Athens’ Stimson Avenue Getting A $7 Million Makeover

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — The city of Athens has for years been throwing Band-Aids on one of the main gateways into town.

But this time it’s different. Stimson Avenue, now a sea of orange construction cones, is getting a $7 million makeover.

City officials hope this could make the corridor more attractive to potential developers and pave the way for more redevelopment.

“What’s going on right now … is a complete rebuild of Stimson Avenue,” Mayor Steve Patterson said.

Stimson Avenue in Athens is a sea of orange construction cones as the street gets a $7 million makeover.
Stimson Avenue in Athens is a sea of orange construction cones as the street is completely rebuilt in a project expected to last through October. [Evann Figueroa | WOUB]
He said the last major overhaul of Stimson was in the late 1960s when the Hocking River was rerouted around the Ohio University campus to control flooding.

Since then, and especially in recent years, the city has torn up and patched over one part of the street after another to service the aging infrastructure buried underneath.

“It’s an old concrete road deck that has lived its useful life,” Patterson said.

The state chipped in a little over $2.5 million in grant funds for the project along with a $400,000 zero-interest loan. The rest, about $4.1 million, is coming from the city’s street rehabilitation levy.

The city is using this opportunity to also replace and upgrade the buried infrastructure, including water, sewer and gas lines. Telephone poles that now sit in the sidewalk are being moved out of the way. And the sidewalks are being widened to better accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists.

The city is also laying conduit underground that can be used to run fiber optic lines, which would provide much faster internet access to the corridor.

Patterson said the city hoped to bury the overhead power lines too for esthetic reasons, but that would have added more than a million dollars to the cost.

The work is being done one lane at a time. Crews are starting with the westbound lane and westbound traffic is using the eastbound lane. Eastbound traffic is being detoured down East State Street.

Work on the westbound lane should be completed by July and then shift to the eastbound lane, which should be done by late October.

“When everything is done,” Patterson said, “we’ll have a brand new reconditioned street and sidewalks and hopefully we’re not going to see any more traffic disruptions for a good 25 years and hopefully longer than that.”

Patterson said the street work coincides nicely with the Stimson Avenue corridor’s recent designation as an opportunity zone. Opportunity zones provide tax incentives to invest in economically distressed areas.

Molly Fitzgerald is executive director of the Athens County Economic Development Council. Her job is to help bring more businesses and jobs to the county.

She said Stimson Avenue is the first impression of Athens for visitors entering town from that direction.

“It’s an area of town that for years has had some infrastructure and streetscaping issues but also holds a lot of potential as one of the gateways into the Athens community.”

Fitzgerald envisions some kind of mixed-use development with retail and office space at street level and housing on top.

She said the street work being done is a good first step that will provide an important infrastructure and esthetic upgrade.

“It’s a quality of life issue, which is a huge part of economic development in attracting investors, and attracting businesses and attracting workforce. That’s a big piece of the puzzle.”