Delays, Increased Costs, Traffic: Mayor Kelly Girtz Provides Update on The Classic Center Arena

Editor’s note: Students in Reporting I covered a Dec. 1 press conference with Athens-Clarke County Mayor Kelly Girtz about The Classic Center Arena. Following the press conference, they interviewed secondary sources ranging from Danny Bryant, general manager of the arena, to business owners and managers to members of the UGA hockey teams to residents and UGA students. This collection of stories shows the variety of coverage from the news conference and their reporting.

 

Mayor ‘Reasonably Confident’ Arena on Track to Open August 2024

By Ashtin Barker

Athens-Clarke County Mayor Kelly Girtz said he is frustrated with the growing cost of The Classic Center Arena, and he is “reasonably confident” that the arena will open August 2024, nine months later than initially anticipated.

Athens-Clarke County Mayor Kelly Girtz gives a presentation about the development of The Classic Center Arena to University of Georgia students at a news conference on Dec. 1, 2023 in the Fine Arts Building. The arena opening has been delayed but is now expected to open August 2024. (Photo/Ashtin Barker)

Girtz discussed the progress of the arena, surrounding commercial and residential development and its impact on Athens during a Dec. 1 press conference at the University of Georgia.

The project total now is approximately $150 million, he said, with $34 million of funds from SPLOST revenue. The arena is partially funded by SPLOST, an additional sales tax approved by the voters of Athens-Clarke County in 2019, as well as bonds and private fundraising. 

“I learned over 17 years in local public policymaking that nothing ever happens as fast as I would like, so I’m gonna be delighted when it comes out of the ground,” Girtz said. “Do I wish that timeline was faster? Absolutely.” 

The arena is predicted to bring 600 new jobs to Athens and have a $33 million annual economic impact.

Athens is home to a historic music scene with venues like the Georgia Theatre and 40 Watt Club. Once open, The Classic Center Arena will be the largest venue in downtown Athens with a capacity of 8,500 people.

“If we’re pulling from anywhere, we’ll be pulling shows out of Greenville or out of Charlotte or out of other larger markets,” Girtz said.

Mallory & Evans Development’s plans include a 1,200-space parking deck, new hotels, retail and dining space. Lane Westbrook, general manager of the downtown Athens Mellow Mushroom, said he thinks the arena will be good for business and bring more people over to the east side of downtown. 

“There’s just many bars, restaurants and retail in this one little bitty area, and it’s been that way for as long as I’ve been alive,” Westbrook said. “And, you know, I hate to say it, the strong survive.”


Athens’ Multimillion-Dollar Arena Draws Comparison to Enmarket in Savannah

By Brigette Ramirez

Athens-Clarke County Mayor Kelly Girtz said he envisions The Classic Center Arena — a new facility slated to open in downtown Athens next August — to be comparable to Enmarket Arena in Savannah, Georgia.

The Classic Center Arena, anticipated to cost $150 million, will seat up to 8,500 people, making it the largest music venue in the city. It will also be home to a minor league hockey team whose name is yet to be announced.

The arena will be physically similar to Enmarket Arena in Savannah as the two buildings were designed by the same architecture firm, Perkins&Will, and are roughly the same size. 

Enmarket Arena, a multi-purpose complex with a 9,500 seat arena that opened in Savannah in February 2022, is also home to a minor league hockey team, the Savannah Ghost Pirates.

Girtz mentioned during a news conference at the University of Georgia on Dec. 1 that the two arenas will share another similarity — the venues’ concert partner, Oak View Group.

Oak View Group is a professional sports and commercial real estate company that will be responsible for managing the concert schedules of both Georgia arenas.

If you look at the Savannah programming over the last two years since their arena has been open, you probably get some idea of what you’ll end up seeing here in Athens,” Girtz said.

Enmarket Arena has hosted a variety of musical artists including Pitbull, Luke Bryan, Stevie Nicks, The Lumineers and DaBaby.

Girtz said The Classic Center management also hopes to book 10 family shows, 55 sporting events, 20 community events and 15 conventions per year.

Enmarket Arena has also been home to events such as Monster Jam, Disney on Ice, basketball and cheerleading tournaments, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) and comedy shows since its opening in early 2022.

The Classic Center Arena General Manager Danny Bryant mirrored Girtz’s sentiments when asked about the comparison between the two arenas.

“That’s a great (comparison),” Bryant said. “If you’ve been down there, there are a lot of things that will feel similar to it. It’ll have its own unique differences as well.”

