot of great things about living in a smaller town that you couldn’t replicate anywhere else.”

Music makes a scene in Athens economy

By Taylor West

The doors of the 40 Watt Club open at 9 p.m and people trickle into the dimly lit venue to buy their first drinks of the night. The opening band takes the stage, the audience grows and two acts later the headliner, Reptar, walks on stage and looks out over a screaming, intoxicated full house.

It’s a typical Saturday night in Athens.

Athens is home to many music venues from the Georgia Theatre to the Caledonia Lounge and the Melting Point to the dozens of bars and restaurants that play live music multiple nights a week, and has produced countless bands, ranging from unknown groups to R.E.M., the B-52s and Widespread Panic.

There is no question Athens has a deeply engrained and widely known music culture that is an important part of the town’s identity. The New York Times even said the Classic City “might as well be known as Live Music Central” because of the “waves of fresh local acts and a growing number of live music sites” since the 1980s.

But what may go unnoticed is the strong presence of the music industry in the economy.

There are 52 total establishments for arts, entertainment and recreation in the Athens-Clarke County metropolitan statistical area in 2011 with a reported annual payroll of $13,209,000 according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Athens outnumbers other comparable towns with downtown music scenes. For example, Lawrence, Kan., in the same category, has four fewer establishments and takes in  $6,588,000 less annually.

David Barbe, director of the music business certificate program at the University of Georgia, said the music’s affect on the economy in Athens is bigger than most people realize.

“It is a huge part of Athens’ economy. A normal, Friday night, packed rock band show there will be 1,000 people drinking $5 Bud Lights at the Georgia Theatre… so you know that beer sales downtown, in my opinion, are quite healthy,” Barbe said. “You see what I’m getting at.”

Jeff Humphreys, the director of the Selig Center in the Terry College of Business, said there are two ways to monitor the economy of the music scene — production, or money made from music produced in Athens, and performance.

“A performance impact would consist of attracting visitors to Athens,” he said. “The big economic impacts from performance are either putting heads in beds… plus there may be some day trip visitors that don’t actually spend the night but they may drive over from Atlanta and go to a restaurant and the venue.”

Barbe said with a band like the Drive-By Truckers, who played a three-night stand at the 40 Watt a few weeks ago, it’s believed 50 percent of the attendees to the concerts are from out of town.

“It’s fair to say that these 300 people are going to spend, between a hotel room for three days and food and beer and records and gasoline, it’s fair to say that these people spend $700 while they are here,” he said.

Drive-By Truckers, though they have a larger following than many bands playing in Athens, is just one of many groups that comes to town every year. Additionally, outside of downtown groups such as the Cleveland Orchestra attract hundreds of a different crowd when they play venues Hugh Hodgson Hall.

Though Hannah Smith, director for marketing and communications for the Athens Convention and Visitors Bureau, said she is “not aware of a specific study that has done an economic study that is tied back to the music scene,” the bureau does compile tourist information.

Smith in a subsequent email wrote that of people who signed in at the Athens Welcome Center and those who requested information online, 5 percent self-identified as having a primary interest in music.

“Destination marketers are most successful when they are able to promote what is most distinctive about their destination, experiences travelers can’t get closer to home,” Smith wrote despite the low percentage. “For Athens, that distinctive factor is the continuing vibrancy of our live music scene. Music is integral to our tourism product and definitely contributes to the local economy by bringing in tourists from around the globe.”

And Barbe said the music industry in Athens has been growing “exponentially” for the last 30 years.

“When I came here in 1981 there were about maybe 15 or 20 cool local original bands, now there are hundreds. There was no music business infrastructure at that time because for 15 or 20 local bands and a couple of bars you don’t need that,” he said. “[Now] with hundreds and hundreds of bands we’ve got record labels and artist managers and booking agents and concert promoters and t-shirt makers and all kinds of things.”

Click here for Barbe’s explanation of relationships between different facets of the music industry: Structure of the Music Industry

Athens is now home to the annual Athens Music and Arts Festival, which, for the last 15 years, AthFest has used to “showcase the best in regionally and nationally recognized Athens-based talent,” according to the Athens-Clarke County Economic Development Department website. This year, around 200 bands and artist will put on shows for the festival in local venues and on three outdoor stages.

