Athens-Clarke County officials are planning to move the Confederate memorial on Broad Street downtown as part of a plan to close College Square to traffic and widen the crosswalks leading to the UGA campus.
Mayor Kelly Girtz pledged earlier this month to move the monument and instructed Attorney Judd Drake to find a way around a state law prohibiting the removal or alteration of publicly owned monuments.
Officials found no records indicating that the monument is publicly owned. In addition, according to a memo signed by Manager Blaine Williams, the 1872 monument has become “a lightning rod of friction among citizens” and a “catastrophe” waiting to happen if individuals try to move or destroy it. The state law—passed in 2001 and strengthened in 2019—allows monuments to be moved for their protection or preservation.
But if moved, monuments must be placed at a site of similar prominence. ACC officials chose a site off Timothy Place near the Loop, which has twice the vehicular traffic of Broad Street. It’s also near Barber Creek, the site of a skirmish that was the only action Athens saw during the Civil War.
County officials also made the argument that the monument is a distraction to drivers and impedes the view of pedestrians crossing Broad Street.
As part of the same $450,000 project—funded by a 1% sales tax for transportation—ACC will temporarily close College Square to vehicles in order to create more space for outdoor dining. It’s an idea that’s been discussed locally for decades but has always drawn opposition from merchants due to lost on-street parking. During the coronavirus pandemic, however, traffic is down substantially in cities worldwide, and many of them are closing streets to create outdoor cafes where people can eat while socially distancing.
The commission is scheduled to vote on the plan July 7. It will also need approval from the Georgia Department of Transportation.
If the six-month trial is successful, the closure could be made permanent, Girtz said. Commissioners Melissa Link and Russell Edwards said they’d like to see more downtown blocks closed to create outdoor cafes or parklets.
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