As the ever-expanding Classic Center continues to eat up the eastern edge of downtown like that ectoplasmic blob in Ghostbusters II, a connected Hyatt Place hotel that’s been in the works for the better part of a decade might finally be about to cover up that butt-ugly blank wall facing Hancock Avenue.
Developers had signed a memorandum of understanding with county economic development officials in 2008 for $4.4 million in tax breaks, but a reduced proposal for $2.8 million in tax breaks was voted down in 2014 after competing hotels and other community members opposed it. The loss of tax breaks caused financing for the hotel to fall through, said Athens resident Robert Small, the front man for the hotel’s development group. Now, he plans to build the Hyatt regardless.
“Today I can tell you we are going to build a hotel,” Small told the Athens-Clarke County Mayor and Commission at a work session last week. “What we’d like to ask for is your assistance to step up the quality of it, make it something the community can be proud of.”
Classic Center Executive Director Paul Cramer has long sought an attached hotel. More than a decade ago, he asked ACC to let him build a government-run hotel between the convention center and the News Building next door. Realizing the top of a parking deck wasn’t really an ideal location, ACC officials refused, and in the end, a local hotel group built the Hilton Garden Inn across the street.
As part of the Classic Center expansion, Small and Cramer engineered a land swap in 2011 that gave the hotel more frontage on Thomas while allowing the Classic Center to hide its loading dock behind the hotel. But the Hyatt project languished.
Since the expansion, room-nights from local conventions nearly doubled to 59,000 last year, and now larger conventions are leaving or threatening to leave unless another hotel is built that’s adjacent or connected to the Classic Center, Cramer said. In addition, if the Hyatt is built, he said his staff can go after new corporate conventions that specifically look for attached or adjacent “headquarter” hotels, potentially drawing 6,000 more room-nights and creating $1.6 million in annual revenue for local businesses.
Last week, Small formally asked commissioners to create a tax allocation district on the hotel property (which now includes Square One Fish Co., allowing for more frontage on Thomas Street). Under a TAD, new property taxes collected as a result of the development—up to $1.8 million over four years—would have been plowed back into infrastructure for the project. That would have included more parking, a streamlined design and connection to the Classic Center, a wider sidewalk and improved public space along Thomas, more parking and reconfigured traffic signals.
“We really feel like this will enhance the design greatly compared to where we were in 2012,” when plans for the hotel were initially approved, Small said.
But is that enough to fork over $1.8 million? Commissioners were set to decide Dec. 1, after a Nov. 3 public hearing. But just before Flagpole’s deadline, reports came in from several sources that the developers had withdrawn their TAD request. Apparently the timeline for creating a TAD conflicted with their timeline for construction, so the project will move forward without one.
They may have been concerned about the legality of a TAD, as well. They’re intended to spur redevelopment in blighted areas. “Blighted” isn’t really the word that comes to mind when I think of the Classic Center.
A TAD is still worth talking about, but let’s talk about it in terms of drawing the type of development we want to the topographically challenged area east of the Classic Center—where it’s really needed.
Facade Facelift: The owner and tenants of the Clayton Street building that houses Wuxtry Records and Native America have received a $10,000 facade grant from the Athens Downtown Development Authority to paint the building and replace windows.
To-Do List: Commissioners are in the midst of setting their legislative priorities for the upcoming General Assembly session, but they don’t think the local delegation is listening.
Among the issues at least some commissioners want the legislature to take up next January include revisiting redistricting, allowing police to use radar to enforce speed limits on residential streets, repealing a requirement that taxis have meters, moving local elections back to November, requiring tags for scooters, re-instituting the 25-foot buffer around wetlands, accepting federal funding for Medicaid, increasing transportation funding and giving local government tools to encourage affordable housing. Many of these may sound familiar—because year after year, legislators won’t do them.
“In my time here, the delegation hasn’t adopted a single one of our recommendations,” Commissioner Jared Bailey said at a work session. “I think that’s sad, but we can’t stop trying.”
You Won’t Believe This, But: A UGA student who was accused of rape has actually been charged with rape. Imagine that.
Bamidele Olasehinde Oluwadare is charged with forcibly raping a fellow student at East Campus Village on Sept. 20. He’s out on $25,000 bond but has been barred from Clarke County while the case is pending, except to go to court, according to the Athens Banner-Herald.
When Flagpole last pulled the numbers in April, 112 sexual assaults had been reported to campus police since the start of 2014. None of those reports resulted in an arrest, and only three students were disciplined by the university.
Climate Change: The somewhat unwieldily named Athens Uniting for Moral Climate Mobilization—which held a packed initial meeting last month and a rally at City Hall last week—is hosting a “Solarize ACC” town hall meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 27 at Covenant Presbyterian Church. See organizer Tom Thrasher’s letter to the editor for more information.
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