What Can Be Learned on the Inter-City Visit to Athens

As you might know, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce organizes a trip every two years to a city similar to Chapel Hill – almost always a college town. The goals of these visits are to learn from the experiences of another community, better understand our community’s assets, and build relationships among participants that help us successfully address our local challenges and opportunities. This year's Inter-City Visit to Athens, Georgia, is coming up in just a few weeks (September 21-23).

The visit to Athens promises to be both enlightening and fun. I went on the planning visit back in January and came away convinced that folks from here will find the visit of real value. Athens is both very similar to and very different from Chapel Hill. On the one hand, it is a
wonderful southern college town, dominated in many ways by the University of Georgia. Its layout is remarkably similar to Chapel Hill - a downtown bordering the campus, a football stadium located in the middle of the campus, and a neighboring county - Oconee - cheek by jowl to Athens similar to Chatham and Chapel Hill. As such, it deals with many of the town-gown issues that Chapel Hill has. How Athens and UGA navigate those issues will be, I expect, instructive to many on the visit.

But Athens (actually Athens-Clarke County - they have a unified government) has many striking differences, as well. It is far poorer than Chapel Hill. Its median household income is less than 60% of ours. And median homeprices are about half of ours. In fact, in 2007 it ranked number four on the list of Top 101 cities with the highest percentage of residents living in poverty. This has played out in a number of interesting and surprising ways. Whereas here, folks moving to Chatham tend to be at the lower end of the income spectrum, in Athens, higher income people have moved to Oconee. This has been driven, in part by concerns about the school system. And, it
has also, had a profound effect on the school system. While Athens is about 65% white, the schools are close to 70% minority.  How this took place, howit has affected Athens, and what they are doing about should be very interesting - and perhaps a cautionary tale --- to us.

Finally, Athens is a ton of fun. Its Downtown has a nationally known music scene and, I am told, almost 60 establishments serving alcohol.  Without a doubt, a good time will be had by all. If you're going, you won't regret it. If you're undecided, I hope that this will give you the impetus you need to register.

If you can't make it on this year's trip, what would you like to find out from those who are going? What questions should those of us who are attending be asking, and what sorts of things should we seek out once there?

Issues: 

Total votes: 181

Comments

Thanks, Michael, for sharing a bit about Athens and the upcoming trip - some interesting facts and things to start thinking about as the trip nears.

From OrangePolitics, both Molly and myself will be attending this year's trip - and we're very interested in asking questions and getting answers on the things that folks want to learn about from Athens. We'll hopefully be providing some blogging here on OP while we're on the trip, too, so please share your questions here so we can make that exercise one that's useful and informative.

After all the years of these trips, how is the information gleaned used in practice once participants return?

The ICV website lists several items at http://icvathens2014.weebly.com/about-icvpartnership.html.

You'll also be seeing some new types of signs in downtown Chapel Hill that were developed based directly on what was learned on the Bloomington, IN visit two years ago. I am pretty excited about them.

The trip to Asheville (and Bloomington) was instrumental in building support to allow bed and breakfasts in Chapel Hill.  A text amendment to add B&Bs to the LUMO is in the queue. 

One tangible outcome: learnings about TIFs during the Asheville trip enabled Carrboro to build it's downtown parking deck.
 

Carrboro did not build the downtown parking deck. It was built privately as part of the 300 East Main development, in which I am a partner. The town pays up to $90,000 rent annually (an amount tied to occupancy-tax receipts from the new Hampton Inn) to make public parking available in the deck for five years. That lease was instrumental in helping us finalize bank financing for the deck and retail space under the hotel, and to your point Carrboro leaders understood they were investing some of the projected new tax revenues to facilitate a development that brings in even more tax money. But Carrboro's rent covers a small portion of the deck's costs. Most of the deck is paid for by rents from the shops and restaurants at 300 East Main. 

his comment by Laura matches, in more detail, the description given me of the parking deck development process by Carrboro Economic Development Director Annette Stone. I was curious about this because of a comment on a listserv about "all that nice free parking in the deck in downtown Carrboro."   It's not free, of course -- no parking really ever is completely free -- and that's the case in downtown Asheville as well. I think it's likely that this is actually a "synthetic TIF" -- with somewhat less burden on the associated local government than a true Tax-Increment Financing arrangement, of which there have been a tiny number in NC since the constitutional amendment passed in the previous decade to allow them.  The largest synthetic TIF close by is the American Tobacco Complex parking development. The City of Durham has participated in a significant number since then, but none that large. 

Suggestions for a Twitter # for this trip??

The hashtag is #ICV2014. Tweet away!

 

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