With $2.7 million in local SPLOST and federal funding becoming available for new bus stops, Athens-Clarke County commissioners are debating whether to spend part of that money on new artist-created shelters like those installed on West Broad and Baxter streets in 2009.
The commission’s Government Operations Committee has recommended building 15–45 new “artsy” shelters, some designed and built by artists and others prefabricated shelters that artists would decorate. “We are looking at them to help improve the aesthetics on some of our commercial corridors,” said Commissioner Andy Herod, the GOC’s chairman, at last week’s agenda-setting meeting.
The recommendation also calls for upgrading 41 stops with seating for two people at a cost of $3,000–$8,000 each and another 61 busier stops with covered shelters at a cost of $25,000 each. The artist-designed or decorated shelters would cost $32,500–$38,000. Commissioner Jerry NeSmith said he’d like to use that money to install eight additional ordinary shelters instead, especially on Atlanta Highway.
“People like the art bus shelters, but the people who are catching the buses want a shelter,” NeSmith said. “I don’t think people catching the bus care whether the shelter is art or not… I want to see a plan to get bus shelters at every location.”
Commissioner Mike Hamby chided NeSmith for not attending the GOC meetings. “What you would have heard was the main corridors will take the top priority for these shelters,” he said. Priority would be given to Lexington Road between the Loop and Whit Davis, Atlanta Highway between Epps Bridge and the mall, and Prince Avenue inside the Loop. The decorative stops not only make those corridors more attractive, but will help generate interest in Athens Transit, Hamby said.
Previous artist-designed bus shelters were subsidized by donations to the Athens Area Arts Council, and that’s a possibility with this round as well, county officials said.
Commissioner Melissa Link said the projects will help less-established artists get a foothold in the world of public art. Later, she announced that she intends to vote against another agenda item: construction plans for a new fire station and cooperative extension office off Atlanta Highway.
Bids came in more than $2 million over budget, but that’s not why. Link said she continues to object to the location. “The majority of users of this [extension] office tend to live on the Eastside,” she said.
The extension service has outgrown its West Broad Street office and successfully lobbied for SPLOST funds in 2010. Commissioners considered UGA property off South Milledge Avenue, but UGA objected. Eastside sites were also considered, but commissioners decided to save money by building the extension office on a site they bought for a new Atlanta Highway fire station.
Commissioner Kelly Girtz asked what the county might get for selling the West Broad building, and whether there are opportunities to save on operating costs that might help close the budget gap.
Meanwhile, commissioners look set to abandon a block of Strong Street to pave the way for a Hotel Indigo expansion, tech incubator and county economic development offices. Another major development—an amphitheater and mixed-use complex at the old Westclox/General Time plant off Newton Bridge Road—is headed to the ACC Planning Commission May 3
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