Friday, February 27, 2009

Quick Hits

  • Over at the Athens Inbox, I posted about an Athenian being considered for an ambassadorship to Germany. As one commenter said, Germany and Athens both have a lot of beer and a lot of bars -- so sending one of our own over there makes a lot of sense. Would be very good news for our region.
  • Maria Saporta and others are right -- Gena Abraham's ouster just makes Georgia's transportation mess that much worse. I think the odds are high that nothing of significance happens with transportation this year, and that will be terrible news for our state. One bright spot: interim GDOT commissioner Gerald Ross was heavily involved in the Mars Hill widening project in Oconee, so that project may move up the priority ladder, if such a ladder still exists at GDOT.
  • Love the idea of using sheep to kill privet in the OC. Can they kill bamboo too? If so, sign me up.
  • For all my hiking/outdoorsy friends: check out this story from the Athens Banner-Herald. Trail food in the dining hall. Great idea. UGA's food services operation is ridiculously innovative (and good).

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Stimulus, Rail, and the Fallacy of "Shovel Ready"

Pete McCommons makes the obvious link in his column today between the stimulus plan and commuter rail. Rhetoric aside, I actually agree with about 90% of Pete's column today -- I just wish a whole lot more of the stimulus bill was going towards true infrastructure projects -- the rails, sidewalks, parks, roads, etc. that he describes -- rather than social programs and other things that simply further a social agenda.

The true handicap of the stimulus bill in terms of infrastructure is that it only goes for "shovel ready" projects, which are limited in scope and impact. Why is this the case? First of all, you don't get something "shovel ready" unless there is a good chance it is going to happen quickly. It takes too much time and energy. So, while E.H. Culpepper and others have done enormous leg work the Brain Train rail project from Athens to Atlanta, it is by no means "shovel ready." Nor would a 316 upgrade be "shovel ready." However, give us a year and the promise of significant federal money, and I bet this region could have both projects ready.

The sad fact is, with today's regulatory environment, getting something "shovel ready" can take years. Should the burdens of our own state and federal environmental requirements preclude local communities from making the best use of federal infrastructure dollars?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Was Recent GDOT Election a Reason for Hope for Dems?

Interesting analysis of the recent GDOT board race by Jim Galloway. Says Galloway:
Parham’s election is significant on two levels. First, according to Porter, it creates a 7-6 split on the 13-member DOT board, giving the upper hand to those who favor legislative control of the body over those who think the governor ought to dominate.
His main conclusion: that the election of State Rep. Bobby Parham just might be the first big win state democrats have put together in a while, and could make it much tougher to eviscerate GDOT as the state's leaders plan to do.

It is an interesting theory, and adds another layer to all the drama surrounding transportation funding and planning in Georgia this year. Like my friends at Get Georgia Moving, I'm just hoping that something gets done this year. By the way, great story on the efforts of Get Georgia Moving and its efforts to keep transportation funding front and center here.

Micromanagers at the Gold Dome


Last year, it was Glenn Richardson's GREAT Plan.

This year, it is a cap on property tax increases.

And apparently, this year, we also have a bill that will tell local governments whether or not they can include residency requirements as a condition of hiring key employees.

You know, for a Republican majority, we sure have a bunch of guys in Atlanta who LOVE to spend taxpayer funded time telling local governments how to do their jobs. And it's ridiculous.

The Brunswick News rightfully calls out this waste of time and paper today (see editorial pictured). And I'm glad they found it. Our state legislators need to focus on their own problems and issues rather than trying to manage those of hundreds of local governments (I will allow that the fact that there are hundreds of local governments is part of the problem).

As I often tell my state representative and fellow local elected officials, it is a lot easier for my constituents to throw me out of office if they are dissatisfied than it is to get rid of Bob Smith or Bill Cowsert, or any other state elected official. So guys, let the voters decide -- rather than legislators in Atlanta -- how local government should be run.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Walton Co. and Social Circle Score Major Distribution Center

According to Skyline Views, Walton County is the winner in the sweepstakes for a 1.5 million square foot General Mills distribution center. Good news for our neighbor to the South, as this facility is sure to bring significant temporary and permanent jobs to the area. Get the scoop here.

The project appears to be headed for East Hightower Road, an industrial area located between idyllic downtown Social Circle and Hard Labor Creek State Park, which features some of the best swimming, fishing, golfing, camping, running trails and horseback riding areas in the region.

My Valentine's Present: Georgia Beats Florida Twice on TV

Be forewarned: I'm going way off topic here.

Last night I was watching Tivo and caught the end of the Tyson Invitational, a track meet that was held on Valentine's Day. Now those of you who aren't old friends might not know I used to be a big time runner and track and field junkie. I still record track meets and watch the events that interest me. In fact, I believe that Tivo is God's gift to televised track and field.

