Photo Credit: Joshua L. Jones/file
The Athens Cowboy Choir performs at AthFest 2016.
Before she leaves for a new job in Glynn County at the end of the year, the Athens Downtown Development Authority board instructed Executive Director Pamela Thompson to prepare a list of downtown projects that could be funded with T-SPLOST, a 1 percent local sales tax that will be on the ballot November 2017.
While some of the transportation projects listed in Athens’ downtown master plan fall outside of ADDA boundaries, potential candidates for funding include an “art walk” along Jackson Street to the Lyndon House Arts Center and a roundabout at the tough-to-navigate North Avenue-Dougherty Street-Thomas Street intersection. T-SPLOST or the next round of SPLOST (another 1 percent sales tax that’s not limited to transportation) coming up in 2018 could pay to finish Clayton Street sidewalk, water and sewer improvements, then move on to Washington Street.
During her last meeting as executive director Dec. 13, Thompson also asked the board to drastically boost funding for special events downtown, such as AthFest and the Twilight Criterium. Currently, the ADDA receives $60,000 from a tax on hotel and motel rooms earmarked for tourism and economic development to help such events make ends meet. Thompson wants to increase that pot of money to $100,000—it’s been the same for 20 years—and create a new $100,000 fund to reimburse the ACC government for expenses like security and cleanup.
“We still have to have events downtown, but some of them are becoming cost-prohibitive because of the staffing required to keep them safe and clean,” Thompson said, and it will only get harder if the commission approves a proposal to require events to buy larger insurance policies, which could add $2,000–$5,000 in costs.
“The reality is AthFest made $2,000 last year,” she said. (Profits from the free music festival go toward grants for music and arts education.) “If their event costs go up, we won’t have an AthFest next year. We just won’t.”
Although Mayor Nancy Denson, who sits on the board, expressed some misgivings about the source of the funding, board members voted to ask the Mayor and Commission to increase the ADDA’s special-event budget.