While most folks have expressed gratitude toward former owner Wilmot Greene for all the hard work he put into restoring the iconic music venue and have congratulated him on taking a well deserved break from what must be a physically and mentally taxing job, there's been a bit of grumbling about Greene "cashing out" when he sold the theater to a real estate investment group last week, particularly as it relates to the $316,000 raised through the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation from the Athens community and music fans worldwide in the wake of the 2009 fire.
So, I asked Georgia Trust Executive Director Mark McDonald whether he would claw back any of the donations. "The donations made were for the theater restoration, and we paid the funds to the contractors who did work on the building," McDonald said. "We are pleased that this work has been accomplished, and we wish the new owners success in their stewardship of the rehabilitated theater."
Greene and partner Randy Smith bought the Georgia Theater for $900,000 in 2004. Greene says he put more than $5 million into restoring and improving the venue, and the property was worth $2.6 million last year, according to tax records. Records of the real estate transaction haven't been filed at the courthouse yet.
Downtown Development: I'm not an architecture critic, but I play one in the newspaper. While several planning commissioners criticized this Dougherty Street development as gaudy, one thing I like about it is that it looks a lot like the nearby Hotel Indigo. Granted, that's not exactly the most beloved building in Athens from a design standpoint, but at least it's not more brick-and-tan.
Anyway, now's a good time to reiterate that it's been almost three years since people started raising hell about the Selig development and calling for a review of downtown zoning and design guidelines. We have thousands of new bedrooms downtown and more than 1,000 on the way. Yet the only thing the ACC Mayor and Commission have done in response is to request an infrastructure study (which led to nothing) and a multifamily housing study. The trend of student housing downtown has its advantages—less sprawl, more residents to support businesses—but we need diversity. By the time the Mayor and Commission act, downtown might be nothing but one big dorm.
College Avenue Freeze-Out: While I was off in Newborn Land, Pete caused a stir by quoting an unnamed commissioner as saying they plan to "freeze out" Commissioner-Elect Melissa Link due to her confrontational style. At their Tuesday, Aug. 5 meeting, Fenwick Broyard urged them to "reach out to her and build bridges instead of fences."
Kathy Hoard was the only commissioner to respond. "I do want to welcome you. I will not be here next year, but I have worked with Ms. Link on a number of projects in the past and found it to be very positive," she said, specifically citing their work on historic districts. Although this is probably too much to ask, hopefully the other nine (including Link) will act like grownups, too, when she takes office in January.
Down in the Flood: ACC Manager Alan Reddish sometimes jokes that there's no such group as "Friends of Infrastructure." Unlike, say, a historic music venue or a park, very few people, if any, are willing to voluntarily part with any dollars for mundane things like paving roads or water lines. That's why taxes exist. Yet we received a dramatic reminder last week of why infrastructure is so important.
An approximately 90-year-old water main burst on College Square, flooding several businesses' basements and sending water cascading down the street and the sidewalk. Whether it was divine retribution for (fill in the blank), I don't know, but it did shut down the block for the better part of a week.
The ACC Public Utilities Department bypassed the broken main and tied those businesses into a 16-inch line that had been laid down about eight years ago. The department had planned to do that work as part of a SPLOST-funded Clayton Street project that will pick up again early next year; nature had other ideas. Water lines might not be sexy, but they're important.
Crosstown Traffic: Clarke County public schools started back Monday, Aug. 11 (in case you couldn't tell) which means school-zone speed limits are once again in force. And should you be caught behind a school bus, remember that it's illegal to pass one—in either direction—while it’s dropping off or picking up kids. Buses are now equipped with cameras that will catch you in the act if you do.
Speaking of cameras, the one at the intersection of Gaines School and Barnett Shoals roads is now catching drivers who run the red light. Police are giving out warnings until Friday, Aug. 15, but after that, the fine is $70. Don't say you weren't warned.