Anyway, as I fast forwarded through, I caught the familiar Red and Black of the Georgia Bulldogs. I tuned in and saw a remarkable performance. Georgia's Torrin Lawrence, fresh off a world leading 46.18 in the individual race, ran a 45.1 split to make up a 10 meter gap and crush Florida's Calvin Smith, a U.S. Olympian, on the anchor leg of the race. Georgia's vaunted sports information department may just need to give a little media training to that relay team, as they might be getting some more air time on TV if they keep running nation-leading times. Keep in mind that this was the same day the Dawgs beat the Gators at home in hoops. A double dose of victory to be savored.

Anyway, track and field doesn't get nearly enough coverage, and from time to time we have some remarkable track athletes at Georgia. Torrin looks to be the latest. Kudos to Chip Towers for writing a story for the AJC, and check out the You Tube video of his anchor leg below -- even if you don't like track, seeing UGA beat Florida at anything right now is a big positive. Especially in the most exciting race in track and field, the 4 x 400 meter relay (and no, the Gator track was not handicapped by competing in jean shorts).

P.S. And in a thinly-veiled effort to further "localize" this post and not just write about a favorite sport, I will report that former Oconee County pole vaulter Jordan Scott continues to re-write the record books at the University of Kansas, vaulting over 18 feet this season.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

My Dad and Tom Friedman on GM: No Bailout

It's not often that my Dad and Tom Friedman focus on the same topics, but it happened this weekend. While riding to the Oconee County Landfill to haul off some brush (it's time to prune for all you gardeners out there!), Dad and I talked about the waste of trying to bailout American automakers, who have been making worse products that the competition for the better part of 30 years.

Friedman tackled the same issue and cuts to the core in his latest column.
Reading the news that General Motors and Chrysler are now lining up for another $20 billion or so in government aid — on top of the billions they’ve already received or requested — leaves me with the sick feeling that we are subsidizing the losers and for only one reason: because they claim that their funerals would cost more than keeping them on life support. Sorry, friends, but this is not the American way. Bailing out the losers is not how we got rich as a country, and it is not how we’ll get out of this crisis.
Friedman continues on to characterize GM as a wealth destruction machine, and proposes that instead of giving another $20 billion to automakers, that we invest it in companies that might actually help prepare our nation for the future. He's absolutely right, you know. Not only would the returns would be much higher, but the cathartic process for America's automakers could move ahead, and this is a positive.

Friedman's column also made me think about our state's investments in science and technology. Some of the programs we run in Georgia are easy targets for axe wielding budget writers, particularly those programs not easily understood by legislators or with long pay-off horizons. They shouldn't be.

In conversations with State Rep. Bob Smith (R - Watkinsville), he expressed that he has plans to staunchly defend any Georgia investments in research and technology. Since he is the chair of the Subcommittee on Higher Education Appropriations in the House, this carries some weight. I absolutely applaud him for that.

As I told him, I think investments in higher education at all levels are critical in Georgia, and should be prioritized over most other needs in state government. We are working to fix our secondary education schools, we cannot risk damaging our higher education system through silly cuts to core programs or failing to invest in our most promising areas of research and technology.

While locally, our investments focus on agriculture, biotechnology, infectious diseases and various related disciplines, Friedman makes a strong case for investments in alternative energy, where apparently the financing has locked up along with the financial markets.
That is how taxpayer money should be used to stimulate: limited financing, for a limited time, targeted on an industry bristling with new technology start-ups that, with a little push from Uncle Sam, won’t just survive this crisis but help us thrive when it is over. We need, and the world needs, an America that is thriving not just surviving.
Wherever our dollars go, they need to go somewhere that has strong potential for moving our country forward, not keeping us tied to the hidebound, oil dependent ways of the past. Given our research expertise in Athens and statewide, Georgia can make a similar contribution by continuing to improve agricultural production and discovering new ways to fight disease and improve the lives of the world's citizens.

