Known for legendary music artists, great food and an eclectic college town, Athens, Georgia, is quickly becoming famous for something else…for their sustainable economic growth and one of the healthiest economies in Georgia. Athens is growing due to a number of companies expanding in the area. From manufacturing plants to hospitals, retail centers and schools, nearly every major market segment is experiencing growth. Plus, the unemployment rate, at 7.1%, is the lowest for any metro area in Georgia.
Here’s a quick look at what’s happening around town and is contributing to the sustainable economic growth.
Manufacturing Economic Growth
Within the next five years, a new $200 million, 1.2 million square foot, 285 acre Caterpillar plant will provide 1,400 jobs to the Athens community. The fabrication and assembly plant, at the intersection of U.S. Highway 78 and Georgia Highway 316 in Bogart, will be the company’s global source for small track based bulldozers and mini hydraulic excavators. Along with Caterpillar itself, the win brings the expectation that 25-30 suppliers will purchase the adjacent 600 acres and set up shop, creating 2,800 additional jobs in the area.
The Athens Classic Center is undergoing a $24 million expansion that will nearly double the size of the main exhibit hall from 30,000 square feet to 50,000 square feet, and enclose a courtyard turning it into a glass atrium. This expansion will allow the Classic Center to accommodate conferences and trade shows with more than 5,000 attendees.
Health Care Expansion
A newly purchased 24-acre parcel along GA State Route 44 is the intended site for the new St. Mary’s Good Samaritan Hospital. The $40 million, 25-bed facility will serve the Greene County and Lake Oconee area community. The facility will be twice as large as the current hospital and will provide ample space and infrastructure for 24/7 emergency care, advanced imaging services and enhanced medical services in cooperation with area physicians.
More in the healthcare space, Athens Orthopedic Clinic, a full service practice providing orthopedic urgent care, surgery and physical therapy will also expand its service offerings with a 15,000 square foot addition to include
occupational therapy and an orthotics center. The Northeast Georgia Cancer Care Center is a $75 million, 200,000 square foot multi-level 11 acre development currently under construction. Norcross based health care company, United Health Services-Pruitt Corporation, is relocating its Heritage Healthcare of Athens nursing home from its current location on Alps Road, to a new location on Kathwood Drive. The new development calls for a “senior living complex” that will include a new facility for the Heritage Healthcare nursing home, an assisted-living center and independent housing.
Housing Economic Growth
Numerous housing developments, in which some reflect MEP services from Jordan & Skala Engineers and encompass private and public endeavors, are some of the contributors to the sustainable economic growth in the Athens area.
- The 225,000 square-foot ‘The Flats at Easley Mill’ student apartment building is coming to the Carr’s Hill neighborhood just south of downtown Athens. “Developer Vestcore’s plans are near approval,” says Athens-Clarke senior planner Bruce Lonnee. The five-story building will include 12 one-bedroom, 74 two-bedroom and 52 three-bedroom apartments, for a total of 316 beds. It will also include approximately 6,000 square feet of commercial space on the ground floor and 291 underground parking spaces.
- Athens-based Landmark Properties submitted plans in early April for a $40 million, 500,000 square foot student apartment complex on 3.2 acres at the corner of Thomas Street and North Avenue. The proposed development will include two six-story buildings and a 636-space parking deck. The ground floor includes 26,000 square feet of commercial space; the five floors above include 189 apartments with 612 total bedrooms. Groundbreaking for the project will take place late summer or early fall and leasing will begin in late 2013.
- Athens Housing Authority is planning to redevelop The Jack R. Wells Neighborhood, more commonly known as Pauldoe, starting this year. The Housing Authority is working with Columbia Residential, a private developer, to replace 120 units with 350 to 375 upscale mixed income units on the 40-acre property. The $40 – $50 million development will be comprised of 33% standard public housing, 33% “tax credit” housing with rents capped at 30 percent to 60 percent of the median income, and the remainder of the inventory at “market rate.”
Long known for her food, Athens’ culinary experience continues to expand with a number of new establishments:
- Local Athens legend Chef Hugh Acheson is moving his famed Five and Ten Restaurant to the Hawthorne House in the Milledge Avenue Historic District late this year.
- Chris Lloyd, the owner of Hilltop Grille, is seeking re-zoning a for a new oyster bar restaurant, Marker 7 Coastal Grill.
- Chipotle Mexican Grill, Flying Biscuit, Athens Bagel Company, Mama Goldberg’s Deli, Longhorn Steakhouse and
- Steak ‘n Shake are also expanding within the Athens area.
Grocery retail and consumer retail is also on the rise to the sustainable economic growth in the Athens area:
- A new Publix for the Westside Prince Avenue corridor is in the planning stages.
- Kroger on Alps Road is currently undergoing an expansion.
- Target on Atlanta Highway is expanding into a Superstore that will offer a full grocery store.
- Although not publically announced, The Fresh Market has filed plans to renovate a vacant space on Alps Road.
- A new Wal-Mart shopping facility has been proposed for the eastern end of downtown Athens. The retail giant is considering moving into the 94,000 square-foot anchor space in a proposed mixed-use development on Oconee Street.
- Family Dollar is another low-price national retail chain coming to Athens; plans call for a new store on Baxter Street near the UGA dorms.
- A new development in West Athens, behind Lowe’s and McDonalds, is in the works. The development may include names such as PF Chang’s, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and a movie theatre. Rumor has it, the groundbreaking will take place this spring, however, no plans have yet to be filed with the city.
- New QT at the corner of Epps Bridge and Atlanta Highway where the old Athens Chevrolet dealership was located – now torn down and demolished.
- Striplings General Store coming to Oconee County on the corner of Hwy 78 and Hwy 53. Stripling’s General Store, with two stores near Cordele along Lake Blackshear, specializes in meats, which it makes at processing facility in Moultrie, and speciality items like jellies and barbecue sauces. The stores also sell gasoline, according to Lisa Hardin, who owns the business with her husband, Ricky
Higher Education Economic Growth
To support the new Caterpillar plants’ need for skilled labor plans are underway for a new training facility at Athens Technical College.
An ever present influence in Athens, the University of Georgia also has plans to expand its campus as a part of the sustainable economic growth:
- As of May 2011, the University of Georgia’s Law school began its efforts in completing their $6.5 million Building the Future campaign, which will allow the school to renovate and expand its historic buildings; the plan incorporates the Classic Modern aesthetic that can be found in the 1967 Hirsch Hall expansion.
- Terry College of Business will now have four new buildings to call home in with construction looking to start on the first building between Baxter, Hull and South Lumpkin streets. That specific location will house MBA program offices, classrooms, student study rooms and space for special events.
- In fall 2012, the renovations on Rutherford hall will complete and the building will house 261 students. The 72-year-old residence hall on the University’s South Campus will incorporate pieces from its original building while emulating elements of the residence halls on East Campus.
- Bolton Hall, the largest dining facility on campus, is also on the radar for changes. University officials have tentative plans to replace the dining hall with a pedestrian bridge over Lumpkin Street at the foot of Baxter Hill. Plans to erect a new dining hall on Lumpkin Street are in the conceptual stages.
On the civil side, approximately three miles along U.S. 441 from Georgia Highway 24 to Timothy Road will be resurfaced. Also along 441, if voters approve a new 1% transportation sales tax during the July referendum, state
officials plan to widen U.S. 441 from two lanes to four lanes between Madison and Eatonton. With the bustle of new development, the “Classic City” is the envy of many communities throughout Georgia and the Southeast.