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Journalistic Works

Students wait for the Classic Center Authority board to concede their executive session. (Photo/Natalie Smith)

Event Coverage Article

The Classic Center Authority violated Georgia’s Sunshine Law during a monthly board meeting in March by conducting an executive session without following through with proper protocol.

The Classic Center Authority was met with criticism from student journalists after Tuesday’s meeting when the board improperly entered into a private executive session, violating different acts within Georgia’s Sunshine Law. The meeting covered a host of various topics, such as Classic Center financials, the Elevate Campaign, the Classic Center Arena Letter of Intent and University of Georgia spring graduation ceremonies. The Classic Center Authority was found to have violated The Official Code of Georgia section 50-14-1 of the Georgia Open Records Act, also known as the Sunshine Law. The law states that all meetings must be open to the public, with a motion to enter into executive session passed through a vote by the board. The board did not call a vote, but asked student journalists present at the meeting to exit. In 1989, the CCA was sued by newspapers the Athens Banner-Herald and Athens Daily News for violating the Sunshine Law, by preventing journalists from sitting in on public meetings. The meeting, which is held monthly, was headed by president and CEO of The Classic Center, Paul Cramer. Cramer started the meeting by stating that the arena had a successful year to date, with “four really strong months ahead of us.” The Classic Center is to host 16 events in the entertainment realm through March and April, bringing in a hefty profit. “These are ticketed events with $1.2 million through the ticket system during this period. So we're making a really busy stretch”, said Philip Verrastro, executive of theater and entertainment events, who was in attendance. The board shared details of The Elevate Campaign, which has surpassed its goal of raising $5.5 million. The campaign, launched in August by the Classic Center, is focused on “elevating music, entertainment, and education through innovative programs at The Classic Center, all of which will benefit Athens-Clarke County and the entire state of Georgia,” according to its website. The money raised will go towards initiatives such as The Georgia Music Hall of Fame and partnerships with local entities like the Career Academy and various UGA management programs. The letter of intent for a future 1,000-car parking deck on Hickory Street has been finalized and signed by Mallory and Evans Development, Cramer stated at the meeting. “Our attorney has been through it. They feel good about it,” Cramer said of the LOI. Developers have hired architectural firm Smallwood, Reynolds, Stewart, Stewart and Associates, Inc. to design the parking deck. Details of multiple spring graduations for the University of Georgia were also discussed in the meeting. With Stegeman Coliseum in unstable condition, the University has made a deal with The Classic Center to host 17 of its spring graduation ceremonies. “The volume of people we are going to put through this building is staggering,” Cramer said of the ceremonies. The Classic Center hosts around 700 events a year, generating large sources of revenue for the Athens area.
Mayor Kelly Girtz references his notes during the conference. (Photo/Natalie Smith)

News Conference Article

Housing and retail renovation will become the future of west Athens if the redevelopment of the Georgia Square Mall is approved.

The Athens-Clarke County Commission will come together on March 7 to vote on the proposed Georgia Square Mall redevelopment plan that, if passed, would rejuvenate the area and bring a new era of retail shopping and consumerism to the city. Athens Mayor Kelly Girtz held a press conference on Friday to share his proposals for renovating and revitalizing the Atlanta Highway Georgia Square Mall property, a plan that he hopes will “create a magnetic new environment” in the western part of the city. The plan proposes to transform the run-down mall into a mixed-use community with affordable housing developments, walking trails, transit stations and improved shopping centers. The mall, built in 1981, lies on approximately 75 acres of land about eight miles to the west of Downtown Athens. According to the Georgia Square Mall Redevelopment TAD Funding Application, 65% of the mall sits vacant as of November 2022 with 895,000 square feet of rentable building space available. “I don't want to have my name attached to a gravel pit on Atlanta Highway,” Girtz proclaimed in reference to the dilapidated mall. If the commission decides to approve the redevelopment plan, a tax allocation district funding request of approximately $141 million will be granted, alongside the initial investment of $333 million from the Athens Development Group, the party responsible for the development. The plan seeks to create 1,188 residential units, including townhomes, active adult units and multi-familial units, as well as 352,000 square feet of commercial space. The building will be implemented in three separate phases, with completion planned for 2027. Of the homes, Girtz says “a family who earned about $45,000 a year would be able to afford one”. The housing is expected to be set at 80% of the current median rent price and potential residents will be met with screening to ensure their yearly income meets requirements. “People are looking for these mixed use spaces. And also spaces where after you're done with your shopping experience, you can roll around the corner of your apartment on your feet,” Girtz exclaimed. He emphasized that the renovation of the mall is going to create a new West Side town center environment that will stand the test of time.
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Profile Article

The Safety Of A City Through Pen And Paper: How One City Commissioner Dedicates Her Life To The Protection Of Cyclists And Pedestrians

Carol Myers comes to a stop upon her red electric bike In front of Athens City Hall. It is obvious she is confident in her biking skills as she sports a pair of black open-toed sandals. Donned in bright green safety apparel, she takes a seat beside a park bench, halfway sitting in the grass. “Are we ready to do this thing?,” she says with a smile. Carol Myers has lived in Athens since 1984, and currently represents District 8 as city commissioner. Hailing from the suburbs of New York City, Myers found herself in Georgia after following her ex-husband to the state, claiming it was half-way between his home in Texas and hers in New York. Myers works with fellow commissioners to ensure bike lane safety and accessibility throughout busy Athens streets. Her current proposition is to extend bike lines from Barber Street to Prince Street, with a vote by the commission expected in the upcoming months. “There's 20% of people who say they'll never get on a bike, and then there are people who get on but they're cautious. And then there are other ones who said they'll get on if they had safe, protected lanes,” Myers said. The effort she puts into her work is to encourage “more people to normalize bike use.”. Stubbornly rejecting the title of “hippie”, but embracing the notion of “bohemian”, the red bike she arrived on is a large part of her life; an homage to her past in New York. Biking has been a part of Myers’ story since the start. “I had a bike that I got around on on the streets, and this is in the suburbs in New York. I rode my bike to school… so I had my bike there. And when I'm going off to college, I had my bike there… so I’ve never not had a bike.” After leaving her position as dean of general education at Athens Technical College in 2015 after nearly 30 years at the school, Myers found herself delving into the world of local government, taking up a specific interest in commuter safety. In 2016, she became involved with Athens in Motion, a commission dedicated to the development and implementation of safe and connected networks of bicycle and pedestrian facilities throughout the city. Myers always assumed that when engineers design roads, the main goal would be to keep people safe. However, she claims that through her collaborations with local nonprofits such as Vision Zero and Bike Athens, she learned that cyclist and pedestrian safety are put on a back burner, with travel efficiency at the forefront. Since then, Myers has continued to dedicate her time to both grassroots efforts and government work to ensure pedestrian and cycling safety in Athens. District 6 commissioner, Jesse Houle, works in close collaboration with Myers. He testifies that Myers is a “core component” of the city government, and works tirelessly to make Athens safer. “This bike world that I'm coming from, from bike advocacy, you know, there's so many reasons to get people out of cars. I don't think we're gonna get everyone out of cars…I just want people to feel safer doing other modes of transportation,” Myers proclaimed. By the time her first term as District 8 commissioner comes to an end in two years, Myers has high hopes for what she would like to see change in Athens regarding cycling and pedestrian safety. She believes it her job to ensure that the community moves in a direction that encompasses clean energy and bikes, and wishes to allocate the money she is responsible for in the most effective way possible.
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