P.S. For all the readers who were no doubt wondering, Dad and I had a successful trip to the Oconee Landfill, where he seems to be on a first name basis with the guy who manages the scales. For a mere $5, our overstuffed family pick-up full of Crepe Myrtle and Water Oak branches was deposited and will be either buried and recycled or mulched and given away. The OC landfill is best deal in town, unless you live in the city. If you live in the city, the minimal taxes you pay to cover your trash pick up, safety, and curbside leaf and limb pick-up are the best deal in town.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

This and That

Some interesting tidbits from the day:
  • Big news for the alma mater as Berry scores a $4 million donation for new residence halls and the Cage Center, as well as endowing a new scholarship program that gets Berry back to its roots. Berry also picked up two wins over archrival Shorter on the hardwood the other night, which always brings a smile to my face.
  • Are we trying to do too much too fast when it comes to transportation? So far this session, we have at least three bills that will dramatically change transportation in Georgia. Will any of them pass? See this story for the Governor's plan to reorganize transportation governance. Wasn't this what GRTA was supposed to do? Lets keep our fingers crossed that something gets accomplished this session.
  • This is really impressive. Perhaps Clarke should consider something similar as it seeks to expand its landfill. $250,000 per year is nothing to sneeze at either.
  • Georgia Power has been pushing a bill in the legislature that will allow the company to stretch the charges for a planned nuclear plant over a number of years, basically, effective immediately, despite the plant won't be on line for many years. This appears to make a lot of financial sense for Georgia Power, and perhaps for their rate payers. Initial opposition came from usual suspects -- Democratic interest groups, anti-nuclear activists, environmentalists. Things seemed to be moving along smoothly, and they even fended off an unusually strong challenge from Clark Howard and announced polling results that show Georgians on their side. But now the battle is truly joined. Conservatives at Peach Pundit have decided it is not a good idea, and are making a fight of this thing. This will be an interesting test to see how strong the new media movement is and if it can impact policy, and also an interesting clash of social networks and old fashioned networking. Georgia Power is perhaps the state's best and most prominent corporate citizen, investing heavily in local communities all over the state and building a lot of goodwill. Will be interesting to see if Erick Erickson and his crew slow things down for Georgia Power.
  • We're about to get to work identifying historic homes and properties in Watkinsville. We are particularly focused on preventing "demolition by neglect" which has already occurred to at least two Main Street properties in the past five years. Let me know if you have any suggestions.
  • I just don't understand how we're thinking about cutting revenue in Georgia right now. While I'm not as vehement as JMac, one of the big problems with our state's tax policy right now is a lot of well intentioned tax breaks that add up to a lot of $$$$. This is one reason Rep. Bob Smith had a point when he called for a constitutional convention (an idea which appears to have disappeared, by the way).
  • Interesting post from Maria Saporta on the challenges facing Metro Atlanta. This is right on target, and the rest of the state needs to pay attention. As Atlanta goes, so goes Georgia.
  • I'm sorry Coach, but you can coach attitude and effort. Sometimes you have to. In fact, I would argue at many levels in many sports, it isn't the X's and O's that make coaches great, but it is the coach's ability to get the most out of his or her players. Exhibit 1. Exhibit 2. Exhibit 3.
  • Be sure you read this story. Sportsmanship still lives, and it's a very good thing.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Common Sensulus

Thomas Oliver is a relatively new business columnist at the AJC, which ironically is cutting its business coverage back. I haven't been reading his columns regularly, but stumbled across an archive today and several make a lot of sense.

1) His comparison of our various bailouts to the constant tinkering that took place during the Great Depression in this column is very valid. While some of Roosevelt's programs were valid, after a while the big problem was the uncertainty it created in the minds of business. If you never know where the government is going to "invest" -- some would say meddle -- next, you never know what your move is. Cousins Properties CEO Tom Bell provides a real world example with his comments. After hearing Dennis Beresford speak today, it is obvious government leaders are making things up as they go along. Professor Beresford has worked at Ernst & Young, taught at UGA, and saw the inside of the mess during his directorship with Fannie Mae, and his comment "I feel more depressed about the situation in this country than I have in my entire life" was startling. It would behoove the feds to stop -- soon -- and see if things are working.

2) I have said all along -- and told several friends and acquaintances at a board meeting tonight -- that the issue is actually relatively simple in pure economic terms: for more than 10 years, American consumers, business, and government have all been spending more than we have been earning. Phil Larkins nails it and quantifies it in this other column from Oliver. The "de-leveraging" process is going to be long and painful, but is very necessary. If we get back to our old ways (and government doesn't change its ways) we will merely build our house of cards even higher on a false foundation of debt. And the fall will be that much more painful.

3) The final piece in the trifecta is a thoughtful piece on the specfics of the stimulus. And he is right, not all spending has a stimulative effect. That is my biggest issue with our package that was signed today.

After the uncertainty of the fall, December and January were almost a welcome relief with no new programs a bit of a sense of normalcy. Maybe the Federal Government can let the dust settle for a while at this point and see what -- if anything -- is working.

Monday, February 16, 2009

7 Lessons from a Weekend Trip

Since I was a kid, I have spent many days, weeks, and weekends in Western North Carolina, most of them at my grandmother's house in rural Buladean, where my mother grew up and many of my relatives still live nearby. It is a wonderful, almost hidden place, where time stands still in ways good and bad. For those of you who have lived in or have relatives in similar areas, you don't need me to explain what I mean.

