City DopeNews

New Plans Submitted for Mall Redevelopment, Apartments Near Downtown

A rendering of the proposed Finley & Pope development, as seen from Reese Street. Credit: BNA Architects

A new and improved plan to redevelop Georgia Square Mall, as well as two more apartment developments near downtown, will go before the Athens-Clarke County Planning Commission this week.

The plan to demolish most of the dying mall and replace it with a new town center-style mixed-use development addresses some criticisms of the previous plan by adding more greenspace, trees and bike/pedestrian infrastructure. It also includes a transit center on Atlanta Highway, where county officials eventually plan to add routes and provide more frequent service. About 1,000 trees would be planted, providing a 40% shade coverage, whereas the 74-acre property is currently covered almost entirely by asphalt. Paved surfaces would be reduced by 19 acres, according to the developers.

Landscape architect Scott Haines of Athens firm W&A Engineering described the new development as a regional destination during a town-hall meeting at the mall last month that was attended by more than 100 people. Traditional malls are dying because people increasingly do their shopping online, he said.

“You have to be more than stores,” Haines said. “You have to be a place where people want to go, have an experience, spend time with their families, have other amenities.”

If approved, the project will be built in phases. Current tenants would be relocated to the central part of the mall around the atrium, which would be retained, along with Belk, the last remaining anchor store after Sears, Macy’s and JCPenney all closed. The two wings would be demolished, as would the long-vacant former movie theater. A linear park would run down the center of the property, with office, retail and apartment buildings toward the front and townhouses in the back, surrounded by a two-lane ring road with a multi-use path. 

All in all, the new development would include almost 1,200 housing units with a total of over 2,000 bedrooms, along with nearly 300,000 square feet of commercial space and 80,000 square feet of office space. For comparison, the existing 42-year-old mall is about 500,000 square feet. Ninety-nine of the apartments (10%) will be set aside as affordable and leased at below-market rates, in exchange for a 15% density bonus under the county’s inclusionary zoning law. A new building where the theater is now would be housing specifically for seniors 55 and up.

Many questions at the town hall meeting, organized by Commissioner Jesse Houle, related to keeping people out of a private lake in a neighborhood behind the mall. It will be protected by a stormwater drainage pond, and possibly a fence or a wall if necessary, said Jon Williams, president of W&A Engineering.

Another development, dubbed Finley & Pope, is proposed for four parcels on West Broad Street between, as the name would suggest, Finley and Pope streets. Aimed at graduate students, faculty members and young professionals, according to its ACC Planning Department application, it would include 235 mostly two-bedroom apartments, and ground-floor space for restaurants and boutiques. In addition, the developer has offered to expand and improve Reese and Pope Park—which would remain public but be privately maintained—at no cost to taxpayers, adding a memorial to the original State Botanical Garden that once graced the site, walking paths, a pavilion, public restrooms and space for a stage or food trucks.

A third proposal seeks to demolish and rebuild River Mill, a 1970s student housing complex in Carr’s Hill just east of campus and north of Oconee Hill Cemetery. All three requests are scheduled to go before the planning commission on Thursday, Dec. 8, then on to the Mayor and Commission at a later date.