June 20, 2012

City Dope

Athens News and Views

Renovations at the ACC Library are coming along nicely, but some of the mature trees on the "islands" in the parking lot were taken down during work to reconfigure the lot, apparently because they had grown too large for their placements.

ADDA Mattas: Last week, it was mentioned here that the Athens Downtown Development Authority would hold a special called meeting to discuss the possibility of creating a downtown master plan, despite the lack of funds set aside for said plan in Athens-Clarke County's budget for the upcoming fiscal year. That meeting has been set for this Wednesday, June 20 at 5 p.m. in the first-floor conference room at the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce on Hancock Avenue, and will be the occasion for a presentation from Daniel Nadenicek and Jack Crowley, the UGA College of Environment and Design's dean and planning and design graduate program head, respectively. It's open to the public, and if you feel like you have a stake in the future of downtown, you should try to make it.

"I'm really excited to hear what they have to say," says ADDA Director Kathryn Lookofsky, who says a master plan is "desperately needed." It seems certain, anyway, that working with the college—a local resource that can save costs, for instance, by integrating the work with its course curriculum—is about the only option on the table at this point for getting a master plan done. No financial figures related to the college's proposal have yet been bandied about, but if the tab is significantly below the $100,000–$200,000 range that's been estimated as the cost of working with a commercial design firm, the ADDA would presumably foot the bill itself.

"There have been no allocations made," says Lookofsky, "but that could change."

Speaking of saving costs, the ADDA expects to do some more of that by moving its offices from the Fred Building on College Avenue to the aforementioned Chamber headquarters, which should happen sometime around the end of the summer. Plus, Lookofsky sees the added proximity to the Economic Development Foundation, which also has its offices in the building, and the Chamber itself as something that will help the organizations coordinate their efforts to improve the commercial viability of Athens' central district.

"I think we can't help but have more interaction," Lookofsky says, and she figures prospective clients will be helped by the more efficient set-up, too. "If you want to bring a business to Athens," she says, "you walk into that building."

Hey, it can't hurt, right?

Speak No Evil: As summer kicks into gear, Selig Enterprises has been quiet on where they are in their plans to develop the series of parcels adjacent to the eastern edge of downtown composed mostly of the Armstrong & Dobbs property. Selig Senior Vice President Jo Ann Chitty said by email Friday: “We continue to work on the layout and design.  We are talking to retailers and gathering information on retail demands in Athens and the marketplace.  There is no firm timeline on submitting plans to ACC.”

And indeed the ACC Planning Department has not received anything from Selig in several months, according to Bruce Lonnee, Senior Planner.

Of course, the building leased by the Jittery Joe's Roaster is part of that swath, too, and the business' proprietors are expecting to hear by the end of June whether they're staying or going.

The option Selig holds on the properties, which was extended at the beginning of May, expires at the end of July. But unless Selig gets another extension, the property owners have to be notified by the end of this month whether the Atlanta developer is buying or not. If the sale is going through, the Roaster will have an additional 60 days from the end of the option period to vacate the building, according to Charlie Mustard, the Jittery Joe's roast master.

In regard to the option, Chitty said, “As far as terms of any contractual agreements, they are confidential and we will not comment on them.”

So, just like you and the Dope, Charlie's in the dark. "We want to stay here," he says, but he has no idea whether or not that's in the cards, and he likely won't know until June 30. He says his business relies on the word-of-mouth interest that's generated by downtown tours and curious walk-ins. "To move outside of [downtown] would not be good." The ancient shed that houses the Roaster is tailor-made for roasting and storing the tens of thousands of pounds of coffee beans Charlie has to keep on hand; to find another suitable building that he could afford, he'd probably have to look outside the perimeter.

The June 9 5K Race for a Better Athens, which started and finished outside the Roaster, has probably managed to return some attention to the ongoing situation at Armstrong & Dobbs. But the thousands of Athenians who spent the winter up in arms about the possibility of an enormous shopping center that appears to be in blatant conflict with both the letter and the spirit of local planning code going up on the edge of downtown, but who have been lulled into complacency by Selig's months of silence, had better be ready to hop to it again, and quick. Something's going to happen in the next week or two, even if it's just Charlie being told he'll have to wait some more. But if it's not, the pressure's going to come down hard and fast.