Jeff Montgomery, an ACC public information officer and co-owner of, said the music scene’s influence has grown with its numbers and the government is taking notice.

“Certainly I would say that it does affect policy,” he said. “We do things that support the Athens music scene. This office has always had a strong music tie. It’s not always official, but it’s a big interest we have, it’s a big tourist component to things, it’s a big economic boost for downtown.”

And the economic salience of the music industry in Athens, Montgomery said, is evidenced by the low closure rates of true music venues in Athens.

Montgomery said ACC pays attention to the arts in general as well — among other things, there is a public art component that is part of any capital program through our SPLOST program, which is the sales tax program, meaning a percentage of every project that’s done though SPLOST 2011, has to have a public art component to that.

“I would say there is a policy component to that,” he said. “In terms of when it comes down to laws or other things like that, sure that’s always considered when there are laws or ordinances that have the potential to affect the creative community; they tend to make their voices known. And then it is weighed against other factors, like public safety.”

Montgomery said on top of being a political consideration, the Athens government stands behind the music scene through little things.

“If you were to call City Hall, and you get put on hold, all our hold music is Athens bands. Also, the government access television that our office runs, Athens music is what plays in the background of that when we are on our bulletin board system,” he said. “We do things that support the Athens music scene.”

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.



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

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.

Students add vibrance to downtown

Downtown Athens on a Thursday night is a sight to see. Streets swarm with people moving from bar to bar in what has been called the world’s best college town.

The masses crowding the sidewalks are mostly students, attracted to downtown’s 40-plus bars and nightlife spots.

Downtown during the daytime is a different story. The bars, all that are visible at night, melt into the fabric of shops and restaurants and historic architecture.

The Athens Downtown Development Authority’s goal is to keep Athens – day and night – “safe and economically viable.”

Jason Leonard, who owns Flannigan’s and Whiskey Bent – two bars downtown, said that while students come downtown for the bars, Athens is offering a “better product” on all fronts.

“I would say that there’s an increase in a better product overall of downtown. I think the clothing shops are better clothing shops and the restaurants are better restaurants,” he said. “Downtown is providing a better quality product today, which would inspire students to hang out there.”

Bars hire students and cater to students. Students spend their money where their friends are.

“You know how it works, someone recommends someone who knows someone to work here,” Leonard said. “ And we love everyone, but when we hire someone, they usually bring in their network of friends.”

So students use downtown – one way or another. But what about residents of Athens? Visitors?

Kathryn Lookofsky, the executive director of the Athens Downtown Development Authority, said it’s not that black and white.

“Downtown is the center of the community and should have something for everyone within the community,” she said. “I think the relationship between students and residents is a symbiotic one.”

Maura Freedman, a UGA senior, lived on Pulaski Street downtown for three years.

“I feel like every year more and more long term residents are moving out and more students are moving in,” she said. “There are these really nice, big beautiful houses on Pulaski, and I wonder how families feel about paying a significant amount to rent or buy those homes when the neighborhood is shifting towards students.”

Freedman said the neighborhood is attractive to students because of its location.

“Logistically, it’s close to downtown, and it’s nice not to worry about cabs or driving when you go out.”

Maura’s landlord, Lee Smith, said students have been a part of the neighborhood for a long time.

“There’s always been a rental component to Pulaski as long as I’ve lived here,” said Smith, who has owned property on Pulaski Street since 1996. “Over the years, particularly in the late 90s and early 2000s, a lot of people purchased houses that were condemned or in disrepair and turned them into rentals.”

He said there’s no tension between students and residents.

“I’ve never perceived any sort of tension between undergraduate renters and homeowners here,” he said. “Actually, there are several people in our neighborhood, including my wife and I, who over the years have been able to purchase houses around them because we knew we could rent them out to students. We’re surrounded by our rentals – they’re our next door neighbors.”

Smith said he has seen an increase in students wanting to live downtown.

“I’m inclined to think it’s going to be more of the same,” he said. “In the time since I went to school here, downtown has just become more and more urban. So I think we’ll continue to see that. I’d expect denser and more taller buildings downtown. More people will want to live downtown, but I also wouldn’t expect that to only be students.”

The Downtown Athens Master Plan town hall surveys show that 44 percent of attendees want to encourage urban professional residential growth, 20 percent want family housing, and only 3 percent want student housing.

