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New Downtown Hotel

The Athens-Clarke Planning Commission OK’d a new Hyatt Place hotel next to the Classic Center Thursday night after developers added more brick to the design.

The amount of stucco—about half the facade—was the main sticking point at a planning commission meeting two weeks ago, with one member, Jeff Scarbrough, comparing the hotel to one you’d see off an interstate. Architect John Wyle cut the stucco down to less than 30 percent, replacing it with brick. “I want to go on record saying we’ve left Exit 52 far behind,” Scarbrough said Thursday.

Wyle said he wanted the hotel to fit in next to the Classic Center and create a pedestrian-friendly atmosphere with an “iconic” stone arch and a sidewalk cafe. “We wanted to relate to the architecture of the Classic Center, but we didn’t want to seem like the same building,” he said. The eight-story building includes parking underground, a first-floor restaurant and condos on the top floor.

The planning commission had final authority over the design because developers sought “alternative compliance” with downtown design guidelines that prohibit a building from being made of more than 25 percent stucco.

The hotel will open in conjunction with a $24 million Classic Center expansion that will nearly double the maximum size of conventions and trade shows. The tourism and hospitality industry is looking up—visitors spent $235 million in Athens last year, and hotel occupancy rates rose 8 percent over 2010, Chuck Jones, director of the Athens Convention and Visitors Bureau, said at an awards breakfast Thursday.