© 2023 WUGA | University of Georgia
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Commissioners sign off on mall redevelopment

230131 mall renderings.png

After months of meetings and discussions, construction on a major redevelopment of the Georgia Square Mall can finally begin.

Athens-Clarke County commissioners unanimously approved the project at their Tuesday night session. On Monday, members of the Mall Area Redevelopment Committee signed off on the plan. The Clarke County Board of Education followed suit Monday evening in a meeting lasting less than 20 minutes. But while the Board of Education vote saw nearly half the board not present and sharp divisions among those there, the ACC Commission gave the proposal a unanimous green light.

It's not perfect. It's not everything I think we can build from here, but I think it is very, very good.
District 6 Commissioner Jesse Houle

District 6 Commissioner Jesse Houle supported the project, but said the process wasn't perfect.

"It was, I think, a learning process for all of us to get through that and and definitely not without its warts," they said. "I think one of the things we've really learned is that we need to bake in community input sooner and probably in a more robust way, beyond just whatever town halls I can put together myself."

"I don't want the perfect to be the enemy of the good," Houle continued. "And I don't want to spend too much time critiquing where we're at because I'm also really wowed by the extremely long list of benefits we have baked into this."

Prior to the vote, Houle underscored the urgency of Tuesday's vote.

"I think we've really arrived at that point where we've got to act today or or the whole thing probably falls through," they said. "I'm glad that the action today includes a community benefits agreement I feel very proud of, and I hope that this body can stand behind it as well. Again, it's not perfect. It's not everything I think we can build from here, but I think it is very, very good."

District 10 Commissioner Mike Hamby highlighted incentives for women and minority-owned businesses.

"We have a police station out there for which about $188,000 a year," Hamby said. "The small, minority, women business enterprises will be paying the same discounted rate for the next 30 years."

I know the folks that he employed, they look like me.
District 5 Commissioner Dexter Fisher

District 5 Commissioner Dexter Fisher expressed his approval of the construction jobs projected to be created by this process.

"We have never had a project this far that's led locally that's going to be by local dollars, local contractors, and I know the folks that he employed, they look like me," Fisher said. "They're carpenters, they're electricians and they're plumbers, so I think that's important that the community knows this."

Commissioners also heard nearly an hour of public comment from clients and supporters of Freedom From Bondage (FFB), a substance abuse recovery program seeking permission to operate a trio of halfway houses on Highland Park Drive. One supporter of the proposal was Valencia Landry, who told commissioners she had been clean and sober for four years.

"FFB saved my life - literally," she said. "When I arrived at FFB, I was so broken. I was hurt, abused, ashamed, homeless. I was just hopeless."

Chris Church is FFB's Program Director. She said, "people today are dying and what Freedom From Bondage to just trying to do is provide safe, sober housing."

Commissioners unanimously approved the organization's request for a special use permit.

Martin Matheny is WUGA's Program Director and a host and producer of our local news program 'Athens News Matters.' He started at WUGA in 2012 as a part-time classical music host and still hosts WUGA's longest-running local program 'Night Music' which is heard on WUGA and GPB Classical. He lives in Normaltown with his wife, Shaye and dog, Murphy.