NewsPub Notes

Pub Notes

Closing off the last block of Hancock Avenue seems a small consideration measured against the need to keep the Classic Center growing and expanding to serve larger conventions. That block is sort of an afterthought to the rest of Hancock, because it only drops down the hill to intersect at Foundry Street, and there’s been nothing on it since Wilfong’s fragrant old fish market was torn down, along with the storied Rock Fish Palace that morphed into Boneshakers, and Crawford Coal and Mattress around the corner, not to mention Sparky’s Seafood Café and the flea market and The Mad Hatter in the old Lyons Textile building torn down for the Classic Center itself.

The Classic Center Authority has been holding that land vacant for a while, waiting for SPLOST to get around to providing the money for expansion. Now, those funds are in the hopper, so it’s time for the Classic Center to expand.

If the plan were to close off Hancock, say, down at Pulaski, that would raise a big stink, because that’s a main route going west out of downtown. People wouldn’t like to have to detour over to Broad St., even though Broad is a wider, faster street.

But East Hancock only goes to Foundry, so what difference does it make to shorten it by a block? Especially what difference does it make when weighed against the fact that the Classic Center insists that they’ve got to expand their exhibit space in order to bring in the big conventions and the big bucks and the big spenders into downtown restaurants and the bars, (though of course not the Methodists).

One reason is traffic flow. Hancock is not the high-volume route it is on the other side of town, but if you’re coming into downtown from the east—say like all the police cars and sheriff’s cars and vans, not to mention people who work downtown—the dogleg down Foundry St. to Hancock is a vital shortcut. Shut that valve, and the East Broad/Oconee/Thomas intersection will start looking a lot more like Atlanta.

But a street is not just a street. As Athens Rising columnist Kevan Williams points out, a street is also a place, and our streets are the only public places we have downtown. Tie them off and the body politic withers. Take a look at the old downtown map in Kevan’s column this week. Look how much connectivity we used to have: Strong, Dougherty, Hancock, Washington (Market) and Clayton streets went straight through downtown to Foundry Street, then a thriving railroad and residential area. Now, only Hancock remains. Sever Hancock, and Foundry withers and becomes the Classic Center’s back alley.

Hancock is our last chance for a viable place on that end of downtown, where people want to go to eat, to shop, to hang out. That’s really the point here. Close Hancock, and we strangle the last bit of life out of downtown’s eastern edge instead of beginning to resuscitate it. Hancock is the last tendon holding Foundry to downtown. Cut it, and Athens ends at a concrete mausoleum that entombs the bright city life that could have danced down to Foundry and set up lively shops and cafés overlooking the River District.

Crazy, you say? Remember how, a short time ago, the Gameday developers were going to tear down the Adcock building on Hot Corner at Hull Street and Washington? Do you remember how close they came, when only Vince Dooley could stop them, because the Athletic Department was involved in the deal? Think about the Washington Street area without all the restaurants, bars and shops now in the Adcock building. Take a look at the Gameday building and imagine that fortress where Hot Corner used to be, the Morton orphaned between the new parking garage and the Gameday monolith, lower Washington cut off at Lumpkin. Farm 255, if it even existed now, would be jammed up against Gameday: same with Clocked. There would be no easy flow from Trappeze down to the 40 Watt: there would only be a two-block trek through a concrete canyon.

The Classic Center’s extended barricade will close off forever any chance of life at the other end of downtown. That’s why it is so important right now for everybody to stop and try to find a way to grow the Classic Center without stunting the town. For downtown Athens at its eastern extremity, tying off this last artery is a matter of life and death.