- New student apartments continue to be built downtown.
- All apartments must have ground level retail space.
- People fear retail spaces will be filled with commercial franchises rather than smaller, local businesses.
ATHENS, GA – New student apartments are increasing retail space in the classic city but some people are worried that high rental rates are causing some local businesses to leave downtown. The Standard, Eclipse, 909 Broad Street Apartments and in Fall 2015, Georgia Heights are four new student apartments downtown. These apartments are all required to have ground floor retail and many people are worried the spaces attract commercial chains rather than smaller, local businesses that make Athens unique. Athens Clarke County District 3 Commissioner, Melissa Link is one of these people. Link says, “we have this really rich, vibrant downtown district but its getting increasingly homogenized and its hurting a lot of our locally owned businesses.” Lee’s Wig Store has left downtown Athens as well as Five Star Day Café and Cookies and Company. Insomnia Cookies, Subway and Arden’s Garden are three of the most recent franchises that have moved downtown. However, not all local businesses are being pushed out of Athens. Mama Bird’s Granola and Shared Kitchen is located underneath the 909 Broad Street apartments and is owned by Jennie Phillips De la Vega. She thinks the east side of Athens could be developed more to become more small business friendly, “there’s all of this focus on downtown and the revamping of downtown, but what about the east side? The east side needs some love and I can only give so much.” Construction downtown has been a controversial topic for many months now. There are many different opinions on the issue. Pamela Thompson, the executive director of the Athens Downtown Development Authority says, “it’s exciting to watch that we’re having the growth in student housing and it will generate positive growth in downtown and it will create many exciting opportunities in the years to come.” Students also like the convenience of living downtown. Kelly Butters, a senior who lives downtown said, “I live in an old loft and if I was going to be movie downtown I think the new housing is what I would want.” The Standard has over 24,000 square feet of retail space, which is enough for five to ten storefronts and so far the only confirmed tenant will be The Omni Club gym. One thing is certain; more students downtown equals more spending. However, where students will spend their money is unknown.