But suffice it to say that I have a special place in my heart for the North Carolina mountains -- there is a part of me that still feels very much like I am coming "home" whenever I see the gentle slopes of the Appalachians loom as we head into Northern Georgia and Upstate South Carolina.

Last weekend, our family had the pleasure of spending the better part of four days (Oconee schools were out Friday and Monday) in Blowing Rock, N.C. Blowing Rock (downtown shops pictured above) is quite different than Buladean and Bakersville -- although just an hour+ northeast, it is on the eastern edge of the Blue Ridge in the North Carolina "high country." "High" might refer to elevation or income, but either way it was home to a lot of affluent retirees and shops, restaurants, parks, etc. While not as high-falutin', it kind of felt like Charlotte's version of Highlands, N.C., the summer-time playground of many of Atlanta's elite.

All that said, the town had a lot of redeeming qualities that are applicable to Watkinsville and other small communities. Many of these principles we have adopted, but I took away seven critical lessons from my visit to Blowing Rock, which obviously has a big head start in terms of time and tax base on Watkinsville.

1) Parks and Recreation -- Think Small: Right along Main Street, Blowing Rock had a spectacular park, with something for almost everyone. Two playscapes accommodated children ages 2-9. Two full length basketball courts, two tennis courts, a climbing wall, and restrooms were nearby. While these facilities on some level were similar to what we have at Harris Shoals, their proximity to downtown encouraged enormous pedestrian traffic and a lot of business at the shops as moms shopped and dads watched kids and ate ice cream. It was clean, open, and well designed. On a warm-ish winter afternoon, at least 100 kids were enjoying the playground this weekend. Also, within an easy walk of downtown, they had two other spectacular parks, the Annie Cannon Gardens, a pocket park, and Broyhill Park, which featured a beautiful lake and walking paths. The Cannon Gardens also served as the entry way for the Glen Burney trail, a 1.4 mile hike along a creek that led to two waterfalls (one is pictured to the left).

While we aren't blessed in Watkinsville with this type of natural beauty, with some creative thinking we could certainly do more. I have long advocated for a greenway that would link Harris Shoals to downtown or Ashford Manor to allow families to park in one area and easily move through town without cars. Having a more youth focused playground at Rocket Field might also make sense. What are some other ideas for convenient green spaces in Watkinsville? How can we use recreation to support downtown businesses?

While Oconee has made significant investments in greenspaces in recent years, very few of them can be accessed without vehicles, and little thought seems to have been given to how we can tie them together. How can we better link our parks in Watkinsville and Oconee and build more new ones that are truly neighborhood based?

2) Parks and Recreation -- Think Big: Blowing Rock is less than a mile from the remarkable Moses Cone Memorial Park. This passive recreation area features 25 miles of "carriage paths" which are ideal for horseback riding, running, walking, etc (see the photo). This morning I ran from downtown Blowing Rock to the Cone Manor and back, and while cold, it was spectacular. Why wouldn't one want to visit (or live) there? It was an amazing place that shows just how powerful an investment in passive recreation can be. While the convenient location impressed, a stronger focus on passive recreation, landscaping and beautifying Heritage Park, Harris Shoals, and other Oconee green spaces could yield similar results, especially if some of the federal land assets in our community come available some day.

Better accommodating and embracing our area's cycling-centric heritage could also pay recreational dividends. Investments in rail trails and more could help us capture more of this market.

Blowing Rock is also astride the Blue Ridge Parkway, one of the most scenic driving routes in America, near Grandfather Mountain, and several other parks, including skiing destinations in winter and rafting in the summer. Again, it is hard to compete with this level of natural abundance, but it is obvious their focus on recreation has paid off. For anyone who enjoys any facet of being outdoors, the town offers a set of offerings that is hard to beat, regardless of the season.

3) Cleanliness: A major of focus of Mayor Luken has been to keep downtown clean, and we have made remarkable progress. I noticed Blowing Rock was clean as could be -- not a bit of trash anywhere. Great towns take pride in their appearance, and I was pleased that Watkinsville and Blowing Rock stack up nicely.

4) Bypassing Truck Traffic: There is a 321 bypass that sends most significant traffic around downtown Blowing Rock, which has been preserved and protected through the years. This means that the traffic that does come downtown does so to be downtown, not to simply pass through. I did not see a single tractor trailer. This made it so much easier to move back and forth across the streets, especially with children. Some day, a bypass from Hwy 15 to 441 will hopefully have the same effect on Watkinsville.

