On March 7, 2023, the Athens-Clarke County Commission unanimously approved W&A Engineering’s $650 million plan to redevelop Georgia Square Mall located on Atlanta Highway in west Athens, Georgia.
At 74.77 acres, this development is believed to be the largest in the city’s history.
“We are elated at the support this plan has received from the citizens of Athens-Clarke County and now undeniably the Mayor and Commission, as well,” said W&A Engineering Athens Director of Operations Scott Haines, ASLA, PLA. “For both the site plan and Community Benefits Agreement to be passed unanimously is an incredible accomplishment which we’ve been working toward for many months now.”
In addition to the site plan being approved by the entirety of the Athens-Clarke County Commission, a TAD/Community Benefits Agreement was passed unanimously, as well.
A redevelopment tool designed to finance costs related to a development by reinvesting development-generated property tax revenue back into the project, the Georgia Square Mall Redevelopment TAD will reinvest $189 million into the development over the next 30 years. This development is the first time a tax allocation district (TAD) will be used in Athens-Clarke County. It will create opportunities for affordable housing, greenspace, transportation infrastructure, and other community benefits proposed in the plan.
W&A Engineering is nearing its first full year of involvement in the project, having been initially contacted about the opportunity in early May of 2022. Since then, each of the firm’s departments, including Land Surveying, Landscape Architecture, Civil Engineering, Traffic Engineering, and Land Planning have been collaborating both internally and externally with project stakeholders on the recently-approved masterplan.
A portion of the existing mall, including Belk, will remain and be renovated with the rest slated for demolition to be replaced with 70,000 square feet of commercial space plus 1,200 apartments, townhouses and senior living spaces. Ninety-nine of these apartments will be specifically reserved as affordable housing with rental rates set at 60% of the Area Median Income. Fourteen thousand of the 70,000 square feet will feature reduced rent for women and minority owned businesses and 5,000 square feet of rent-free space for a daycare or youth development center in addition to the Boys and Girls Club recently established within the mall by the developer.
Also featured in the plan are 1,000 newly planted trees, 19-acres of impervious area will be converted to greenspace, 1.5 miles of 12-foot multi-use path, stormwater detention and water quality improvements, a transit center to tie into Athens-Clarke County’s existing public-transportation system, ample parking areas, and a network of pedestrian and traffic mobility solutions that include three roundabouts to alleviate conflict and congestion concerns.
Construction will take place over the next five to seven years.
With the emergence and rise in popularity of online shopping in recent years, malls all across the country have struggled to attract businesses and customers alike, often resulting in large, multi-acre properties in once-active districts standing mostly or entirely empty.
The Georgia Square Mall has been no exception with many vendors, including JCPenney and Nathan’s Famous Hotdogs, closing and remaining vacant with no replacement. Consequentially, nearly 75 acres of prominent real estate and significant community potential has been lying dormant in Athens, Georgia for years.
“This redevelopment is an exciting project to be a part of and will be transformational for not only the west side of Athens but for Athens-Clarke County as a whole,” said W&A Engineering President and CEO Jon Williams, ASLA, PLA. “We are confident this project will create opportunities both culturally for citizens and economically for the community at large.”
With the majority of W&A Engineering’s team living and working in Athens-Clarke County, this project has been one of a unique magnitude for the Classic City staff.
“Our teams have been working day and night with the Leaven Group, the Clarke County School District, the TAD Advisory Committee, and many more to ensure that we are able to maximize the community benefit of this project,” Williams shared. “We are all very proud to be a part of the Athens community today and every day.”