Tonight, the Classic Center in Athens hosted University of Georgia Professor Jack Crowley and his team of graduate students for a public forum regarding the future of the Downtown Athens Master Plan. Dr. Crowley and his students have been tasked with building a development plan for Athens from now until 2030, soliciting public input and developing funding proposals that will be presented to the Mayor and the Commission for approval. The plan seeks to improve the entire experience of visiting downtown as well as entice more development and growth in the future. I attended the meeting tonight and wanted to provide you with a recap and information for how to get involved.
Tonight’s meeting covered three basic areas of the master plan: passenger and commuter rail, traffic and street design and a new green space surrounding City Hall. The rail proposal included plans to connect the Northern Downtown Athens area to Southeast border of UGA’s campus with a two-way light rail extending along the current railroad tracks and making stops in campus. This proposal would connect downtown to the Georgia Museum of Art and serve as transportation between Sanford Stadium and parking areas near the University’s Intramural Fields. Traffic and street design primarily focused on a trolley car looping through downtown. Along with the trolley car, Crowley and his team proposed turning side streets like Wall St. (a connector of Broad and Clayton streets) into a pedestrian walk through. This would enable these streets to be more pedestrian friendly and invite the restaurants to use more of this space for outside seating. Walk throughs on the West side of downtown were also proposed as a way to entice smaller shops and businesses that could afford the cheaper rent in those side-street locations. The third area of the master plan included a proposal to add to the green space surrounding city hall in place of the asphalt that area that used to serve as a parking space for city buses.
Russell Oliver put together this fantasic video of Downtown Athens
Dr. Crowley and his team took public comment through voting remotes and laptops where participants registered comments for review. The reaction of the attendees was mostly positive with the most popular ideas being the walk throughs on side streets and the expansion of bike and pedestrian-friendly plans. Citizens were a little more hesitant with the idea for a downtown trolley with one comment asking how much use the trolley would get on its proposed route.
After a discussion of the plan, Dr. Crowley shifted his focus to the proposals for financing the plan. The most prominent recommendation was the use of a Tax Allocation District (TAD). Creating a TAD would create a temporary baseline for properly taxes. Any increased revenue collected due to rising property values would be collected and used to pay for the proposals laid out in the master plan. Crowley estimated that the tax could raise the $20 million needed for most of the proposals over the next 17 years. He has worked with TAD’s in the past in Tulsa, Oklahoma and recommended the plan to the Athens Downtown Development Authority as the primary method of finance.
From here, Crowley and his team will evaluate the votes and commentary from tonight’s meeting to develop a final plan. This plan and the financing options will be presented to the Mayor and the Commission later this summer for approval.
You can get involved in the commentary for a Downtown Master Plan! For comments, email the group at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find the group on Facebook and WordPress. The work of Dr. Crowley and the input of citizens lays the groundwork for the future of development in Athens that aims to preserve our culture and invite new investment into our community. We hope you will get involved!