By Emily Curl
As Carley Gainous walks up Broad Street every day, she confronts the SunTrust building construction.
“There are fewer parking spaces around my lot and portions of the sidewalk are closed,” she says. ” I know it’s temporary, but it has been harder getting to and from class.”
Gainous is not the only one faced with the hassles of construction. She is an example of what pedestrians, business owners, and workers experience with downtown construction: temporary inconvenience followed by an improved downtown.
Construction is nothing new to downtown Athens, but projects taking place this year are expected to bring major disturbances and changes to downtown development.
The SunTrust building’s neighboring property redevelopment, along with the Clayton Streetscape infrastructure work, are two of the largest projects occurring simultaneously downtown. Many businesses anticipate an initial loss, but hope upon completion the new construction improves the downtown area and attracts more customers.
After interviewing pedestrians, business owners, and employees, a temporary disruption and loss is anticipated, but ultimately, once downtown construction is complete, businesses are expected to return to normal or even experience a rise in business, and pedestrians can look forward to an improved downtown.
While both projects promise limited disturbances, businesses and pedestrians are already beginning to feel an impact. The Clayton Street infrastructure project is expected to last until mid 2015 according to SPLOST Project Manager Derek Doster. And according to reports on OnlineAthens.com, the multiuse development in progress beside the SunTrust building is not expected to be complete until Summer 2015, leaving businesses and pedestrians to deal with the construction for another year.
This is not the first time large-scale construction has appeared downtown. After fire damage in 2009, the Georgia Theatre began a major reconstruction project. Ophelia Culpepper, an employee of Horton’s Drug Store remembered the construction on the corner of West Clayton and North Lumpkin Streets.
“It was pretty noisy, but if anything, I think the construction helped business, especially once the construction was complete.” she said. “The construction workers came into the store often to buy snacks and drinks, but I think it would have been different if we were more of a specialty store.”
When asked about the new construction beginning on Clayton Street, Culpepper was worried that parking might be a problem, but she hopes to once again gain business from the construction workers.
While Horton’s Drug Store may not be facing a decrease in sales, many other businesses are already feeling a loss.
With jackhammers buzzing and bulldozers in action just steps away from the front door of Heery’s Too, employee Martha Easton McLemore already noticed business has been slower than usual.
“[The construction] has definitely affected the flow of customers in the store and all the heavy machinery outside seems to turn people away,” McLemore said. ” It’s really loud and a hassle, but I do think Clayton needs a facelift. I can only hope all this [construction] will be worth it.”
According to the Athens- Clarke County Downtown Streetscapes Improvements website, the infrastructure of Clayton Street is expected to be improved and upgraded. Utility, sidewalk, and exterior improvements are all expected to bring multiple benefits to businesses and pedestrians. The benefits include water system and street light improvements, wider sidewalks, and improved crosswalks.
Work will also be done in sections in hopes to minimize disturbances and so the entire street will not be affected at once, according to Doster. He expects large traffic or parking problems to be very limited.
According to the website of the construction company in charge of the SunTrust building redevelopment, Juneau Construction Company, “the project will consist of more than 300,000 square feet of a mix of retail, apartment, and restaurant space. Five stories of apartments totaling 266 units and 165,000 square feet will sit above one level of retail totaling more than 40,000 square feet and below grade parking that will consist of 266 parking spaces.”
Another downtown business affected by the construction is Private Gallery, an apparel store located on Clayton Street. When asked about the construction, employee Jordan Garner was not happy about the noise surrounding the work but agreed that Clayton Street needed street and sidewalk improvements.
“Once this is all done, I think we will have more customers stopping by the store and all other stores on Clayton in general,” Garner said.
When asked about the SunTrust building redevelopment Garner added “When people live downtown they are more likely to shop downtown as well. I hope we will gain some more customers as people move towards downtown.”
The new apartments, along with street improvements, also have Cat Bobon, owner of Cillies Clothing, hopeful for the future of her business.
“It’s a pain now since the construction is taking up parking spaces, but I know it will eventually be for the best. I haven’t had many customers today, but hopefully that changes soon,” Bobon said.
Cillies Clothing is a vintage store located on Clayton Street, and while the business profits on customers buying clothing and accessories from the store, they also count on customers to sell the store their gently used apparel.
Although this is the largest construction to take place recently in downtown Athens, if businesses and pedestrians can cooperate with the construction, they will ultimately benefit. While businesses may be beginning to experience a loss now, that loss is seen as temporary and business owners can expect to return to normal or better after construction completion.
“More people living downtown just means more opportunities [for the business] to buy and sell, which is always a good thing,” Bobon says. “And once the street is in better shape, even more people will want to come shop on Clayton.”
Citizens line up at a microphone close to the Board of Directors panel to give their input on developmental issues, such as low-income housing and the Classic Center expansion, at the Athens Downtown Development Authority board meeting held last Tuesday, February 13. One citizen asks, “How will the Classic Center expansion and other developments affect the downtown area positively?”
