From left, Jessica Adine, of the Athens City Engineer’s Office, meets with Union Bar and Grill owner Eric Gunn, Jackie’s O’s Pub and Brewery owner Art Oestrike and Union Street Market owner Alan J. McMillan during a public forum on Tuesday. Community members met with architects of a proposed streetscape on Union Street. Susan Tebben / WOUB News

Potential Union Street Plans Introduced To Business Owners

Posted on:

< < Back to

As one business prepared to reopen after the November 2014 fire that destroyed West Union Street buildings, business owners and community members looked at  ideas for a proposed streetscape, and offered plenty of criticism.

Representatives from BDT Architects brought maps and a 3-D model of Union Street as it would look with a patio area covering the storefronts along the street. Three plans were presented, one that extended the patio to the intersection of South Congress Street and Union, and two others that allowed space away from the intersection.

A drawing of Union Street with a proposed streetscape design. Three different options were presented by BDT Architects during a forum with business owners on Tuesday. Photo by Susan Tebben / WOUB News
A drawing of Union Street with one proposed streetscape design. Three different options were presented by BDT Architects during a forum with business owners on Tuesday. Photo by Susan Tebben / WOUB News

Loading zones and parking spaces varied between the plans, though traffic studies have not been done.

Those that attended were able to give their take on the layouts for the potential project by placing anonymous Post-It notes on the different pictures of the plans.

One note feared a patio there would become a “smoking arcade,” another gave the idea of moving the project to West Washington Street, in front of Restaurant Salaam and Donkey Coffee & Espresso.

“This place is not suitable for Union Street,” was a note placed on all three layouts. “I’m very excited about promoting pedestrian space in Athens” was also placed on all three.

Mayor Steve Patterson was encouraged by the turnout at the forum, and said he had a favorite of the three plans, though he declined to say which plan he preferred.

“What I’ve seen is pretty much what I’ve envisioned,” Patterson said. “We’re looking to create gathering spaces, we’re changing the hardscape to a gathering space.”

He said he has heard from the public about the project, and the majority of the input has been positive.

Unfortunately, the owners of some businesses are not on board with the idea.

“I’m not a fan, to be honest,” said Eric Gunn, owner of the now-reopened Union Bar and Grill. “Anything that’s a net negative for parking uptown is a non-starter for me.”

Gunn and others there criticized the shortage of parking on the street, especially loading zones for bands and deliveries. Gunn said any of the plans put out at the forum would hinder his venue’s ability to attract national acts.

“With Athens not being a major market, we need to provide a better experience than (bands) would get in a national market,” Gunn said. “These don’t give us that.”

Parking for apartments planned above the new Union Street buildings was also a concern for those at the forum.

“I would love to see a traffic study done four to six months from now when all these apartments are open,” Gunn said.

The project is still in its infancy, Patterson said, and code enforcement and zoning questions are still up in the air, such as the size of tables and distance from the street. As of now, alcohol can not be served outside of the establishments, something Patterson said he doesn’t see the need to change.

The architectural firm has been working on the mock-ups for about three weeks, Patterson said. The contract for the “exploration,” as Patterson called it, was funded through the City Engineer’s budget. The contract will pay the architectural firm $7,000 for their work, according to Jessica Adine, of the engineer’s office.