Athens breaks ground on a project to convert the Armory into a coworking space

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) – The city of Athens broke ground Monday on a project to redevelop the Armory into a coworking space.

Athens City Council President Chris Knisely, Mayor Steve Patterson and other dignitaries break ground on project to turn the Armory into a coworking space.
Athens City Council President Chris Knisely (left), Mayor Steve Patterson (second from left) and other dignitaries break ground on project to turn the Armory into a coworking space. [Gabriel Scotto | WOUB]
“When I look at how far we’ve come, I wish I could say ‘in a short period of time,’ but it’s been 12 years since I’ve been an elected official,” said Athens Mayor Steve Patterson. “But we’re here. We finally have the capital stack put together to where the construction is going to begin on this project.”

Athens purchased the Armory from the state of Ohio in 1997 for $350,000 and has debated what to do with it ever since. Previous proposals for the Armory included an art and cultural center, a commercial kitchen, student housing and even demolishing the building to construct a new parking garage.

Athens received $600,000 from the state budget bill and $2 million through the Appalachian Community Grant Program, with the remainder of the $4.5 million price tag being covered by leftover American Rescue Plan funds and the city’s capital improvements budget.

“There’s $500 million we’ve set aside for the 32 Appalachian counties that monies like this will go towards,” Lt. Gov. John Husted said of the Appalachian Community Grant Program. “We’ve already done some of those things in Hocking County and in several places around the Athens area, but this $2 million is focused on (the Armory).”

This funding is part of a broader push by the state to invest in job creation and infrastructure improvements throughout Ohio to attract employers such as Intel to the state.

“We’re going to see a lot of people wanting to come down to Athens and work remotely and this facility will provide just that resource,” said Patterson.

In addition to serving as a shared workspace, the Armory will also feature a community center and a Veterans Hall that will pay tribute to the Armory’s history as an Ohio National Guard installation prior to its sale.

“I look at (the Armory) as a community space. It’s going to bring the community together, the same thing it was doing many, many years ago,” said state Rep. Jay Edwards, whose district includes Athens. “But on top of that, it’s a historical marker. I picture kids taking field trips here and look at the Veterans Hall that’s going to be out front, talking to people.”

Significant renovations will be required in order to prepare the Armory for its new role within the community, including heating and air conditioning, plumbing and electrical upgrades.

“We want to upgrade it for modern uses, that means including the ability to adapt the technologies you need to use,” said Husted. “It’s got good bones, but they’re old bones and they have to be updated.”

Patterson said he hopes the renovation of the Armory will serve as a blueprint for repurposing other historic buildings within the Athens area. The main obstacle to these plans coming to fruition is getting the necessary funding.

“I have a lot of hope for Mount Zion Church … but it’s going to need millions more to become a Black Cultural Center here in the city of Athens and serving in that capacity,” said Patterson, who also cited Indus Hotels’ plans to renovate the building at 63 S. Court St. for use as a hotel and retail space.

Edwards wants the state to expand its historic building tax credits to encourage developers to renovate historic buildings.

“We put a lot of money towards historical grants or historical tax credits,” said Edwards. “I’d like to see them expanded more and specifically getting them out of the three C’s (and) getting them into Appalachia. So, I’ll continue to fight and we’re hoping that we can save some of these historic buildings.”