5) A healthy downtown: While merchants across the U.S. are struggling -- Blowing Rock is not immune, as we dined at a 55-year-old diner that was shutting down this Sunday -- it was obvious the heart beat of the city was its downtown. It was the differentator for this small Western N.C. town in an area that has plenty of soulful views but few towns with an actual soul. And our area of Georgia is not that different. We in Watkinsville must do all we can to support, patronize and take care of our downtown businesses in the years ahead in order to preserve this vital asset for our community. I took a lot of pride that their shops were similar to ours (although on a higher level), with pottery, apparel, dining, and other options.

6) Great natural assets: While Oconee County and this region can't hope to match the WNC mountains for views, we do have our own beautiful areas, South Oconee and the lakes in particular. Perhaps the time has come to better package and market South Oconee as South Fulton and other counties have done with the Chattahoochee Hill Country and take concrete steps that will make that asset more valuable for existing land owners while providing some certainty to those who are investing their money and time in making it a home for their families.

7) Private support: It was obvious that Blowing Rock has benefited from the wealthy individuals who have relocated or "summered" there through the years. Broyhill Park (pictured) is likely named after the Broyhill Furniture family, Moses Cone Memorial Park was created by a wealthy industrialist, and other community assets in town were obviously generously supported by private donors. I'm not suggesting we have the wealth in Watkinsville to take this approach. To the contrary, it is obvious that residents of Blowing Rock love their town, just as our citizens love Watkinsville, and give back in whatever way they can. The contributions of our citizens are a remarkable asset to our city. It seems to me that when everything can be "bought and paid for" and citizens no longer give of their time or resources, something is lost.

Would welcome your comments on your favorite places to visit that might offer lessons for Watkinsville (or Oconee County) as we seek to become a great place to live and visit. I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly, and Blowing Rock is one of the best.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Greening of Watkinsville


About four years ago I started collecting trees. Having grown up working in the yard, I never expected to enjoy landscaping. However, as I have grown older and spent more hours indoors in an office, I have come to appreciate the relaxation of digging in the dirt, and to better understand the majesty and legacy of trees, with all of their attendant community benefits.

In recent years, I have planted lots of types on our property here in Watkinsville to compliment large existing Willow Oaks, Water Oaks, Pecans, and pines. I have planted the common and native trees -- Red maples, all types of oaks, tulip poplar, magnolias (southern and Japanese), Redbud, Japanese maples, cherries, crabapples, willows, and dogwoods -- and embarked on searches for the more exotic. These include trees named katsura, blue atlas cedar, Ginkgo, cedar of Lebanon, pseudolarix, lacebark pine, longleaf pine, Ironwood, cryptomeria, parrotia, dove tree, big leaf magnolia, buckeye, pistache, yellowwood, willow, cypress, dawn redwood.... you name it, I've probably planted some variety of it if it thrives in Georgia.

As my appreciation for trees has grown, I have also enjoyed watching Watkinsville gain recognition as a city that prides itself on its trees. Our tree ordinance, spearheaded by Samantha Purcell, has been a game changer in the city. We have also worked collaboratively to improve landscaping in the city, including the installation of hundreds of large trees and improving appearances in various public areas through public funding (streetscape) and encouraging and supporting private efforts. We learned tonight at City Council that we have been designated an official Tree City for the third year in a row. We will give away hundreds of trees at city hall next week for Arbor Day, and will plant 10 bald cypresses at Harris Shoals on Saturday. Today, I often get compliments on how good downtown Watkinsville looks -- that was not the case years ago.

Two trees that I haven't tried are the American Elm and the Chestnut. The vaselike Elm, devastated years ago by Dutch Elm disease, is making a comeback, and I may give it a try soon. A Northwest Georgia nursery is actively growing and marketing disease resistant varieties.

I may be an old man before I get to plant a chestnut, but there is new hope for this tree, which was once king of the American forest. All but wiped out by the Chestnut blight, scientists have found a way to create a blight resistant tree. This story in the AJC focuses on where Chestnuts once thrived, and efforts to reintroduce this magnificent tree. My alma mater is in the thick of it, as it seems to be on more and more conservation and land use issues these days. I can't wait for the day when I get to plant a chestnut here.

At any rate, as Arbor Day approaches, give some thought to where you might be able to add a tree in your landscape. There are some remarkable retail nurseries in the area and that can help you find the perfect tree for whatever space you have.

Monday, February 9, 2009

South Milledge Makeover?

Flagpole has initiated an interesting community conversation with its recent two-part series on the University's future plans for the South Milledge corridor and elsewhere. The author of the piece asks a thoughtful question: "Why, we should ask, is state government encouraging and financing local communities to preserve lands while allowing its flagship institution of higher education to opt out?"