Yet a student housing development is in the works for downtown – set to open Fall 2014. The development will create more than 600 apartments for students.

“I don’t perceive that as negative,” Lee said. “If there are more students living downtown, that’s more opportunity for people to open businesses that cater to students, more restaurants, bars, clubs, maybe even movie theaters. Maybe we’ll finally get a grocery store downtown. There will be other types of development that go along with it – it’s not only going to benefit students.”

He said most Athens residents understand what living in a college town means.

“If you live close to a university, you’re going to be close to students,” he said. “That’s the way it is, so you’ve got to make your peace with it. My wife and I, through our rental properties, are able to continually meet new young people who move to town. We have a wide range of friends that if we lived in a different town we wouldn’t necessarily have.”

Freedman said students are capable of building community downtown.

“Just because a lot of students live there, it doesn’t mean the area is devoid of community,” Freedman said. “There’s a really tight-knit community of people who care about Athens culture and music, so that’s really appealing to someone who is going to be in Athens for a few years.”

Liquor license enforcement not race related

Anthony Lonon locked the doors of his two popular Athens nightclubs for one last time, which changed the nightclub scene for both students and Athenians. Unlike other clubs that graced Athens’ buildings in the past, this club closed for in-house reasons and not because of what people believed to be a showcase of racial biases from enforcement.

For years, speculations of racial prejudices against African-American owned clubs circled around in the classic city. Now documentation of liquor license violations and statements from club owners and students disprove this myth. Police units and government officials enforce strict adherence to liquor license violations.

“When I went to Clarke County and told them what I wanted to do, they were very helpful and everybody seemed to have good attitudes about it,” Lonon said.

Former clubs that closed include Top Dawg, Bulldog Café, Sky City and Aftermath. All have closed down because of liquor license violations with the exception of Sky City and Bulldog Café. The problems that these clubs face however are self-inflicted by the owners of the businesses.

Former club owners and students agreed that certain clubs with poor management face permanent or temporary shutdowns from liquor license violations.

“A lot of the downtown clubs like to make excuses and say we got shutdown because the police did this and people didn’t do this but most of the time it was because they didn’t do what they were supposed to do and they’re looking for an excuse to overcome their short comings,” Lonon said.

Jarred Moore visited all of these clubs during his undergraduate years. He agreed that poor management threatens black-owned clubs and the safety of visitors.

“When you go to certain clubs the way the crowd acts is generally a direct reflection of how lax the management is on regulating the atmosphere,” Moore said. “Of course going out is a way to let go of the stresses endured during the week but at what point do you consider safety?”

Lack of cooperation with government officials and enforcement attributed to harder crack downs harder on these clubs. Lonon had great business rapport with government officials and police officers. He believed this relationship benefited the livelihood of his two clubs Bulldog Café and Sky City.

“As far as businesses are concerned in Athens-Clarke County I think that no matter what kind of business you’re running here if you go to the right people and you go to them with the right attitude, I think they are willing to help,” Lonon said.

Capt. Melanie Rutledge contested Lonon’s statement and thinks all businesses cooperate in order to have a successful business.

“I don’t know that we have a bad relationship with any of them. The guys that work in the downtown unit, the lieutenant and sergeants, I think they know them and have a really good relationship with them,” Rutledge said. “They want their business to be respectful and not thought of as a dangerous place for people to go so they’re very compliant and work with us as far as I know.”

Competition created a loss of revenue between club owners who planned similar events at the same time as each other. Lonon recalled nights where he planned events geared toward college students and within hours other venues promoted similar events for the same time. Residents noticed when clubs would host similar events on the same night and they had to choose where to go.

“When clubs would have the same party on the same night it just came down to which club had the better crowd and reputation,” India Kimbro said. “At the end of the day it’s where your friends want to go and where you know you’ll have fun and be safe for the night.”

Chuck Moore agreed that club ownership in Athens is a tough business because of the stiff competition to attract more people. Moore works for the Financial Services Division of the Athens-Clarke County Unified Government. The Business and Tax Revenue department of this division reviews and issues alcohol license applications. If a business violates the license, the Municipal Court can order the department to revoke the license or the business faces a probationary period.

“It’s a dog eat dog business with owning a club in Athens,” Moore said. “I mean it’s got to be tough.”