The hope is that The Classic Center Arena will experience the success that Enmarket Arena has had in its first two years. The arena ranks first in the Southeast and second in the country for venues under 10,000 seats based on ticket sales, according to the Savannah Business Journal.

Construction started in April 2022 and continues on the arena, which is expected to generate $33 million per year in economic impact for Athens-Clarke County.


The Classic Center Arena Expected to Boost Hockey Presence in Athens 

By Ella Brauer

The Classic Center Arena, slated for an August 2024 debut, will establish Athens’ first permanent ice rink, serving as the home for a signed minor league hockey team and the UGA hockey teams.

The UGA women’s hockey club team has faced the challenge of constructing and dismantling a temporary ice rink inside The Classic Center for weekend games, utilizing the outdoor rink at the venue, or traveling to Duluth, Georgia for practices since its founding in 2021. The introduction of a permanent ice rink will bring a new level of consistency to the team’s practice and game schedule, said Hannah Knight, the UGA women’s hockey club team founder, president and captain. 

The arena also offers the opportunity to cultivate a local fan base in Athens, as residents will have increased accessibility to attend more games. It has the potential to elevate the profile of hockey in a region where the sport is less familiar.

That is the biggest piece of growing the game for hockey … if you have a rink, you can make it happen,” Knight said.

The addition of the ice rink at the arena will establish a permanent home for a contracted East Coast Hockey League team in Athens. The team, whose name is still undisclosed to the public, is anticipated to play a pivotal role in expanding the presence of hockey in the region, Mayor Kelly Girtz said Friday at a news conference.

Beyond the ice rink, The Classic Center Arena will serve as a multifunctional facility, accommodating a variety of events, including sporting events, concerts, family shows, banquets and conventions. The arena, with a seating capacity of 8,500, is expected to create over 600 jobs. 

“Whether you’re into sports, whether it be music, whether you want to bring your younger siblings or cousins, it’s gonna be a great place to enjoy life,” Girtz said. 


New Classic Center Arena Raises Concern About Traffic, Residential Parking 

By Jesse Wood

Mayor Kelly Girtz shares details of The Classic Center Arena in a press conference on Dec. 1, 2023 in the University of Georgia’s Fine Arts Building Balcony Theater. The arena, expected to open in August 2024, will host hockey games, concerts, family events and more. (Photo/Jesse Wood)

Downtown Athens resident Kaitlyn Union has experienced many obstacles during the construction of The Classic Center Arena and expects that she will continue to face them after the arena opens.

Union, a junior studying elementary education at the University of Georgia, lives at a historic apartment complex at the intersection of Broad and Oconee streets: Farmer’s Exchange. She pays $100 per month to park at The Classic Center, and the construction has created several inconveniences in accessing the parking deck.

“There’s only two entrances to go into the parking deck, and the construction blocks off one of the roads half the time,” Union said. “So, you have to go all the way around to get into the parking deck or to get to the other side of downtown.”

Union also has experienced a lack of parking spots available due to the construction workers parking in the deck. The Classic Center had to eventually put up signs to remind the employees to stop unauthorized parking in the deck, Union said.

Mayor Kelly Girtz said in a press conference on Dec. 1 that The Classic Center Arena will bring thousands of people to Athens annually. Girtz projected that the 8,500-person capacity arena will reap 90,000 new hotel room bookings, 600 new jobs and a $33 million annual economic impact. 

The projected increase in revenue and tourism is promising for the future of Athens, but for people like Union who rely on the downtown parking services and will live in an increasingly busy area, these numbers can be daunting. 

“Whenever (The Classic Center) hosts events there now, that whole entire side road downtown is blocked off,” Union said. “ It’s just going to happen more often.”

Girtz said in the press conference that he does not believe traffic will be an issue because two parking decks within walking distance of The Classic Center can accommodate 2,200 vehicles. Additionally, he said approximately 6,000 people live in downtown Athens, making it walkable for a portion of Athenians.

If we can accommodate 94,000 people at Sanford Stadium, we can definitely accommodate 8,000 (at The Classic Center Arena),” Girtz said. 

Union is nervous about losing the option to park near her apartment complex because  “it might become more expensive or less accessible,” she said.

The Classic Center Arena, set to open in August 2024, will host events and provide a home for a new East Coast Hockey League team.

All reporting is by students in Reporting I at the University of Georgia.

 

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