There may be bread served at the Classic Center, but there will be no circuses.
The Athens-Clarke Commission approved a $5.4 million bond issue Sept. 3 for the Classic Center to buy removable bleachers, a scoreboard and ice equipment (as well as build additional parking) to start having “arena-style events” like University of Georgia hockey, ice shows and roller derby. But citizens objected to another potential event: the circus.
Many circus animals are caught illegally and sold to dealers that lease them to circuses, where they are transported in chains, beaten, shocked, whipped and deprived of food, they said. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and other groups have investigated animal abuse at circuses, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently charged Cole Bros. Circus, which came to Athens in 2002, with numerous violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act.
“Please do not use my taxes to fund animal abuse,” Deborah Stanley said. (No tax dollars are slated to go toward the new equipment, but she was referring to the Classic Center’s recent $20 million SPLOST expansion.)
Wendy Moore said she would seek a ban on displaying exotic animals in Athens, similar to bans in dozens of other cities and countries. But even commissioners who call themselves animal lovers balked at the idea.
Commissioner Kathy Hoard, a member of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said a ban isn’t needed because the Classic Center would respect commissioners’ wishes not to lease out space to circuses.
“I don’t know about passing a ban on this issue in our community,” Hoard said. “I haven’t studied it enough.”
Commissioner Doug Lowry also expressed concern about circuses but voted for the proposal anyway.
“I’m very much an animal rights person,” he said. “I don’t believe we need animal circuses.”
Lowry had asked at a work session last month whether the Classic Center would host circuses, and Classic Center Executive Director Paul Cramer was somewhat dismissive. Stanley, however, said she obtained a promise not to host circuses from Cramer after last Tuesday’s meeting.
Cramer told the commission that he and his board don’t support animal abuse, and they don’t need circuses to make enough money to pay off the bonds. A study projected $745,000 in annual revenue from arena-style events versus $500,000 a year for 15 years to pay off the bonds.
The three commissioners who voted against the proposal—Allison Wright, Jerry NeSmith and Jared Bailey—said it’s too risky; they didn’t trust the numbers.
Wright, said she was opposed to spending $1 million for equipment for a specific sport (hockey), although Mayor Nancy Denson pointed out that it will also be used for ice shows and open skating.
“It broadens the segment of our community that will use the Classic Center,” Denson said.
Bailey also took issue with Cramer’s plan to run shuttles to carry convention-goers back and forth between the Classic Center and other parking decks.
“I don’t think the Classic Center needs to be in the transportation business,” Bailey said.
Hoard inserted a clause in her motion that would bar the Classic Center from spending any money on shuttles for 60 days after the bond issue in mid-October. That will give officials time to study whether Athens Transit can provide a downtown circulator that would serve everyone, she and Commissioner Kelly Girtz said.
Other Stuff: It may have dominated the conversation, but circus animals weren’t the only issue the commission dealt with. It also:
• created an amnesty period through Sept. 20 so you can finally pay all those parking tickets you got downtown and crumpled up in a rage without also paying the late fees. (They double after 30 days.) After it ends, though, your car might be booted after you rack up $200 in fines.
• ordered the Planning Commission to write regulations making it easier to start a community garden.
• changed the historic district designation process to include a town hall meeting early in the process so property owners are better informed.
• install a mural and a Bob Clements sculpture at the ACC library.
Downtown Priorities: Oh, goody, more bullet points! The Athens Downtown Development Authority had its annual retreat last week, where board members and staff discussed what their three to five priorities for the next 18-24 months should be. Here’s what they came up with:
• Improving public and private infrastructure, including Internet data speeds.
• Looking into revolving loans and other incentives for businesses.
• Addressing overall aesthetics and cleanliness, not just dirty sidewalks and the stale-beer smell.
• Measure the economic impact of downtown, similar to an annual UGA study of its economic impact on Athens.
Atlanta Highway: Chattanooga, TN-based CBL & Associates Properties announced last week that it sold Georgia Square Mall and two other malls to an unnamed “offshore investor” for $176 million. The corridor has been in decline recently as brick-and-mortar stores fold in the face of Internet competition and the remaining retailers make a beeline for shiny and new Epps Bridge Centre. It’s unclear what the sale means for the mall, but as a real estate source told my colleague John Huie recently, as long as traffic is heavy on Atlanta Highway, something will be there. Let’s hope so—a dead mall isn’t going to do the local economy any good.
Complete Streets: Thanks to a Federal Highway Administration grant, Georgia Bikes is hosting a workshop Monday, Sept. 16 for planners, engineers and elected officials to learn how to make Athens’ roads safer for cyclists and pedestrians and to tour local roads that incorporate safety measures, according to Georgia Bikes Executive Director Brent Buice. Visit georgiabikes.org to sign up. Space is limited to 25 people.
New Precincts: Due to the popularity of early voting, the ACC Board of Elections is proposing to consolidate precincts and eliminate some Election Day polling places. A public hearing was held Monday at Gaines Elementary School, and two others are scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, Sept. 16 at Clarke Central High School and Thursday, Sept. 19 at Burney-Harris-Lyons Middle School.
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