But with all due respect, I don't think that's the right question. It's really not even a question: it's a statement that implies the university is not preserving land, and that the state is actually encouraging and financing green space acquisition in other communities in a meaningful way. Neither implication is accurate; according to the most recent data, the University owns 42,000+ acres all over the state, much of it used for forestry and agriculture. According to sources, UGA's land assets have been growing in recent years. And the state's support for greenspace acquisition is half-hearted, at best, especially in tough budget times (perhaps we can tackle that another day).

UGA's land holdings further its mission as a land grant institution; I think it is fair to say it has done its part to preserve land. UGA land holdings include extensive acreage in Oconee County, including new acreage for its national champion equestrian team and horticulture and crop experiment farms. It has significant holdings in Griffin, Tift County, Jackson County, Morgan county and elsewhere. However, the article's main thrust -- that there needs to be a conversation and plan for South Milledge, does resonate.

In part one of the Flagpole piece, the author takes a look at how other institutions manage their land uses. He even invokes my alma mater as an example of using (and marketing) its land resources differently than UGA. While I love Berry and its landholdings, and applaud the way it is (finally) using its land assets to better educate students, the author failed to mention a key point. Berry aggressively harvests timber from its 26,000 acres to generate revenue and allows extensive hunting on its campus under an agreement with DNR. I can't imagine hunting and logging going over well on UGA owned land in Athens-Clarke County.

One also has to wonder how much of this conversation has emerged because of the opposition of Athens FAQ to the location of NBAF along South Milledge. To me, it always seemed that opposition to the facility was driven as much by its potential location as it was by scientific reasons (although to be fair, FAQ did bring up plenty of those as well).

The South Milledge site was never the favored choice by UGA and others for NBAF -- they wanted a site adjacent to the Richard B. Russell center, where NBAF would be tucked away behind another large government building, hopefully out of sight and largely out of mind. But the controversy that emerged shows how emotional the community is about the pastoral acreage along South Milledge.

I understand why. For many in Watkinsville, south Oconee and parts of Clarke, this corridor offers a great transition from "Urban Athens" to the more pastoral Oconee County. For cyclists, it is the primary "escape route" from Athens to the rural roads of Oconee, Walton, and Morgan counties. It is a breath of fresh air at the end of a long day.

But is it realistic to expect this corridor to stay completely rural forever? Probably not. Already, "light recreational uses" have been added with new intramural and athletic fields, and more are planned (see picture). The agricultural operations that do exist out there can be relatively intense and I would imagine are not environmentally neutral. A sewage treatment plant along the corridor often adds its own special scent to the area on warm summer days.

In a conversation with Kevin Kirsche from the University Architect's office, he confirms that he is supportive of an inclusive planning effort for the corridor, which was not addressed in the University's 1998 master planning.

"In truth, I thought there were a lot of good points in [the Flagpole] articles," said Kirsche. He's right. There were.

A planning process that engages and educates the community is a positive and necessary step. However, as we learned on NBAF, it is likely that the loudest cries will come from those who want nothing to change.

Kirsche has obviously done some thinking in that regard. While he stresses that no large scale changes are planned in the immediate future for the corridor, he allows that over time, as the University grows, some change will occur.

"One thing we have discussed [at the University Architect's office] is that it is perhaps not realistic to think that as the University continues to grow over time that South Milledge will remain rural or agricultural. But we love the rural experience out there," said Kirsche. "We have talked about ways to maintain that character."

He went on, discussing the protection of view lines into natural areas, designating areas that should be preserved, analyzing "viewsheds", identifying nodes for development, and using linked landscape corridors. Heady stuff.

So, what does all this mean? In short, expect more discussion about the future of the corridor, especially in years ahead once UGA is further along with its ongoing efforts to densify and redevelop its core campus area, as outlined by the 1998 master plan.

Here's my idea. How about activating the rail line that links Whitehall Village with UGA and the multi-modal center as a double-tracked light rail system with a running and biking trail alongside?

This sort of usage might allow for small "village" type development to be built, or event better, the re-establishment of Whitehall Village (the old part, not the new subdivision) as a student and educational community. Whitehall Village includes the old mill homes and brick structures that sprang up around the old Factory on the banks of the Oconee River now known as the Whitehall Mill lofts; these homes and some older factories line Whitehall Road up and down the hill between the railroad tracks and Barnett Shoals Road. By using UGA's transit expertise and an old rail line, a car-free way for students to get to and from main campus would be created and an old town re-established.