Downtown areas in college towns nationwide are becoming ideal places to build housing developments and other venues for leisurely purposes. In the downtown Athens area, new housing and hotel developments are being built as close to downtown as possible to accommodate students and visitors, but could lead to major increases in traffic and overpopulation in an already crowded city.
According to the news site, Globest, cities like Chicago, Washington, D.C. and Atlanta are at their prime for investing and building student housing and other developments in their downtown areas. Athens is quickly becoming familiar with these kinds of investments as well. According to OnlineAthens, a news outlet, $140 million is being instilled in new developments and expansions for the downtown area.
The Standard at Athens and the Hyatt Hotel developments both cost almost $70 million together and play tremendous monetary roles in this investment for downtown. There is also an unnamed four-building-project between Hull and Lumpkin streets and Clayton and Broad streets, not to mention, the Classic center expansion, unveiled February 17th, played a $24 million part in this injection. Counted separately from this $140 million investment is a nine-acre Armstrong & Dobbs project, expected to cost $80 million. It will include retail space, space for an anchor tenant and about 250 housing units with about 600 bedrooms.
Focusing on the various housing developments in the downtown area, The Standard at Athens, a new $30 million dollar housing project opening in fall 2014, will be a six-story development with a rooftop infinity pool, sauna, cyber café, fitness center, indoor golf simulator, a courtyard and other amenities. There will be an eight story parking deck attached to this project, which will make it one of the larger buildings in the downtown area.
The Hyatt Hotel, said to open in late winter/early spring 2014, will have 188 rooms, 10 condos, as well as a restaurant. There is also the Armstrong & Dobbs tract will have 250 housing units within its development stretching from East Broad Street to Wilkerson Street.
Reise Reports, a real estate data and analysis company, has reported that the Athens area is ranked No. 150 in rent growth at 0.4 percent, which could affect how other apartments outside the interior of the city will be able to compete as more housing opens up downtown.
Some Athens delegates and university students believe that this new development will be an innovative opening into the future for downtown Athens.
Sophomore Elizabeth Turchan, an International Business major at the University of Georgia is looking to live off campus next year and is excited about new housing in the downtown area.
“Next year, I really want to live off campus and am ideally looking for housing that is a hop, skip and jump away from campus. I think it’s awesome that they’re building student housing downtown because I can walk to campus and wouldn’t be too far from the downtown night life,” said Turchan. “I expect that downtown Athens, just like any downtown area of any city already has a lot of traffic so I don’t see that as a real problem.”
Other officials and students believe that too much housing downtown risks dangers to the community.
“Building developments too close together is a hazard. A fire or anything could happen. Developers don’t really care nowadays,” said Vernon Payne, an Athens-Clarke County commissioner.
Junior Jacquelynne Rodriguez, double majoring in Communication Sciences and Disorders and Spanish, is strongly against large developments in the downtown area, as well.
“A lot of contractors tend to come from out of state and the money is essentially leaving Athens, especially when you have larger developments. We have to think about the economic welfare of Athens,” Rodriguez said. “With ‘mom and pop’ shops, people tend to care more about Athens, but when you have large scale contractors who are building larger developments, they’re more concerned with making money than with the well being of Athens as a town. Downtown Athens isn’t made for large amounts of traffic either with mostly two-lane roads and middle parking on most streets.”
The people are what contribute to Athens’ culture and character, but others retort that too many developments and housing could lead to overpopulation and danger in that area.
“I expect that downtown Athens, just like any downtown area of any city already has a lot of traffic so I don’t see that as a real problem,” Turchan said.
“If they keep developing downtown, there is going to be a massive amount of people in a small, centralized location at all times, which is cause for concern,” Rodriguez declared.
It was a quiet and empty meeting at the Athens-Clarke County Planning Department Auditorium on Tuesday, March 16.
The Madison Athens-Clarke Oconee Regional Transportation Study, also known as MACORTS, held its public information meeting for local citizens to review and comment upon the addition of the Jobs for Main Street Act Amendment to the Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP).
The TIP includes all of the projects that will receive federal funding during the next four fiscal years. The document is updated annually to reflect changes that occur to projects.
The latest project added to the Transportation Improvement Plan is to resurface US 441/SR 15 from SR Loop 10 to about 0.2 miles south of CR 478/Newton Bridge Road.
Sherry Moore, transportation planner for MACORTS, and Iris Cleveland, associate transportation planner, were available to answer questions at the casual two-hour meeting.
Moore explained that the meeting was an open forum. There was not a formal presentation planned, only tables set up displaying posters of the resurfacing project, documents detailing the plan, and sheets for the public to provide their input.
A number of factors explain why the meeting had low attendance.
Moore explains that more people are sending questions and comments through e-mail rather than taking out the time to attend a meeting. She has seen a decrease in public attendance in the past five years.
This specific project has received little public feedback.
Also, the nature of the project, which is only to repave a stretch of US 441, will have minimal effects on its surroundings.
