North Athens Downtown Development Project Memorandum of Understanding Approved

Staff Report From Athens CEO

Thursday, October 3rd, 2019

At the Athens-Clarke County Mayor and Commission Regular Session voting meeting on Tuesday, October 1, the Commission voted unanimously to enter into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the Athens Housing Authority (AHA) and the Athens-Clarke County Unified Government (ACCGov) to support the North Athens Downtown Development Project (North Athens Project).

The North Athens Project is planned to consist of the redevelopment of the 12-acre site currently known as Bethel Midtown Village at 105 and 155 Hickman Drive and may include adjacent areas. The North Athens Project would include a mixture of housing types, land uses, and density as part of a mixed-use/mixed income development.

If the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) 2020 program referendum passes on November 5, 2019, the MOU agrees to provide funding for the North Athens Project through $39 million from the $44.5 million Affordable Housing Project included in the SPLOST 2020 program. These funds would be used for governmentally-owned components of the North Athens Project or infrastructure supporting it. 

This may take the form of direct expenditures by ACCGov in public infrastructure such as streets, curbing, sidewalks, lighting, utilities, public parking facilities, parks, recreation facilities, and other public facilities or to AHA to expend in support of providing affordable housing such as interests in land, public parking, and investment in affordable housing facilities for this project.

The balance of the budgeted SPLOST 2020 funds designated in this project - $5.5 million - would be reserved for other affordable housing initiatives. If the SPLOST 2020 program does not pass, funding amounts and redevelopment plans for the North Athens Project would be subject to change.

The Mayor and Commission approached the Athens Housing Authority two years ago to begin working on ways to improve affordable housing initiatives in the community. When the current owner of the Bethel Midtown Village property, H.J. Russell & Company, announced it was seeking a buyer for the property in January 2019, it presented a unique opportunity to obtain the property, help achieve these goals, and provide opportunities for further redevelopment in the area.

H.J. Russell & Company selected the Athens partnership’s bid for the property in spring 2019. The required due diligence period recently ended, which allowed the partners to publicly announce the project. The closing on the property is expected to occur in the next several months after required federal and state approvals take place.

“This partnership presents a great opportunity to expand the number of affordable and workforce homes downtown, and create a healthy, sustainable, and well-maintained environment for residents,” said Mayor Kelly Girtz. “Families in this community will have a fresh opportunity to be supported by locally-based property managers with extensive experience in positive customer service, in the highest quality new affordable housing.”

“After working with its residents since 2009, I am emotional about this transition of Bethel Midtown Village,” said District 9 Commissioner Ovita Thornton, who took office in 2019 and whose district covers the project area. “Although I understand this project does not create wealth on its own, I see it as a pathway to home ownership and a way to finally give hope to the people who live there.”

The redevelopment of Bethel Midtown Village is expected to follow principles of the Columbia Brookside Development off Hawthorne Avenue, which consists of a master planned, mixed-income community at the site of the former Jack R. Wells / Pauldoe community. Columbia Brookside includes dedicated residences for seniors age 55 and older and classic apartment and townhome residences for families. 

Columbia Brookside has been recognized as one of the top new affordable housing communities in the nation. It has received national awards through both the Charles L. Edson Tax Credit Excellence Awards and the National Association of Home Builders. The Columbia Brookside project is a public-private partnership between the Athens Housing Authority and Columbia Residential that received some funding from the Athens-Clarke County Unified Government and SPLOST 2011. 

The North Athens Project would be a public-private partnership between the Athens Housing Authority, Columbia Residential, and the Jonathan Rose Companies and include support from ACCGov.

“The North Athens Project represents an extraordinary opportunity to bring award-winning affordable housing to this important area of downtown,” said Rick Parker, Executive Director of the Athens Housing Authority.  “It will not only better the lives of the resident in the neighborhood, but can also serve to unlock the potential for broader redevelopment benefitting the entire community.” 

If the SPLOST 2020 program is approved in November, the North Athens Project will include a multi-month master planning process beginning in fall 2019 that involves current residents, community stakeholders, and citizens to establish a vision and action plan, along with site plans and project priorities.