2000 cover featured 2 controversial projects


In this edition of "Exhuming the Morgue," we have two local development projects that each drew citizen opposition, and that each in the months and years after these articles ran, became realities in the Athens community.

On the front page of The Athens NEWS' Oct. 12, 2000 issue, the top piece, "Another Athens Hilltop Eyed for Big Project," covered a proposal by a Cleveland area developer to build a big student apartment complex on the ridge just west of Richland Avenue (above Purple Chopstix, the old Athens Realty building, etc.). The project eventually became the Summit at Coates Run, where hundreds of Ohio University students live today.

At the time, a South Side neighborhood group expressed opposition, complaining about potential traffic, environmental and quality-of-life issues related to the development. They also questioned whether the proposed development would attract enough tenants, considering another student apartment complex was being built on a ridge on the other side of Richland Avenue.

Both developments wound up getting built, and both are still in business, with shuttle buses hauling student tenants back-and-forth constantly between uptown/campus and Richland Avenue.

Richland Avenue still has traffic issues, though the 682/Richland roundabout has helped, and Richland Avenue is getting a major facelift this year.

THE OTHER STORY INVOLVED the beginning of dirt-moving for a big commercial development on East State Street. The (somewhat awkwardly worded) headline: "Truckloads of Dirt, and a Non-Violent Protest, Ready to Pour Down on Site." The development site eventually became Walmart and the lineup of big and small stores and restaurants stretching east to Lowe's.

The article recounted a community "protest garden" that local activists had planted on the site to illustrate the idea that sustainable agriculture and retail are more productive for the community than what might be coming with Walmart. According to the article, "Critics say the shopping center, with its mega-store, will drive locally owned shops out of business and erode Athens' small-town atmosphere."

I remember writing a column at the time, arguing that in a county with the highest poverty rate in Ohio, it takes a lot of moxie to protest a big store offering mountains of stuff at discount prices.

The doomsday predictions, for the most part, didn't pan out, and the main stores that Walmart drove out of Athens were "big box" K Mart and chain department store J.C. Penney.

Otherwise, various stores and restaurants have come and gone since 2000, just as they did in the decades before these stories ran.

Some other notable aspects of that particular cover: The layout looked pretty lame, with poorly positioned and sized headlines, and former (and longtime) Athens NEWS writer/reporters Nick Claussen and Jim Phillips wrote the stories. They're still hanging around Athens, and fame and prestige haven't changed them.

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