Police officers created new methods to ensure that clubs complied with liquor license rules. If a club is found in violation of these rules they are cited on the spot and must appear in the Municipal Court before a judge.

“We have an alcohol unit and they go in and do undercover operations at bars and make sure they’re in compliance with checking ID’s and not selling underage,” Rutledge said. “When there is a violation they go in right then and write them a ticket and those are offenses that you can’t just go pay the citation. It’s a court only issue so they have to go before the judge.”

The Municipal Court judge determines a penalty for the violator to adhere to. These penalties range from fines and probationary periods to liquor license revocations.

Once a business completes their court order they fill out a new 16-page liquor license application that includes a comprehensive criminal background check of the owner, consideration of previous violations, and a schedule of fees they must pay in order to sell certain types of alcohol. The amount of money business pays varies on the way the alcohol is served or sold to customers.

“The idea is just that we don’t tax them to death and keep it fair so big bars pay more and little bars pay less,” Chuck Moore said. “ It’s all politics set by the Mayor and Commission.”

Aftermath closed before for liquor license violations, fire code violations and total interior renovations. In the most recent liquor license application, Aftermath reported three violations of fire code safety violations. To reopen they paid almost $6,000 for filing a late application and to serve alcohol beverages by the drink.

Top Dawg closed in the summer of 2010 after a liquor license revocation. This space is now occupied by the 9d’s and 8e’s bar in Downtown Athens.
Lonon’s clubs closed down last year because of a dispute with new building owners who did not agree with his lease renewal requests.

“We had our share of problems but ultimately, I decided I wasn’t going to sign a new lease for a company who wasn’t going to do anything so we moved out with intentions of building a new facility from the ground up,” Lonon said.

Most club owners tend to take their business elsewhere in hopes to have a more lucrative business. Lonon decided to keep his business within Athens just through other entertainment venues. He owns five other businesses but hopes to build a new nightclub from the ground up and start a local radio station.

Students remain skeptical of racism in downtown Athens but the problem seems to stem from local bars toward students and not from government officials against black-owned bars. A Red & Black article addressed the problem of discriminatory dress codes, event cancelations based on “the type of crowd attracted” and anti hip-hop acts by DJ’s.

Athens part of booming entertainment business in Georgia


Justin Timberlake rounds an empty street corner and leers at Amy Adams with googly puppy-dog eyes. As far as moviegoers are concerned — they’re in their own world.

But look past the tight shots, bright lights and movie magic — and the scene looked a little different.

A Kappa Alpha Theta sorority member stands on a chair at Flanagan’s Bar and Grill in downtown Athens, using one hand to stabilize herself on the shoulder of the person in front of her and the other to zoom in as far as she can on her iPhone camera.

Timberlake walks out from behind equipment and the crowd of more than 20 onlookers lets off a small gasp as crew members waive their arms to remind everyone that cameras are rolling.

“[Athens is] cool, a tough place to shoot though,” said an Assistant Director who agreed to speak without giving her name due to nondisclosure agreements. “College students everywhere. … We usually film in small towns, so we don’t have to deal with the crowds.”

Timberlake, Adams and Clint Eastwood visited downtown for two nights this month while they filmed “Trouble with the Curve” — a movie about baseball scouts expected to come out in September.

News of the visitors circulated quickly and celebrity spottings started showing up on social media sites.

“It’s really exciting for people to see those kinds of people in town who they don’t get to see very often,” said Stefanie Paupeck, a communication specialist for the Georgia Department of Economic Development.

But despite their gawkers, it’s no surprise Timberlake and others gave Athens a taste of Hollywood — it’s happening all around the state.

Georgia’s entertainment business has boomed ever since legislators passed tax incentives for film production in 2008 — growing it from an $800 million industry in 2008 to $2.4 billion in 2011, according to Paupeck.

“A lot of production companies are going outside of the metro Atlanta area,” she said. “People think that’s where they all go, but they’re going all around the state. … On the ground today, there are three feature films, 16 television series and two pilots being filmed in Georgia.”

And another TV show, movie of the week, pilot and three feature films are already in the works to come to Georgia in the near future.

“We have a lot of activity,” Paupeck said. “They’re coming here, having a great experience and coming back.”

 “Camera ready”

Georgia started looking a little more like Hollywood in 2008 after the passage of the Entertainment Industry Investment Act.