Although this part of the US 441 is busy, the project will not be difficult. Moore said it would be different if it was a road-widening project.
Local citizens usually start calling the department after construction has started.
“People are generally not plugged into the planning side,” Moore said. “They don’t say something until the bulldozers are in their face.”
She adds that the commute will be bumpy for a few months and will be surprising for some people at first.
The Georgia Department of Transportation (DOT) chose this project, along with many others across the state to complete. However, completion is only possible if federal funds become available for use. The project has 90 days to get into contract.
However, when and if the project will take place depends on whether the Jobs for Main Street Act becomes law. The bill has passed in the House, but not in the Senate.
The bill will provide states an estimated $75 billion to generate jobs with targeted investments for transit and other important factors that will help the economy grow.
MACORTS, which only uses federal funds, hopes to use the money from this bill to complete the project. The estimated cost of the project is $2,291,000.
If the bill does not pass, there will be another meeting to announce that the amendment is being taken out of the TIP. The project will then go back to the state level as something that will be completed later.
The Georgia DOT chose this project to complete because of its quick and easy nature. This project will take less than six months to complete.
Citizens can continue to send their questions and comments via email to email@example.com until April 09, 2010. A copy of the draft is also available for review at the Athens-Clarke County Planning Department.
The passage of a new bill in the House of Representatives will help fund a repaving project in Athens-Clarke County. Local residents can participate in the action.
The meeting, headed by the Madison Athens-Clarke Oconee Regional Transportation Study, also known as MACORTS, will let the public review drafts of the project documents and give their suggestions and criticisms.
MACORTS, a cooperative transportation planning group, encompasses the urbanized areas of Athens-Clarke County, parts of northern Oconee County and southern Madison County.
The group has scheduled a series of public informational meetings in Athens, as well as Madison and Oconee counties, for citizens to review and comment upon drafts of the documents required for the project to take place. The meeting in Athens will take place on Tuesday, March 16, 2010 in the Athens Planning Department Auditorium from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
The project, US 441/SR 15 Resurfacing, will repave US 441/SR 15 from SR Loop 10 to about 0.2 miles south of CR 478/Newton Bridge Road.
According to Sherry Moore, the transportation planner for the Athens-Clarke County Planning Department, some necessary steps must take place before the project can begin.
First, the project needs to be included in two documents: the Transportation Improvement Program, also known as TIP, and the Long Range Transportation Plan, otherwise known as LRTP. Both of these documents are required for MACORTS to have access to federal and state transportation funding.
The annually-updated TIP document contains all of the projects that will receive funding during the next four years. The repaving project is the latest addition to the document. After its annual update, the Athens-Clarke County Planning Department makes it available to the public.
The LRTP deals with the transportation needs for the next 20 years in the region. Any project that makes it into TIP must also be included in the LRTP to be eligible for funds. The planning department makes this document available to the public after they update it every five years.
Both documents can be accessed via the Madison and Oconee County Planning Department Web sites, as well as the MACORTS Web site.
The next step in the process is to supply a space for the public to provide input and discuss their concerns; this is a federal requirement for the county to receive funds.
Moore says the Georgia Department of Transportation can do the paving quickly if they have the money.
After the public meetings, Moore says MACORTS compiles all public comment and summarizes it for review by two committees. The committees then make any necessary changes and decisions according to the public’s input.
The project will begin depending on when the House passes the new bill, titled Jobs for Main Street Act. Moore says this project is a bit different from those in the past because its completion relies on the passage of the bill.
MACORTS cannot determine an exact time for when the project will begin until the House signs the bill. However, Moore estimates that the project will begin sometime in the summer.
According to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Web site, the purpose of ‘Jobs for Main Street Act’ is “to create or save jobs here at home with targeted investments ($75 billion) for highways and transit, school renovation, hiring teachers, police, and firefighters, small business, job training and affordable housing – key drivers of economic growth that have the most bang for the buck.”
The investments are paid for using funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program, otherwise known as TARP. The government buys these funds from financial institutions, mainly located on Wall Street, for use in the financial sector to make economic improvements.
A major component of the bill is to stabilize jobs by investing in infrastructure improvements. Approximately $27.5 billion will be allocated to improving highway infrastructure across the nation. This improvement will have short-term and long-term benefits, such as supporting jobs and saving commuter’s time and money, respectively.
In 2007, the average daily traffic volume on USS 441/ SR 15 was 14, 615. By 2035, the projected volume is expected to be 24, 720. The bill will cover the $2,291,000 cost of the project.
Moore says the public should come to the meeting to see what is going on in their region and help build awareness about the project. The public can help ensure that MACORTS spends the funds efficiently.
If anyone is unable to attend the meetings, he or she can email their comments via the MACORTS Web site, http://www.macorts.org, or stop by the planning departments in their respective counties to view copies of the project drafts. Public comment will be accepted from Feb. 22, 2010 to April 9, 2010.