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Tuesday, February 22, 2011 - 3:04pm

Athens Officials Plan Urban Development Project

Athens officials are eyeing the North Oconee River for a major urban development project. The the plan is modeled after successful river districts in Greenville, South Carolina and Chattanooga, Tennessee.

The so-called “Project Blue Heron” is currently only pictures on paper, but it’s enticing enough that the Athens-Clarke County Economic Development Foundation has approved $15,000 to vet it.

Proponents say about 16 acres east of downtown could be turned into a bustling city-scape – with a river-walk, amphitheater, and office space.

Athens Mayor Nancy Denson says despite the $41 million price tag, and a 20 to 25 year time line for completion, she likes the idea:

“Most cities would love to have a river running through their downtown area. This is a wonderful asset for Athens and I would like to see us explore the opportunity.”

Proponents have suggested bonds or a Tax Allocation District to fund the development, but Denson cautions against land speculation:

“Unless there’s a real firm plan with great possibility of developing into what is expected, I would be hesitant to have the county take any kind of financial risk for the taxpayers."

Other obstacles include the land’s steep topography, a lack of infrastructure, and landowners who don’t want to sell.

The first feasibility study is expected to be published any day now.

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