Looking Forward

A year-long moratorium has locals wondering: what's next?

T he land a few blocks from where East Broad Street and Oconee Street intersect was home to Armstrong and Dobbs, a local, family owned building supply company that was in business from 1951 to 2008.

Today, that land is slowly being transformed into The Mark, a student focused apartment complex that will bring over 900 bedrooms to the area when it opens in fall of 2017.

For Melissa Tufts, the site is not only a wasted opportunity, but a sign of what has been missing in Athens development over the past few years.

“That's the tragedy of the old Armstrong and Dobbs site,” Tufts said. “The developer did not respect the natural processes...it’s all extremely engineered. How much more interesting and exciting had they respected the lay of the land and done some amazing terracing, with beautiful views to the river, beautiful views to the cool, old chicopee mills and those old buildings down on the river.”

While The Mark site may have been a missed opportunity for some, it will be the only new student apartment complex opening for some time.

In early February 2017, Athens-Clarke county officials approved a moratorium that placed a temporary, one-year halt to the development and construction of most bars and apartment complexes in downtown Athens.

Officially, the moratorium is in place so that Rosser International, an Atlanta engineering and program management firm, can conduct a study on the status of public health and safety in downtown Athens.

However, according to the Red and Black, the moratorium is also meant to slow down the massive amounts of students moving to downtown. Athens-Clarke county officials, concerned that the area has become too student focused, feel that the moratorium can help ease overcrowding and provide a more diverse demographic to the city.

Tufts agrees with the city officials, explaining that while bars in a college town are a good thing, too many can be unhealthy for downtown.

“One of my major concerns about Athens is it's so bar heavy,” Tufts said. “Of course we need good bars, and pubs and small restaurants, I'm a huge fan of that. But, I think, it got tilted too much in the direction of bar, after bar, after bar. It doesn't lend itself to a healthy daytime life.”

The good news for locals is that, according to the Red and Black, the downtown Athens Master Plan includes building new parks, extensions to the Fire Fly Trail and an outdoor amphitheater that could seat over 5,000 people.

However, the venues and expansions are set to be voted on in 2018, leaving residents with downtown’s current state of high-rises and national retailers, which, while welcomed by some, has left others wondering what their home has turned into.

As Naqvi said, “Maybe it makes some people feel a little bit more at home but, as a native Athenian, it kind of makes me feel a little less at home. Where is downtown? It's changed a lot.”