The legislation offered up to 30 percent tax credits to production companies who spend at least $500,000 in the state. It also gave a sales tax exemption on Georgia products, saving producers an additional 8 percent.

As the economy continues to slump, Paupeck said more and more production companies are choosing to take advantage of these incentives. 

But she said that’s not all Georgia has to offer.

Besides good weather, blooming plants, easy access to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and an increasing amount of filming-friendly infrastructure, Paupeck said the state began the Camera Ready program in 2010 to make things even easier for production companies.

The program, which 136 counties are now apart of, aims to simplify the often chaotic task of filming by designating a community liaison to help production companies by coordinating local efforts.

Jeff Montgomery, an ACC public information media analyst and one of Athens’ local liaisons for the Camera Ready program, said he acts as a point of contact for production companies so they know who to go to for things like road closures, lodging and talent scouting.

“When a production company decides — for financial reasons — that it makes sense to film in Georgia — that’s step one,” Montgomery said. “Once they come to Georgia and start looking for places, I think Athens becomes one of the places that quickly gets considered.”

He said the city has a little bit of everything, with old buildings, a downtown, which can be made to look like New York, and even rural farmlands nearby.

“There’s a wide variety of locations here,” he said. “That’s appealing for folks to be able to come and shoot in locations and have urban and rural nearby. I think the more films that come here and find that it’s an easy [place to shoot], the people are easy to work with, then it will only encourage the continuation of that.”

“Trouble with the Curve”

But the production companies aren’t the only ones who benefit when they film in Georgia.

When the “Trouble with the Curve” crew came to Athens, they brought a crew of 600, according to an assistant director. Montgomery said that alone has a significant economic impact.

“Even ones who are here for a short period of time bring money into the community and it’s usually outside money,” he said. “[It’s] the idea of economic development. When a production company comes to town it can have a significant impact on providing business opportunities to, not only crew and staff, but businesses, craft services, folks who live in the area, hotels, extras, all kinds of things.”

Paupeck said the entertainment business employed 20,000 Georgians in 2011 and had an economic impact of about $2.4 billion.

“There are construction crews who had to cut back because of the economy but now they’re building movie sets,” she said. “A lot of crews, a lot of companies have moved here because there’s so much activity.”

Montgomery said this is one reason he would like to see more filming around Clarke County.

“There’s already a strong film community here in Athens,” he said. “There’s a lot of crew members, editors, location scouts — things like that — who have to go outside of Athens to find work. … We can find opportunities for them to be able to work closer to home, opportunities to build up a resume, that’s one aspect of it. [We want] to put people to work in the area and use their talents here.”

Though Montgomery admits this month marked the first major filming done in Athens since the “Road Trip” crew came to town in 2000, he said this is far from Athens’ first time on the big screen.

The 1980 television show “Breaking Away” was shot in Athens each week, often using the University of Georgia’s North Campus.

Fewer movies chose to come to Athens in the 90s, but Montgomery said the city has enjoyed quite a bit of attention since then.

“Not Since You” was filmed in Athens in 2009, according to The Internet Movie Database, “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” in 2008, “Somebodies” in 2006 and “Darius Goes West” in 2005.

In addition to “Trouble with the Curve,” USA Network’s major television show “Necessary Roughness” has also filmed in Athens this year.

“We’ve had films shot here in the past, but it’s been a while since we’ve had more major stuff,” Montgomery said. “I think we’ve always had a little bit going on with it. Now, with more things coming to the state, there’s more opportunity for things to shoot here then there has been in the past.”

Athens Area Attractive Location for Reality Television

Danielle Foley, a 21 year old University student seemed anxious to be interviewed for a new MTV reality show that was holding a casting call in the Silver Dollar bar in downtown Athens.
A number of others joined Foley signing release forms and waiting to be interviewed in front of numerous cameras.
They downed many drinks while they waited to be called back by show producers.
Casting calls and film crews have become a frequent scene in Clarke County as the Athens area has become increasingly popular for reality television and film production.
Georgia is currently the fourth largest location for film production in the country, according to the state website. Georgia has set up tax incentives and the Camera Ready Communities program, which connects productions with local film liaisons around the state.
“Athens-Clarke county recently became “Camera Ready”. The “Camera Ready” program was designed to “train and certify Georgia counties to work effectively with production companies and provide local, one-on-one assistance in every aspect of production, from location scouting and film permits to traffic control, catering and lodging,” according to the state website,” adds Darien LaBeach, University student and founder of local Athens production company, Society of Greater Things.

