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(Photo/Foster Steinbeck)

On July 18, the Athens-Clarke County Mayor and Commission held a special called session to approve the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax project list and clarify the wording for various SPLOST programs. 

While the commission approved a motion to change a variety of SPLOST projects — such as designating $500,000 for repairing, upgrading and/or replacing stormwater pipelines — the primary issue for the people at the meeting was the $34 million allocated for the Classic Center.

With the millions of dollars supplied from the government alongside private funds, private contractors would build a 5,500 seat arena as an expansion to the Classic Center. According to Classic Center Executive Director Paul Cramer at a SPLOST Work Session on July 10, the expansion would create 600 new jobs, add 100,000 local hotel room-nights and attract larger conventions and concerts to Athens.

Supporters of the expansion believe the project would be beneficial in bolstering Athens’s economy, adding hundreds of jobs and bringing outside vendors to the area. Marvin Nunnally, a sales management employee for the Classic Center, spoke in favor of this project.

“Here’s an opportunity for people to pick themselves up by their own bootstraps and have an opportunity to come downtown Athens,” Nunnally said.

Several detractors of the expansion spoke in front of the commission, believing the $34 million could be better spent on other projects instead of the Classic Center. One detractor was University of Georgia philosophy teaching assistant Irami Osei-Frimpong, who claimed that lobbyists were the primary force pushing this project’s approval.

“There’s this illusion that the only way the Classic Center can pay for the arena is through SPLOST money,” Osei-Frimpong said. “I don’t want to see this [commission] be used because of inexperience.”

In a substitute motion to redirect the $34 million into a more general downtown development fund, the majority of commissioners voted no, with commissioners Mariah Parker, Melissa Link and Tim Denson in favor.

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