ATHENS — Options for redeveloping the former Pilgrims Pride site include building multiple parks, town homes with a park, or a hotel with the town homes and park.
A group from Nashville-based Farmer Morgan spent last week in Athens getting input from city personnel, residents, developers and real estate professionals on how to redevelop the site, which was home to a chicken processing plant that closed 10 years ago. Abandoned buildings and debris were cleared earlier this year.
The “vision” for transforming the site has been in the works for about eight years, Mayor Ronnie Marks said. After years of negotiating with Pilgrim’s Pride Corp., the city closed on the purchase of the property, at a price of $550,000, in January 2018. The final redevelopment plan for the site is expected to be completed by March.
“It’s going to take some more planning, but this is a great start,” he said.
Farmer Morgan unveiled preliminary concepts for all three options at a City Hall presentation Thursday night.
“It’s 32 acres,” Ben Farmer, Farmer Morgan’s principal and managing partner, said earlier in the week. “You can do a lot” with that amount of land.
The park-only development option includes a skate park, playground, outdoor classroom, open lawns, a pavilion with restrooms, dog park, community garden, splash pad, a grassy, terraced amphitheater, walking trails and a constructed wetland to help absorb stormwater.
That option includes roughly 200 parking spaces in three lots, Farmer said. Existing public parking lots are located within a quarter-mile of the site, which would provide “an easy two-minute walk” for people using the park, said Will Hargrove, an Athens native who is a landscape architect with Farmer Morgan.
The existing bridges at the site would remain and be extended for pedestrian use, said Jaspuneet Kaaur, a planner with Farmer Morgan.
In a couple of weeks, Farmer Morgan, which the city is paying $130,000, will request a “findings” meeting to make another presentation that will include updated drawings. The firm will produce a draft plan for review and comment before producing a final document with probable construction costs. A master plan will also provide probable costs for adding sidewalks to connect with existing and proposed trails.
The second development scenario involves a public/private partnership to develop residential or commercial uses. It includes 60 three-story town homes, with garages located on the ground floor, on about 7 acres of the property, and also has a park component.
This concept introduces “something slightly new to the market,” Farmer said. He said there’s plenty of land that lies outside the flood plain for building structures like the town homes and pavilion.
The third proposal has a 60-unit hotel with some type of partnership arrangement on the western side of the property and about the same number of town homes on the east side, while retaining some land for a park.
“Is there are market for town homes? There is,” Farmer said. “The housing works.”
If a park is built there first, “you’re creating a market” for the town homes, he said.
Penny Baker, who lives on Pryor Street, expressed doubts there’s a market for $300,000 town homes in that area.
“It’s not that we’re against growth,” Baker said later, but “traffic is already awful on Pryor Street.”
Homes are already under construction in a planned mixed-used development, called The Boardwalk, that’s located north of Pryor Street off Sussex Drive, and to the east of the Pilgrims Pride site.
Baker said she would support the development option that includes a park.
After the presentation, Marks provided an update on a relocated Jimmy Gill Park. He said construction on the new park in south Athens could get started next spring.
The city has purchased the former Woodland Golf Course on Hine Street for $1 million and plans to reopen the park on property there.
“We’ll get engineering documents together and look at cost estimates,” Marks said, adding that city crews will do some of the work.
At a City Council meeting Monday, Athens resident David Malone said he was concerned about the lack of progress for Jimmy Gill Park, as the Pilgrims Pride project moved forward, saying it was a slap “in the face” of District 3 residents, the black community and Gill. The park was named for the District 3 councilman, who died in 2016.
The park was to be moved from its original location on Sanderfer Road to make way for the Toyota Boshoku plant that’s being built on Sanderfer and, under the terms of an agreement approved by the council, Toyota Boshoku is providing the city $300,000 to help pay for the park.
The Pilgrims Pride project “will not take priority over Jimmy Gill Park,” Marks said.