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.