Facilitating the redevelopment and preservation of Whitehall Mill Village as a cultural and historical -- but living -- resource for learning and student housing, all within the footprint of a historic community, would be an amazing service to the state and the community. And imagine if this village was linked to campus with light rail and a paved cycling and running trail that eventually continued to Watkinsville?

One other plus: the addition of a rail and transit corridor to the mix suddenly allows for this to happen without pressure to four-lane Milledge or Whitehall, which almost no one wants.

On-campus rail does not appear to be a new concept for UGA. In doing some research on an unrelated project, I found a web page with decades worth of campus planning maps. Interestingly, the one from 1967 (pictured) calls for a looping rail line running through campus in what is now the intramural fields and around North Campus and Sanford Stadium. According to Kirsche, this concept was designed in an effort to secure a federally funded monorail, which eventually went to West Virginia University.

While this sort of monorail is out of vogue today, the existing infrastructure is arguably better. The existing underutilized freight line runs within 1/4 mile of almost all campus assets. Even without Whitehall Village in play, one has to wonder if the community and UGA could partner to to put this rail line to work to remove cars and buses from our streets and offer a unique marketing and lifestyle option not found on many southern campuses, while preserving it as a cargo route for a few key customers.

As a final note, I would be in remiss if I didn't add that if South Milledge is going to be developed in any form or fashion, I think it is a positive that the University would be handling it. While one can disagree with the style and/or substance of what is built at UGA these days, no one can question the commitment to quality construction, aggressive and impactful landscaping, inclusion of green space, and thoughtful planning.

As someone who has lived in this area for the better part of 30 years, the gracious landscaping, additions of green spaces like the D.W. Brooks mall, and the re-greening of campus in the past 15 years is an impressive accomplishment, and continues a legacy of horticultural passion that helped initiate a campus arboretum years ago. According to Kirsche, 34 acres of greenspace have been added to UGA's main campus alone in the past 1o years. Those of us who remember Herty Field as a parking lot and the less than impressive entry corridors to campus from years past certainly appreciate the University's efforts to "green up" all parts of campus today.

Kirsche's final thought on South Milledge is this: "We would like to have a logical, well constructed plan for conservation of land as well as potential development in the future."

Agreed -- so what are your thoughts on the future of South Milledge? And Kudos to Flagpole for kicking off the conversation.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Calling all "Georgia Made, Georgia Grown" Artists

Pretty neat web site launched by the Georgia Department of Economic Development: http://www.gamadegagrownproducts.org/. Based on their press release about the site, it seems it would be a logical place for Oconee and other area crafts people to register and an easy way to build awareness, especially if it gets much traffic.

At a glance, it looks as though OCAF is prominently featured on the site, and OCAF is listed as a sponsor, so perhaps this initiative was encouraged by our local art community, which is recognized statewide for its creative skills and creative marketing? Inquiring minds want to know, so please comment.... press release is below.

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State Launches Ground-Breaking Economic Development Platform for Creative Industry
Georgia’s creative businesses and their products available on www.GaMadeGaGrownProducts.org

ATLANTA, February 3, 2009 - The Georgia Department of Economic Development (GDEcD) and the Georgia Tourism Foundation announced the launch of www.GaMadeGaGrownProducts.org, a detailed creative industries database that is the first-ever statewide economic development strategy of its kind. It is the best way to search for Georgia’s arts-centric businesses: from handmade jewelry to local festivals, pick-your-own farms to performers. This growing directory will connect buyers and sellers, corporations and corporate suppliers, locals and visitors to Georgia's cultural assets and creative small businesses.

“Georgia is rich in authentic local products and unique experiences,” states Gilda Watters, Managing Director of the Tourism Foundation. “We wanted to make it easier for residents, visitors and businesses to access local artisans, producers and performers.”

Started in 2007 by the Georgia Tourism Foundation, the state’s Creative Economies Initiative is a unique effort to galvanize arts-centric businesses and promote products made and grown in the state, and GaMadeGaGrownProducts.org is one part of this important initiative. Creative businesses in Georgia give back tremendously to the community, employ more than 88,000 individuals and add millions of dollars to their local economies. By helping to focus state, regional, national and international attention on the rich cultural contributions and unique sense of place creative businesses contribute to the state, this initiative will positively impact their economic sustainability and future growth by helping to connect buyers and sellers, corporations and corporate suppliers, locals and visitors to Georgia’s creative small businesses. As a web registry with a searchable database of the state’s arts-centric industries, complete with business profiles, locations, pictures, contact information and more, it is economic development in its purest form.

Listings on the website are free, so artists, producers and retailers selling authentic Georgia Made Georgia Grown products and productions are eligible to be part of this marketing tool. It is not too late to sign up; simply visit www.GaMadeGaGrownProducts.org to register. Encourage your local artisans, entertainers, festival planners and theaters to join: not only will it make your searches easier, but it will help them gain exposure and form useful partnerships.