These programs attract production and filming and build the Georgia economy. Exactly 336 productions were filmed in the state in the 2011 fiscal year and the state earned a revenue of approximately $2.1 billion from film productions.
Athens-Clarke County is an attractive destination in the state for filming due to its concentration of entertainment venues, the University of Georgia, and historic locations, according to Film Athens, a non-profit organization that seeks to highlight Athens as a friendly location for filming.
“We’re the smallest couty in the state, but we have 37 venues for music and 550 bands, We have two opera companies, three symphonies, at least four independent theaters, a bus system, gardens, coffeehouses, great restaurants, music, piercings, conservatives, liberals, athletes. We have everything here,” Leara Rhodes, a professor at the University told Film Athens.
There are plenty of opportunities in the Athens area to participate in reality television and other film productions. New opportunities appear constantly on the Film Athens website.
“The attraction of one of the top party schools in the nation caught the attention of MTV, according to show producers. “I think MTV picked Athens because the students here know how to party, and we have a lot of bars and events that could be cool as the background for a reality show,” said Foley.
Casting took place in downtown Athens for the new reality show hosted by MTV personality Isaac Stout, who is the co-owner of the Bad Manor bar in Athens. The new show is titled “The Diesel Bus.” Cast members of the show would be filmed riding the party bus with friends from Athens to Atlanta, said producers. Cast members would also compete in challenges while on the bus. The show is also going to be used as a casting for possible cast members on other MTV reality shows such as “The Real World.”
Party goers were attracted to casting for the show. “I like to party. I have always wanted to be on the Real World. I have been told I do outrageous and fun stuff. I would love to make a career out of being wild and crazy like my idol, Snooki,” said Foley.
“I found out about the show through word of mouth. I wanted to do something spontaneous. I really love reality television especially MTV. I think I would be perfect for this show,” said David Phillips, another university student at the casting call.
Foley and Phillips were asked questions about her party habits and personality at the casting. Both were excited about the possibility of being on television to party. Producers were looking for Athen’s wildest and craziest partiers to cast for the show.
Not all Athens residents were happy to hear about the idea of bringing more attention the party scene in the area. “Terrible, terrible, terrible idea,” said Ivey Hamby, digital director of niche publications at the Athens Banner-Herald. “No girl wants to get sloppy drunk on a bus, do idiotic things, and put it out there for their grandma to see.”
“Only positivity can come from the increase of films and tv shows in Athens. As long as there aren’t any Jersey Shore remakes in my personal opinion. Sure a lot of students watch those shows and act very similarly to the actors on those shows, but they aren’t the true Athenians for the most part. Plus, if you consider what’s happened to the cast of Jersey Shore, they are no longer allowed to film in the area the show once took place. For instant claim to fame (in my opinion infamy) shows like that should come for a little while and then move on. But I would much rather see full length feature films filmed in Athens. I feel like the arrival of people looking to make such films would also serve to advocate the preservation of much of what downtown Athens has stood for and discourage big box stores like Walmart from coming,” adds LaBeach.
Other reality television shows casting and filming in the Athens are not as contriversal. The History Channel’s “American Pickers” is a show in which the two hosts travel the country looking for hidden antiques that could be restored into a treasure, according to the show’s website. Syfy’s “Haunted Collector” is a show that focuses on searching for ghosts, according to the show’s Facebook page.
These producers were drawn to the area for the rich history in the Athens. The city has 38 nationally registered historic sites and 15 nationally designated historic districts on the National Register of Historic Places, according to Film Athens.
“It’s a great opportunity for scenes from Athens to be out there on the national stage. Scenes of Athens’ beauty and great collections that people have would stir potential visitors to maybe come to the antique shops and search for their own treasures,” Hannah Smith, communications manager for the Athens Convention and Visitors Bureau told the Athens Banner-Herald.
“There are so many amazing locations for films that are unique to this area that people wouldn’t be able to find anywhere else, which makes anything produced here very original and authentic,” says LaBeach.
Foley will know in the next few weeks if she will be a castmate on “The Diesel Bus” reality show, but if she is not picked as a castmate, another reality show will probably hold casting call in the Athens area soon.