After 15 years, Scott Towe’s view from his store, The Red Zone, on Clayton Street is getting a facelift.
Funded by the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (TSPLOST), Clayton Street will be seeing some much-needed stormwater and streetscape improvements within the next two years, if everything stays on schedule.
Downtown business owners, like Towe, are excited for the construction.
“I am very confident that it will be great for business,” Towe said. “We have seen a few examples of renewal. Greenville, South Carolina comes to mind immediately. It is exciting to think about the potential for downtown Athens.”
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate in Clarke County has dropped 6.8 percentage points since its peak in June of 2011, and the business sector is feeling the effects of that growth. In Clarke County, there are 2,800 more individuals employed in the business sector than 7 years ago.
“I think cities around the world have learned that when you neglect your infrastructure, businesses will suffer,” David Lynn, planning director of the Athens Downtown Development Authority, said. “Clayton is practically a 200 year old street, and a casual observer will notice that it’s in bad shape. That has to be improved if we want to have the downtown that we want.”
Unfortunately, the construction timeline has been pushed. In January of 2019, ACC announced in a press release that stormwater installation would be delayed “several months” because of more than 60 utility conflicts.
“I was hopeful that it would have all been completed by now, but I understand how these things work,” Towe said. “We just try to stay positive and trust the city brass to make the right decisions.”
Lynn said the delay is unfortunate. “We were hoping the county could keep to its schedule as to avoid the football home schedule and holiday shopping period, and this kind of delay could shorten the building season and lengthen the construction time.”
Lynn said this will be “an anxious period for downtown businesses,” but he and other business owners are excited for the construction to create economic and employment growth.