With the website now up and running, there has never been a better time to explore all that Georgia has to offer. Visit www.GaMadeGaGrownProducts.org today and find a unique treasure or authentic experience to enjoy. Georgia’s Visitors Information Centers, Regional Travel Associations and www.exploregeorgia.org are excellent resources and can offer assistance in planning your visit to Georgia.

The Georgia Tourism Foundation allows for the creation of new public-private partnerships that merge and strengthen Georgia's tourism marketing efforts, in order to attract more visitors and increase the industry's economic impact throughout the state. This non-profit, public-private organization brings together the leadership of the state’s premier tourism destinations to consolidate marketing efforts, pool resources and more effectively promote Georgia’s natural beauty, cultural heritage and rich attractions to vacationers.

The Georgia Department of Economic Development (GDEcD) is the state's sales and marketing arm, the lead agency for attracting new business investment, encouraging the expansion of existing industry and small businesses, locating new markets for Georgia products, attracting tourists to Georgia, and promoting the state as a location for film, video and music projects, as well as planning and mobilizing state resources for economic development.

Rootin' for Newton

Tony Wilbert over at Skyline Views posts that a huge General Mills distribution center is being considered in the Covington area, about 30 minutes south of Watkinsville.

In a commercial and industrial real estate market that is largely dead, I would imagine local and state officials are falling all over themselves to land this deal. While we wouldn't want to debate with Skyline Views on whether they are truly looking at Social Circle proper, one has to wonder if the most logical location is Stanton Springs, the four-county industrial park and mixed-use effort along I-20 that has long been searching for a big fish. One local blogger even posited years ago that Stanton Springs was prime competition for our very own (well, not really ours) Orkin tract at the intersection of 78 and 316 for bioscience projects.

While the counties -- Newton, Morgan, Jasper and Walton -- began work on Stanton Springs 10 years ago, landing a 1.3 million square foot facility will be proof positive that going ahead and getting your land under contract (or secured) and "pad ready" is absolutely necessary to secure a landmark tenant, especially in this environment (likely along with a sizable marketing investment).

Our community has learned this lesson the hard way, as our inability to actually secure the Orkin tract (it is still owned by its namesake family in Atlanta) has reportedly led to uncertainty in many of our past efforts to land top industrial tenants. And uncertainty isn't good.

So, while the proposed facility certainly wouldn't compare to a corporate headquarters (General Mills HQ is pictured), you certainly wouldn't find anyone complaining in this economy.

Transportation and Education

Those who follow this blog won't be surprised by this assertion: I believe greater investment in secondary and higher education and a dedicated source of transportation funding are the two most critical things that can happen for our region in the year ahead.

Recently, some interesting news has emerged on both fronts.

Last Friday, the Atlanta Regional Coalition for Higher Education (ARCHE, for short) released a fascinating statewide poll on taxpayers' perceptions of higher education funding. Among the key findings: that taxpayers will pay higher taxes to support higher education. Investments in higher education, especially in Athens and UGA, are investments in the future of the whole state. They also pay off for the entire local community, and should be protected at all costs. More details on the survey here. Full disclosure -- ARCHE is a client of my company's, but I would have blogged it anyway.

Yesterday, Rep. Vance Smith officially rolled out his transportation plan (called the 20/20 act), which calls for a 1% sales tax to fund state transportation. His plan would raise $25 - $29 billion for Georgia transportation over the next 10 years. This is almost as much money as the Obama stimulus plans to spend nationwide! Now that we know the details of Rep. Smith's plan, I have to respectfully disagree with the ABH and others who argue that a regional solution is superior at this point.

A regional approach might be best in Atlanta -- where there is a strong sales tax base, an effective regional planning body, and a vision for transportation, but out here, there is a void in that area. Just putting together a regional coalition would be a mess. Smith's bill is incredibly comprehensive. There are transit upgrades. Dedicated LARP funding and state aid for counties and cities. $400 million for regional airports. $1 billion for bridge improvements. Funding for the Brain Train and 316. 441 would be improved from Athens to I-16 for freight transportation. Additionally, it would allocate $1,000 per local resident as well to local cities with populations over 15,000, meaning Athens-Clarke would be in line for more than $80 million over the next 10 years for locally driven projects. More details here + maps. It is hard to be opposed to such a rich proposal, and seems to offer strong value for "one penny," especially when many of those pennies come from people passing through our state.

While I prefer the statewide plan at this time, I also firmly believe that something is better than nothing, and that we definitely need to move some sort of transportation reform out of the legislature this year.