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Commission Approves Redevelopment Plan for Georgia Square Mall

The Athens-Clarke County Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to allow a local developer to move forward with a $650 million plan to redevelop Georgia Square Mall.

The commission not only approved what is believed to be the largest development in Athens history—at about 70 acres, the mall property is equal to the size of downtown Athens—but it is also the first time that ACC has used the economic development tool of a tax allocation district to make such a development possible.

Voters approved the use of TADs in 2008, but none were created locally until 2020, when Mayor Kelly Girtz proposed six around the mall and other struggling areas targeted for new development. The mall TAD will put new property tax revenue generated by the development—$189 million over an estimated 30 years—back into the development in the form of affordable housing, greenspace, transportation infrastructure and other community benefits. TADs are commonly used in Atlanta and other communities nationwide to encourage redevelopment in blighted areas where it otherwise would be too costly for private developers to take on.

W&A Engineering

The plan proposed by W&A Engineering on behalf of The Leaven Group, led by Athens homebuilder Mark Jennings, calls for demolishing about two-thirds of the mall, leaving Belk and the surrounding space, while adding 70,000 square feet of new commercial space and 1,200 apartments, townhouses and senior living units. According to a community benefits agreement, 10% of the apartments will be set aside at below-market rents for 20 years, and reduced-rent commercial space will be set aside for the Clarke County School District, the Boys & Girls Club, and women- and minority-owned businesses. TAD revenue will also support stormwater drainage improvements, greenspace and trees, walking and biking trails, and a bus station on Atlanta Highway.

Both the TAD/community benefits agreement and a binding site plan for the project passed unanimously. Construction will be phased to allow Belk and the few other remaining mall tenants to stay open, and is expected to take five to six years.