Updated Tue, Jun 3, 2014 3:21 pm
It's been three years since production stopped at Athens Mold & Machine, and it's easy to see the facility as just part of the city's manufacturing past. Others, though, see potential.
"Absolutely," said Don Linder, who is on the board of the Athens County Port Authority. "We just need to figure out what is the highest and best economic development opportunity the site would allow."
Linder was one of more that two dozen economic development, government and business representatives who toured the facility on Monday.
Although the owners opened up the site for the tour, co-owner Paul Thornton said the property is not currently on the market. He said the facility is about 60,000 square feet and sits on about 5 acres off Elliott Street.
The tour was organized by Brent Hartman, who is on the board of the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks, a business incubator.
"I was aware that the farmers market needed a home," Hartman said when asked why he organized the tour, adding that he would like to see the site become an economic hub for the community.
"I just wanted to bring people together who could do something about it, to talk," he said. "To me, the best use would be a mixed use ... have it be a hub of our local economy."
Such an undertaking would not be easy.
"It would take a huge community effort to make something like this come to fruition,'" said one woman on the tour. "But it would be pretty amazing if it happened."
Also on the tour was Sara Marrs, director of the Athens County Economic Development Council.
"I would like to see it put back into a use that would create jobs," she said. "We want to be sure it stays a commercial entity."
She would not, she said, like it to become a site for more student housing.
"There are conversations and a lot of ideas being thrown around, but nothing firm, nothing that has jelled," Marrs said.
One of those ideas is that part of the site could become the permanent home of the Athens Farmers Market.
"It's just conversation," Marrs said.
City Code Director John Paske said the site is zoned for manufacturing, meaning it would have to be rezoned if put to a residential use. He said the biggest challenge for having a new manufacturing use would be that if improvements exceeded 50 percent of the appraised value of the building, then the structure would have to be brought up to code.
Although potential issue is whether the site would require any cleanup because of its industrial past.
In addition to Paske, other government officials on Monday's tour included Mayor Paul Wiehl, City Planner Paul Logue, County Commissioner Chris Chmiel and State Rep. Debbie Phillips.
Athens Mold & Machine company official Tom Thorton previously told The Messenger that in 1943 Bridgewater Machine Co. was founded at the site, and over the years the facility has gone by several other names — including Abex and Athens Boring and Milling.
Athens Mold & Machine produced tire molds and related equipment. At the time the company ceased production in Athens in 2011, Tom Thornton did not rule out the possibility it would reopen if work became available. Machinery is still in place.