August 17, 2016

Are the Student High-Rises Centers of Excellence?

Pub Notes

All I know about what’s happening in local government I read in Flagpole’s City Dope, penned by our intrepid City Editor, Blake Aued. Blake’s fingers do the walking, and his behind does the sitting in public meetings, so that I can keep up with ACC stuff by just picking or clicking up a Flagpole. Blake is a great resource for our community, especially since, you know, other outlets have sort of cut back on their coverage in recent years. If you follow Blake on social media, you also know that he can be contentiously hilarious on a wide range of subjects not necessarily related to local government.


Photo Credit: Pete McCommons

Blake's office door

Blake has gone ballistic over the announcement of Voxpro’s “Center of Excellence” that will bring 500 jobs to Athens and locate them in what once was the palace housing the Athens Banner-Herald, which now crouches in a corner of the basement first floor. Blake is alternately offended that some people will make more than he does just for talking on the telephone without having to attend public meetings, and others will merely add to the working poor already swelling the ranks of wage-earners here.

Since Blake frees me from keeping up with current happenings in local government, my obsessions are rooted in the past. What strikes me about the Center of Excellence is that it fits loosely into the rubric of high-tech, since some of the operators will be advising tech clients on how to reboot their wire-tapping equipment and such.

Not only is Voxpro high-tech related, it will be located right on the edge of what once was briefly called the Blue Heron district. Yes, that was long ago and far away, and I’m the only one who holds tenaciously to those saddest words of tongue or pen, “…it might have been.”

So, you know, back around 2012, we came to a fork in the road, and we took it. Some forward-thinking people in our economic-development community hatched the idea that the hillside below the multimodal (actually unimodal, but that’s another might-have-been) center would make a great mixed-use, high-tech enclave that would attract Silicon Valley types who would want to work close to UGA and our cool downtown and the restaurants and bars that would spring up along the river for their pleasure. They actually secured options on most of the relevant property.

But there had to be some seed money to fund this vision, and the idea was that our local government could underwrite a $25 million bond issue that would be paid off by the increased property taxes generated by the companies that would flood in to make the river district a nuevo Palo Alto.

Other towns have used their governments to jumpstart their economies with spectacular results (Asheville, Greenville, Denver, Austin, Columbus, Atlanta, etc.), but, gasp, it was too much of a stretch for us, so we defaulted to luxury student high-rises.

You can see here how I’m fixated on the past, but wait a minute: Billy Faulkner said the past ain’t even past. There’s still a little acreage left down that hill. Maybe our local government could screw its courage to the sticking point and underwrite a sort of mini-Blue Heron district that at least might give the kids in the high-rises some spending money to buy the books that Hope no longer furnishes—another Center of Excellence or two.

Nah. Let ’em go to Asheville. We’ll just wait around as usual to see what develops, while our local government continues its laissez-faire approach to managing our future.

On to Another Obsession: That hands-off attitude continues to apply to the dangerous pedestrian crossings along Prince Avenue. Another school year begins, with a whole new crop of kids strolling into the crosswalks in the naive belief that a whole bunch of new drivers will stop for them. Our government now says it’s going to wait a year and a half or so until the new 100 Prince Avenue development pays for some traffic signals. That’s 18 more months to wait for somebody to get mowed down by a driver who didn’t see the tiny blinking lights off to the side or didn’t care or was texting. I swear, I would not want to be a part of our local government, knowing that it can be only a matter of time before somebody is hit and killed in one of those poorly signaled crosswalks while we sit there and do nothing.