Athens-Clarke County staffers held two public forums last week for downtown business owners to view upcoming plans for a streetscape project that will shut down parts of Clayton Street for a year or more.
The plans are the same as those approved by the ACC Commission in January—with little public input—and call for eliminating the center lane on Clayton, reducing it to two lanes to make room for wider sidewalks. Underground, ACC Transportation and Public Works will be installing a new stormwater drainage system, and private utilities will have a chance to upgrade power, gas and broadband lines.
The real question is when the work will take place. Commissioners (with the exception of Link) approved an accelerated schedule in January that would start work in June and wrap it up by August 2019, but some business owners have expressed concern about work taking place during football season and the holidays, their busiest time of year. Two alternate timelines were presented—one running through January 2020, and a split schedule where work would halt in August 2019, resume in January 2020 and wrap up in September 2020.
Project manager Derek Doster compared the “accelerated schedule” to “ripping a Band-Aid off.” It’s the most disruptive option, but would also finish the soonest. The “continuous schedule” would allow for more flexibility to work with businesses—an advantage shared with the “split schedule,” which along with the accelerated schedule has the benefit of avoiding disruption during next year’s football season. (No matter which option is chosen, work done this fall will be “surgical,” with minimal disruption to business, according to county Public Information Officer Jeff Montgomery.)
So far, the majority of business owners seem to be favoring the split schedule, although some voiced support for the accelerated schedule. “If there’s a trend, I’d say it’s go slow,” Doster said. “That’s what I’ve been hearing anecdotally.”
The $12 million project may be painful, but once it’s finished, Clayton Street will be much improved, with better drainage to eliminate standing water and odors, and better sidewalks with fewer tripping hazards. Street trees will have to be removed, but they are nearing the end of their life anyway and will be replaced with ones better suited to an urban environment, according to county officials. It’s also an opportunity to take another look at trash collection downtown and try to find a solution that doesn’t involve bags left on the sidewalk, such as drop-off stations, Janssen said.
While people can be resistant to change, Doster said he has been telling those with concerns, “Let me get Athens ready for the next 100 years. Let me get it ready for your grandchildren.”
Odds and Ends
Doc Eldridge has resigned after 12 years at the helm of the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce to take a position with Twin Lakes Recovery Center. He has been open about his past struggles with alcohol in recent years. Eldridge, who also served as mayor from 1999–2002, righted the ship after a period when the chamber became a partisan Republican organization that feuded with local elected officials and hemorrhaged members. Retired Georgia Power executive Lenn Chandler will serve as interim president while the chamber conducts a national search for Eldridge’s replacement.
As Flagpole’s deadline approached, the Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation announced that longtime executive director Amy Kissane is also stepping down. In her 16 years, Kissane has been a key player in many preservation projects, including the downtown, Milledge Avenue and Buena Vista historic districts, Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery, the Ware-Lyndon House, Southern Mill, Oconee Street School, the Mack-Burney House, the Magnolia Street American Legion, the Hands on Athens home-repair program and many more.
District 1 commission candidate Patrick Davenport, who’s running against incumbent Sharyn Dickerson, will hold a campaign kickoff event Sunday, Mar. 11 from 3–5 p.m. at the Winterville Depot.