Two long-planned downtown projects funded by sales tax have yet to be completed: infrastructure improvements along Clayton Street (replacing hundred-year-old underground pipes) and widening sidewalks on three sides of City Hall to add benches and event spaces similar to College Square.
$6 million is budgeted, but the lowest construction bid was more than $12 million, SPLOST administrator Derek Doster told commissioners on the Downtown Master Plan implementation committee last week. Given that, and the possibility of more money for downtown improvements if voters approve a T-SPLOST (transportation sales tax) referendum next year, commissioners decided to take a broader look at downtown projects, taking into account both the master plan and the results of a pending study on pedestrian safety. “That T-SPLOST is going to help us get some of these top priority things done,” said committee chairman Mike Hamby.
ACC’s own Transportation and Public Works Department might take on some of the Clayton Street digging—a project made more complex by trying to keep street and sidewalk closures to a minimum—and while SPLOST projects normally must be built as approved, they can be modified if conditions require it. Several commissioners saw the postponed projects as an opportunity. “This could be a good, transformative thing for downtown,” Hamby said. Perhaps streetscape improvements could extend beyond the City Hall block, Commissioner Kelly Girtz suggested.
Before making any decisions (and if the full commission agrees), the SPLOST office will study different traffic patterns (like making Clayton and Washington two-way streets again), removing a center lane from Clayton and delivery alternatives—all in light of the Downtown Master Plan and results of the pedestrian safety study. Doing the new study will require hiring a consultant.
Clayton is “awful,” said Commissioner Allison Wright, with puddles that don’t drain after a rain. “Even in daylight, people are bobbing and weaving” around sidewalk obstacles. But on Clayton, Doster said, “there’s a lot of places that just do not have storm drain systems at all,” and that’s part of the work that needs to be done. A UGA graduate-level class has looked at possibilities for College Avenue, Commissioner Melissa Link said, and Link told Flagpole she’d like to see the City Hall block of College closed permanently to traffic to “make a proper town square out of it.”
The master plan was noncommittally “accepted” by ACC commissioners in 2014 and makes numerous specific suggestions for downtown improvements, from expanding parks and wider sidewalks to building an amphitheater. But “that’s where we’re sort of stuck, is how we’re going to pay for some of this stuff,” Hamby said.
Like what you just read? Support Flagpole by making a donation today. Every dollar you give helps fund our ongoing mission to provide Athens with quality, independent journalism.