Big Box Retailer Headed to Downtown Athens

The box may be filled with Wal Mart.

You think everything is going okay.

You’ve got Charlie Mustard roasting coffee in the same East Broad Street building where he’s been for almost 11 years. You’ve got people all over town drinking your coffee. The holidays are coming, and people will be giving cans of coffee for gifts.

And then you wake up on Thursday and find out that someone has applied for a permit to demolish the roaster building, because someone else wants to build a Wal Mart on the property that backs up to it.

If you’re Bob Googe, who owns Jittery Joe’s and with business partner Michael Ripps, you are not very happy today. Not at all.

“If you want concrete and glass and 1,100 parking places here, and all the cars, you’re going in the right direction with a Wal Mart,” Googe says. “The county’s lack of planning has ceded authority to a multi-national corporation that will likely abandon this building in another ten years.”

According to  Athens Clarke County Commissioner Alice Kinman, there’s not a lot that can be done about the proposal on the 10 acres of land between East Broad and Oconee streets, because it’s a private sale of property to a private developer. The developer would just have to comply with county design guidelines. 

Like other commissioners and county officials, she saw last week plans that Atlanta-based Selig Enterprises “had obviously been working on for a long time” for the former Armstrong and Dobbs property on Oconee Street. According to a story in the Athens Banner Herald, the company has the land under contract but hasn't yet finalized the sale.

Amy Kissane, executive director of the n, said that the National Register designation for some of the warehouses in the area offers no protection against demolition. The local downtown district designation, which does offer protection, doesn't extend to the property in question.

"The commission could move to locally designate the property," Kissane said. "But I don't know if that's appropriate or not." 

The plans Kinman saw showed a market place development, with retail below and residential above; with three buildings of different height; with an entry plaza; with a road running through the middle of things; and a big box store with its back to the Oconee River.

“I really like the market center idea,” Kinman said. “I would like something else in the box because I’m not a fan of Wal Mart and I don’t shop there. But I wouldn’t dig my heels in to oppose it if the box is Wal Mart.”

The one thing she didn’t see, which concerned those at the presentation, was a traffic study. How are all the cars that would be attracted to a Wal Mart going to get in and out of there?

The Georgia Department of Transportation has no plans for widening Oconee Street, which is already packed with cars several times during the day, she said. East Broad and Willow streets are each two lane roads.

“My biggest concern about the development is how it interacts with the surrounding streets,” Kinman says. “That may be the deal breaker for them.”

Rebecca McCarthy November 17, 2011 at 09:46 PM
Dear b, what facts would you like to see? I think if I had to find the money to move my coffee roaster, I would be pretty emotional. Sorry you are disappointed.
Becky November 18, 2011 at 12:22 AM
There is a picture of the design posted now and it looks pretty nice. Certainly better than the A&D property now. I'm very much against Wal-Mart as an anchor (and in general), but overall it looks nice to me. I'm sorry JJ has to move, I do love their space. Perhaps they'll find an even better one.
Linda Labbo November 18, 2011 at 12:44 AM
Downtown has always seemed like a little oasis for local businesses to provide a bit of personal charm and character to our city. We have had plenty of room for the growth of mega drug stores and Big Box Stores in different locations "around" town. I personally would miss the unique "downtown" character of our fair city if more and more BIg Box stores muscle in. On a related memory, I can recall when our town had plenty of mom and pop book stores, and then the mega-book stores stormed in and put many of them out of business. Is that the path of progress to which we aspire?
Rachel Watkins November 18, 2011 at 01:00 AM
Becky November 18, 2011 at 01:05 AM
But the development won't replace most existing stores (anything besides Jittery Joe's?) and they've planned for parking. It is mostly smaller stores with an anchor in back - I can't imagine walmart in that type of development. A different anchor might be ok - one that doesn't compete with niche businesses downtown. It might actually bring more shoppers downtown and benefit the existing businesses. WalMart will not bring downtown shoppers. I'm having a hard time being against it, though I feel like somehow I should. I desperately miss the bookstores (especially Old Black Dog), but Avid is here now and they have reinvented the brick and mortar bookshop. I think it is hard to compete with internet book retailers now.


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